More than any of the junk food on the market, I think the biggest obstacle to having healthy balanced eating habits, a good relationship with our body, and a healthy relationship with food is the diet mentality. In order to start truly making lasting changes to your eating habits, you have to start working on curbing that mentality from the outset.
What is the Diet Mentality
The diet mentality is a deeply ingrained way of thinking in our culture that emphasizes black-and-white thinking about eating habits. You hear it in the on-the-wagon-off-the-wagon notion and the idea of “good” foods versus “bad” foods. You hear it in the way we talk about our eating behaviors: “I was bad today because I had chips and dessert.” And it’s behind our negative self-talk when we pick apart our physical appearance, berate ourselves for not following our diet, and say cruel things about our bodies.
The diet mentality is critical for the survival of the commercial diet industry because it supports their unsustainable programs which focus solely on the food, counting calories, carbs, and points, and the number on the scale and ignore balance, the reasons behind our eating habits, and food quality.
Why the Diet Mentality is a Problem
The diet mentality is a big problem for a whole number of reasons. First and foremost, all of that negative self-talk and those unrealistic goals that it emphasizes throw us into a self-defeating, self-berating spiral.
Let me explain. Commercial diets rely on one common ingredient for all of their programs: self-control. Here’s the thing about self-control, it’s a finite resource for every single human being out there. It erodes throughout the course of the day, with stress, with lack of sleep, and the longer we rely on it. However, we are conditioned to believe that when we run out of the ability to exercise self-control, it’s a failure on our part. We are simply not good enough, not strong enough, not cut out for this. Have you ever had those thoughts about yourself?
Pretty much anyone who has withstood the diet cycle has had those thoughts. And what those thoughts ultimately lead to are beliefs that we are simply not good enough so why bother even trying. “Well, I already blew it today, so why not just go all in for dinner, dessert, and wine?” “I just can’t do it. What’s the point in even trying?” “I didn’t have the self control for no carbs….but maybe if I’m counting points instead that’ll be easier”.
This is the diet mentality at work. It make you feel bad about yourself, warps your self-image, and keeps you coming back for more and more diets.
Here’s the thing…
The diet mentality does not reflect reality. There are no good foods and bad foods – just food. There are foods you shouldn’t eat as often because they aren’t as nutritious, true. But eating those foods certainly doesn’t make you bad any more than eating a carrot would make Charles Manson good. See what I’m saying?
The goal that we all need to be working towards is BALANCE so that we can enjoy those treats that we like but also eat plenty of the more nutritious foods that our bodies need. The goal is BALANCE so that we can enjoy food without equating it with our worth, so that we can stop berating ourselves and heal our relationships with food and with our bodies.
Releasing the Diet Mentality
Only by working on quelling those diet mentality thoughts and beliefs can we focus on achieving that balance that we need. But it takes time because that mentality is so deeply ingrained not only in ourselves but also in our society. It’s all around us and we don’t even notice it most of the time. So it takes practice noticing those patterns and then flipping the script on them.
So here’s a homework assignment if you’re willing: grab a journal and write down the diet mentality thoughts and feelings you have today on one side of the page. On the other side of the page, flip the script on them, turn them into something constructive or more observational and not judgmental. For example “I was bad today because I ate a whole bag of chips” could be flipped to “I ate a bag of chips today and they tasted really good.” “I can’t eat bread because carbs are bad” could be flipped to “bread isn’t falling in line with the nutritional goals I have today but I can have it if I want it.”
To get you started: your worth is not dictated by the foods you eat. Your body is beautiful and amazing. You are not defective or weak.