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  • Writer's pictureRenee Little, R.D.

Why Leaving Dieting Can Feel So Wrong

Lately inspiration has come my way this fall and I've been feeling more invigorated to write blogs and share my thoughts and experience once again. Today I've been thinking a lot about why leaving dieting can feel awkward, wrong and like a bit of a "giving up" movement.

If you've been dieting for the majority of your teen/ adult life coming to a point where you have decided to leave keto, paleo, weight watchers or diet-y versions of "girl dinner" it may bring on a lot of uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. When I chat in session with folks I share that many people experience a transition period from dieting to not dieting that can feel resistant and uncertain.

I've heard from clients is that once they decide to try Intuitive Eating or just eating "normally" they experience:

  • feeling disconnected from friends who are still dieting

  • more activated by comments from parents/ family/ spouse about body size/ food choices/ exercise

  • uncertainty what to eat, how much to eat, when to eat

  • fear they are going to eat "all the things" and their health will take a turn

  • worry about body changes

Exploring the WHY of the discomfort

During the transition from dieting to not dieting there is a shift taking place in behaviors (restricting, exercise) and in values and belief systems. During a transition period there can be an experience of cognitive dissonance.

To explain further, cognitive dissonance is a mental conflict that occurs when your beliefs don't fully line up with your actions. It also happens when your belief or value systems are in flux. Dieting belief systems center around thinness, ascetics and believing that weight is directly related to health/ happiness. These belief systems create a tie between dieting, weight loss and health. If you've started to move away from dieting these belief systems you previous held are being challenged and shaken to the core.

Something to remember during the shift away from dieting is that moving away from dieting may not be a choice (initially). It may be a result of continual "failed" attempts at weight loss because dieting doesn't work for long term weight loss and hasn't resulted in reaching your goals. As a default you might abandon dieting not because you want to but because it feels like you have to. That can feel scary and as though you are "giving up" which can be difficult to accept.

For those reasons there may be an internal conflict taking place. You can't continue dieting but still hold those values/ belief systems that you have most of your life around thinness. Your behavior of ditching dieting isn't matching those long standing values you've developed during your teens and adult life. The value of dieting being "good" or "healthy" was previously reinforced by your family, physician, friends and media.

Resolving cognitive dissonance so leaving dieting feels right

Clients often ask me....ok what do I do now to feel less chaotic and uncomfortable giving up dieting? I have a few strategies that I work through with clients offer opportunity to shift values and beliefs about health/ wellness/ weight so that day to day steps to leave dieting feel more comfortable and certain. Here are a few thins you can focus on to help you move through this feeling and to the other side of not dieting.

  • Taking in new information - listen to anti-diet podcasts , read books and articles (list under resources).

  • Hearing experiences of others - you can read others experiences in the Intuitive Eating book and on many podcasts as well. Many people before diving into the research or knowledge information share their story on podcast about their own experiences with dieting/ restriction.

Once you take in new non-diet information hear others experiences moving away from restriction, it can help you to move through the cognitive dissonance find your own path forward. It isn't a "magic bullet" solution but it can help to move you towards a place of acceptance.


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