Is it really the “diet” that’s wrong — or is it something else? How come some people can follow a diet, like paleo or the autoimmune protocol, and be just fine — while others fall off the wagon pretty quick?
There's an entire anti-diet movement happening in the world right now, sharing education on why diets often lead to binging and long-term weight gain rather than weight loss. Plus when it comes to recovery, diets often play a part in the unwanted behavior not in the solution. And, I tend to agree. But... what if we want to diet for our health? What if we want to follow Paleo, or AIP, or to eat gluten-free? Is that possible?
To really dive into this topic, let's start at the beginning. On Dictionary.com, a diet is defined as the kinds of foods that a person, animal, or community habitually eats. In today's society, a diet typically stands for something a bit heavier. Inside The Wellness Boulevard, we define it as an externally-driven way of eating, adopted to give a false sense of control, that single-handedly informs behavior and greatly influences internal worth. This type of diet is most often used to lose weight or control our body shape and size, but can be used for health (and longevity) benefits as well.
So, if the word diet actually stands for a way of eating - ideally one that we habitually eat likely based on community or a belief - then it's not the word diet that we need to exclude from our life. Instead, the key is a "diet" (or a way of eating) that carries emotional attachment. The problem arrises not because we're eating specific foods, per say, but because those foods carry guilt, shoulds, and moral obligations. We're good... we're bad... we're on plan... we fell off the wagon... we ate our cheat meal for the week... THIS is the problem. This language (and the shame, stigma, plus moral implication it stands for) is the problem. It consciously and unconsciously implies something about us as human beings NOT about the foods we're eating.
This means that when it comes to redefining diets -- and taking back the power we've given to them as something we must not do -- we need to start by addressing that there's nothing wrong with choosing to eat in accordance with a set of principles or ideas. With choosing to eat in accordance with a belief (like vegan). To eat in accordance with underlying health challenge or symptom (like autoimmune disease).
What I think makes the difference between a traditional diet to be avoided... and a lifestyle to be embraced is internal. It’s in the FEELINGS - in the force, restriction, emotional attachment, and deprivation VS. the love, freedom, and choice.
Adding these feelings into the language we talked about above (on plan vs. off plan) is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for misery. This is for two reasons.
1. Traditional diets that use language like "good", "bad", "allowed", "not allowed"... imply shame, stigma, and morality as though cookies are inherently bad, salad is morally good, or cake is out to get us. And these are NOT long-term motivators.
The truth is... As Marc David from The Psychology of Eating teaches, “The notion of good foods and bad ones is largely unscientific…the metabolic value of any food is profoundly influenced by factors that aren’t inherent in the food but issue forth from the eater – relaxation, quality, awareness, pleasure, and so on.”
In other words, the metabolic value of a food, let alone the MORALITY of a food, depends on a hell of a lot more than the name of a food itself.
Let that sink in, because what this means is so important.
Since food is not good nor bad, WE are not good nor bad depending on what we eat. WE do not need punishment or restriction after eating a “bad” food. WE will then not find ourselves in a binge-restrict-binge cycle to make up for our “failures”. (This is insanely important, because of point number two....)
2. The biological response to physically or emotionally charged deprivation is binge eating (which can lead to a host of other things).
This means that when we physically don’t eat enough OR when we feel restricted by what we can eat...our bodies interpret it as the same... as deprivation that threatens survival.
(I first learned about this concept of emotional deprivation from Isabel Foxen Duke. Read more about emotional deprivation.)
The problem with most diets, even the ones designed not for weight less but for health, is that much of the rules and the language explaining these diets and how they “work” calls for deprivation as a barrier to entry.
Even the Whole30 doesn’t want you eating pancakes with Whole30 approved ingredients… because “a pancake is still a pancake”.
But, the question becomes... SO WHAT? What’s inherently wrong with eating a pancake? How is the pancake itself out to get us or the food that “got us into health-trouble in the first place”?
We are not addicted to pancakes. Nor to any other “bad” food out there. Sure, there may be additives in the pancakes we used to eat that have addictive properties. But, we are not addicted to pancakes itself.
Instead, we are likely attracted to the emotional feeling we get from those foods. But, even that, isn’t always a bad thing. And that emotional pull towards certain foods in and of itself is not the reason our health is what it is today. Additives might be. The labeling certainly hasn’t helped. Which means that shameful talk around food and body is probably a factor. Convenience of “junk” food and inconvenience of “health” food often plays a part. Societal rules of how we should look, should eat, should act might be playing a role, too. And, then, there’s also our natural body weight and size we might be rejecting. But, pancakes? “Bad" foods? Emotional eating?
These aren’t the culprits. In fact, emotional eating can be a form of pleasure, and even self-care, and when done CONSCIOUSLY it can feel real doggone good. (Note, emotional eating is different than binge eating.)
All this to say that if we WANT to eat in accordance with Whole30, Vegan, or Paleo principles (truly for our health or beliefs and not 90% for health + 10% for weight loss...) in a way that ISN’T a diet, then we’ve got to stop talking about rules and regulations and START talking about mindset. About the way in which we approach these “diets”.
We’re learning that traditional diets do not work. But maybe diets themselves are not always the culprits. Instead, the rules, the stigmas, the shame, the fear of weight gain or desire for weight loss, the call for deprivation… maybe THIS is what we have to address.
And it's exactly what we're diving into this week inside The Wellness Boulevard. Beyond an engaging community of like-minded women, The Wellness Boulevard is a membership site with restorative Yoga workouts, guided meditations, and exclusive coaching videos on topics ranging from emotional eating during the holidays to anxiety after a doctor appointment. Our tested resources to support your journey in feeling good, healing naturally, and designing a life without restriction (literally). See if the Boulevard is right for you!