By Keri Williams (https://www.keridwilliams.com/)
If restricting food quantity, eating “clean” and changing exercise programs was effective for long term for weight loss, the diet industry would surely have solved that problem for us all by now.
Humanity has long been focussed on body size, health and food going all the way back to ancient Greece. Diet books have been in circulation since the 1550s. And yet, in Britain we continue to see overweight and obesity levels increase year to year.
A little discussed topic in the area of weight is mindset, and in particular diet mentality: the limiting beliefs and conditioning learned through a person’s previous experiences of dieting and what they have absorbed from diet culture in society.
Diet mentality manifests in different ways for different people, but some of the common themes include:
Taking on beliefs of other people’s diet rules as gospel on the “right way” to do it
Having definitive beliefs on different foods: good, bad or neutral
Wanting direction on what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat from an external source like a book, program, therapist or coach
A deep lack of trust in self around food and eating
Feelings of guilt and shame attached to foods and eating
Judgement, blame and negative self talk around eating and body image
Rejection and judgement of natural body urges like sugar cravings or stress eating
An angry commuter’s response to a diet culture advertisement on London’s Underground
Worst of all, all of these aspects of diet mentality are often attached to an idealistic image of a future where being slim and fit equates to happiness, success and love. By delaying happiness to a future conditional on body size, this mentality is robbing people of their joy in the present moment.
Your inner food + weight loss police
So how does diet mentality actually show up?
One of the most common traits is the harsh self talk (often called the “inner critic”) policing every move around food, eating, cravings, exercise, clothes and body image. It can show up in a myriad of ways for different people, but here are some common ones I’ve heard:
“You can’t wear that you’re too fat”
“These jeans are too tight you have to fast today and eat salads for the rest of the week!”
“You pigged out yesterday so you better go to the gym and work out for 2 hours today”
“You haven’t lost weight for 3 days so you better do a 48 hour fast”
“You’re a failure, this is never going to work for you! You can’t trust yourself around those kinds of foods”
This inner critic can make people feel 10 times worse than they already do, and ironically often leads to emotional over eating and stress eating in order to feel temporary relief. A completely self sabotaging pattern…
Distorted diet thinking = a distorted reality
When diet mentality is running the show a number of unhelpful thought processes can leave a person swimming in negative thinking and viewing the world through a difficult lens.
All or nothing thinking creates all or nothing behaviours: this is evidenced when different extremes are present with no middle ground. For example someone who either fasts or binges, swears off carbs for good then over eats them, one week will run every day and the next week is a couch potato. This type of thinking is driven by the desire to attain perfection, but for people on a weight loss journey the stress of embodying this perfect behaviour often results in an overeat to compensate for the discomfort of extreme restriction.
Thinking in absolutes: self imposed rules using words like must, should, need to, can’t, have to or are supposed to. These rules often don’t compensate for the ups and downs of real life and leave people in situations they are unhappy to be in. For example, “I must only eat cabbage soup” or “I can’t ever eat chocolate, I can’t control myself”. When these absolutes are explored in a coaching session it’s often found that deep down the person doesn’t truly believe it or want to hold onto it as an empowering belief.
Catastrophising: seeing the absolute worst case scenario in situations. For example, someone who eats a dessert after losing weight every day for 2 weeks may be certain they have ruined everything and will fail again.
One company’s retaliation to the original diet culture ad!
The shame and guilt factor
With all of these rules about what’s right and wrong when it comes to food, a perpetual state of shame and guilt is often be experienced. Diet mentality beliefs make food and eating a moral issue, so when “bad food” is eaten, self judgement kicks in and the shame spiral kicks off. Low moods and anxiety can result.
The mind-body connection
Diet mentality also disrupts the body’s innate wisdom when it comes to what to eat, how much to eat and when to eat. Interoception is the ability to be aware of inner body sensations like hunger, fullness, pain, body temperature and emotional sensations.
Many people who have dieted for years under the external rules of different diets have ignored their body’s internal cues and over time have lost touch with them. Hunger sensations are questioned and cues around satiety when eating are not even recognised.
Detoxing diet mentality not only helps a person to feel happier in their current body size and shape, more at peace around food and exericse - but it also allows people to rebuild a connection with their physical body again and discover it’s innate wisdom.
4 Steps to Detoxify Diet Mentality
Where to start with releasing diet mentality conditioning:
Recognise all the ways diet mentality is showing up for you. In a journal, explore your beliefs around individual foods, ways of eating, times of eating and your body image. Where did you learn these beliefs? How do they impact your mental and physcial health? Do they help or hinder you?
Tell a new story by creating a belief plan. Decide how you’d like to think about different foods, your weight, your body, your weight loss journey (if that’s one of your health goals). What empowering thoughts and beliefs would work better for you? Find a neutral statement or empowering belief for each of the diet mentality thoughts you’ve already identified in step 1.
Reprogramme your thinking. Neuroscience has demonstrated that your brain and your thinking can be changed through focus, reptition and conscious intention - this is the best news! You are no longer a victim to diet culture: instead you get to choose how you want think and feel! Practice your new belief plan from step 2 often - write it in your journal again, read them and visualise how reality is different with this mindset. This practice will help to build new neural pathways over time and allow your brain to default to a new way of thinking with practice. Just remember: you’ve been thinking this way for a long time, possibly for the majority of your life! It’s normal for these beliefs and thoughts to pop up from time to time - simply notice them and switch over to your new way of thinking. With practice, the old way of thinking will occur less frequently and will feel less intense.
Get support. The first 3 steps will help you to start coaching yourself to a new place around food and your body, but brains can be tricky and you may find over time that you get stuck with one or several aspects. That’s normal! At this point it’s recommended you seek the help of a peer or hire a professional coach/therapist to help. Finding someone who is neutral to your life circumstances and has an external perspective can often see the beliefs and the thoughts in your “blind spot” and can bring these to the surface for a breakthrough.
The integrative life coaching at the New School is taught in both year 1 and year 2, and every teaching weekend we have live triads, as we believe you learn by doing.
If you would like to train to become a qualified nutritional therapist and integrative life coach, feel free to check out our other blogs and FAQs and drop us an email about our upcoming open days.
From the team at the New School Of Nutritional Medicine
Learn about the Founder & Principal of the New School of Nutritional Medicine, Dr Khush Mark PhD HERE.