Intuitive Eating 101 - Principle #1: Reject the Diet Mentality

Learn why diets don't work and set you up to fail.


If you’re wondering how you can leave the behind yo-yo dieting and start to eat normally again, then this introductory blog series on Intuitive eating is for you!

The History and Research of Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating is a health model developed by two American registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch . Like most health professionals, they were focused weight loss by helping their clients to follow diets and meal plans. They found repeatedly that their clients would initially lose some weight, but could neither sustain any significant weight loss, nor continue to follow a meal plan. They also noticed their clients were feeling like failures; they felt ashamed that they were not able to stick to their diets and meal plans.

So, Tribole and Resch started to research into another way to be healthy and Intuitive Eating was first published in 1995. Over the years, researchers started to find positive health outcomes associated with Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating is associated with higher levels of self-esteem, well-being and optimism. Intuitive Eaters tend to eat a greater variation of foods in their diets. They have higher levels of body appreciation and acceptance. They also tend to have more pleasure from eating and practice higher levels of self-compassion and self-care. Also, Research has shown that Intuitive Eaters have lower levels of triglyceride levels, higher levels of HDL (a.k.a. good cholesterol). They also show lower incidence of disordered eating and lower levels of binge and/or emotional eating (Tribole & Resch, 2012). ​ Intuitive Eating is guided by Ten Principles and to become an Intuitive Eater you will embrace all these principles. Some principles will feel easier than others for you and others will take longer to understand. Where you start will depend on your dieting history, your current challenges with food, and what you’re willing to try right now.

So, let’s start with the first principle of Intuitive Eating; Reject the Diet Mentality The diet mentality is a combination of two things, dieting and the belief that thinness equals health. If you are following a diet, it means you are restricting your food intake or following a set of rules, for the purpose of weight-loss. It is eating less to lose weight. Eating less may be eating less fat, cutting back on carbs, cutting out dairy. Dieting is anything that will result in an energy deficit to induce weight loss.

When we talk about the diet mentality, we are addressing the belief that being thin will make you happier, healthier and successful, and the only way to be thin, is to diet. This belief is propagated by the dieting industry, the idea that you are not good enough and the only way to be better is to diet and be thin.

If you believe the diet mentality- that the only good body is a thin body- and you don’t look like the ideal female body shape, you may start to be very critical of the way you look. This causes considerable distress over the desire to be thin. To be thin you go on a diet and restrict your food intake. This causes a cascade of hormones release by your brain to drive you to the one thing you are trying to avoid- to eat. Eventually, you will give into these powerful biological drives and eat. Often causing overeating or bingeing. Then you feel guilt and shame as you have broken the diet. So, the next day you start again, in the same viscous cycle. Intuitive Eating breaks the diet-binge cycle and the first step is to reject the prime cycle driver- to reject the diet mentality.

So how do you start to Reject the Diet Mentality? Step 1: Recognise and Acknowledge the Damage that Dieting Causes

A 12-week diet plan will lead to weight loss. So, there is some truth to this. In fact you could easily find a research study to support any diet and see that people did lose some weight at first; BUT, did you know there is no research to date that show people sustain significant weight-loss from diets in the long run. Moreover, the research shows that diets are associated with weight gain over time. Yes, yo-yo dieting causes weight gain and abdominal fat gain over the years. It decreases metabolism, increases binges, cravings and preoccupation with food. It can cause lowered self-esteem, social anxiety and loss of control overeating. Even worse, dieting puts you at increased risk of developing an eating disorder.

Think about your own experience with dieting and weight-loss: Has it really “worked”? Did you lose the weight you wanted and was able to sustain the weight-loss long-term? Are you happy while dieting or at your “ideal” weight? Step 2: Create awareness of your Diet Mentality Traits and Thinking Even if you can acknowledge that diets don’t work, the diet mentality thinking often creeps into your relationship with food. Diet mentality thinking generally fall into three categories: willpower, obedience and failure (Tribole & Resch, 2012). How many times have you said, “I had no willpower, I ate the piece of cake!” or “I caved into my cravings, I couldn’t resist!” By trying to impose willpower onto your food behaviours, you’re essentially trying to ignore your body’s needs and imposing an external rule onto your eating.

Obedience sounds like “I should or shouldn’t eat that”, or “I can only eat between 10 am and 6 pm” or “that’s healthy or unhealthy” or “that’s good or bad to eat”. This way of talking about food puts a moral or emotional label on food. Your feelings of guilt and shame increase if you break your obedience rules.

Failure is the feeling that you just couldn’t stick to the diet. You feel like you “failed” at eating a certain way. If you feel like this every time you eat a certain food, you’re most likely stuck in the diet mentality.

Begin by becoming aware of how the ideas of willpower, obedience and failure may be creeping into your thinking about food and how they might be keeping you stuck in the diet mentality. Step 3: Get Rid of the Dieter’s Tools Dieting involves using external checks and measures to control your eating, such as counting calories or macros, or points. Following meal plans, as well as external ways to measure progress, namely the bathroom scales or the tape measure. All these tools are used to tell you what, when, where and how to eat. And all these tools interfere with your natural ability to listen and respect your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues and psychological needs. Intuitive Eating relies on internal body signals, like hunger and fullness. It empowers you to become your own expert on what, how much and when to eat. So, it’s time to stop using the dieters’ tools and to start listening to your body. Step 4: Be Compassionate Towards Yourself This is an important step. Dieting is so ingrained in our culture; every day we are bombarded by the messages that “diets work” or “thin equals health and happiness” so it can feel hard to try to believe otherwise. Or even once you do acknowledge that dieting doesn’t work, you may feel angry or disappointed or frustrated- feeling like you’ve wasted your time all these years trying to “fix” your body shape with ineffective weight-loss diets that maybe even caused more harm. That’s OK and a common response. For years you have been caught up in the diet mentality, the false promise that you’re able lose weight by manipulating your body and food intake is still very much out there. So now it is time to be compassionate towards yourself and others as you start to reject the diet mentality. Check out our blog next week: Principle # 2 Honour your Hunger. References Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2012) Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press Tribole, E. & Resch E. (2017) The Intuitive Eating Workbook Oakland, CA:New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

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**Disclaimer: Please note that the information in this or any other blog posts on this site may not be suitable or apply to you, depending on where you’re at in your mental health and/or eating disorder/diet recovery journey. This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to be a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before making any changes.

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