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What to do when your diet isn't working

POSTED: October 7, 2017 11:51 a.m.
Rebecca Clyde/

Are you failing your diet, or is your diet failing you? Here are 5 questions to ask yourself about your diet and finally start improving your health.

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Every day I meet with a client whose confused and frustrated with their diet. They come in, feeling like they’re doing all the right things. They don’t eat certain foods, they eat a lot of other particular foods. They exercise consistently and feel like they’re working hard to change their body and/or health. Even with all the intentional restriction, they’re not seeing the results they want.

First of all, focusing on weight loss can be frustrating. There are many factors outside of our control that affect our weight, and also American culture is severely fat phobic. There’s a strong stigma associated with weight, and unfortunately, it doesn’t do much to actually improve behaviors or improve health. One of the biggest takeaways I hope for in my clients is to shift their focus on weight to focus on habits. Our habits, we can control, at least better than our weight.

But moving away from our focus on weight is hard, it’s ingrained in our culture, worldview, and our daily thoughts. Here are a few questions to think about to actually improve your life.

1. Evaluate your stress levels

There are a lot of situations that affect our stress levels. We know that stress doesn't feel good, but it also isn’t good for our health. It’s not good at all. Are you letting your restrictive diet add to your stress levels? If so, it’s time to evaluate how your diet affects your stress levels.

If your diet stresses you out, it’d be helpful to meet with a registered dietitian who specializes in intuitive eating, or follows a nondiet approach. I personally work with people to eat well and reduce the stress associated with trying to eat so perfectly.

2. Discover what you enjoy

Oftentimes, following a particular diet leads to eating foods you don’t necessarily enjoy, or avoiding foods you really do enjoy. The thing is, enjoyment is an integral part of a healthful life. We aren’t as likely to continue to do something long term if we don’t like it.

Diets are miserable for so many, and that misery can lead to increased stress and negative feelings. When do unnecessary stress and negative feelings actually benefit you? They rarely ever do, especially when it comes to what you eat on a daily basis.

Instead of letting the miserable aspects of dieting take over, experiment with different foods & preparation methods to determine what you like to eat.

3. Stop believing it’s your fault

Long story short, diets don’t work. Through marketing and so many other factors, we’ve been lead to believe that losing weight, then regaining it after emerging from restrictive eating habits is all our fault. This idea of willpower and perseverance don't produce a healthful life.

The fact is, for 90+ percent of people, diets don’t work. They give you a brief moment of excitement and progress, but then often lead to bingeing and other negative feelings.

Diets aren’t necessarily built for long-term adherence, they give you a short-term result with long-term consequences like a slower metabolism.

4. Be compassionate toward yourself

This is part 2 to stop believing it’s your fault. Self-compassion is something we need to focus more on. Self-compassion is the opposite of self-judgment. Self-judgment leads you down a negative spiral, self-compassion brings you out of that vicious cycle.

Research indicates that people who are more self-compassionate tend to have more beneficial health behaviors, and therefore are healthier. Increasing your self-compassion can decrease stress, increase your ability to connect to your body and it’s individual needs, and most broadly, increase your wellbeing.

5. Try an anti-diet approach

This anti-diet approach brings together all of the other questions you can ask yourself. This anti-diet approach is the way to experiment with eating, discover what you enjoy and really listen to your body to know what to fuel it with, and all within the grasp of self-compassion. There’s no judgment, no rules or expectations, just tuning into your body to realize your own needs and preferences. Here’s more information on the anti-diet.

Here are a few resources to get you going:

All in all, dieting often leads to less healthy behaviors than not dieting does. Find ways to do and eat more of what you enjoy, recognize the things that you ‘should’ be doing that stress you out, and find ways to be more compassionate toward yourself. You deserve it, and your health will improve through this process.
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