We all grow up steeped in diet culture, so of course we’re constantly battling diet mentality. Dealing with these thoughts can make eating really stressful! Read this post to learn tools for how to reframe diet mentality thoughts in intuitive eating.
On this intuitive eating journey, you may have noticed that behaviors around food often change before your thoughts do. This can create a lot of anxiety as you expose yourself to fear foods and challenge food rules, all while still sifting through the clutter of thoughts and beliefs still rooted in diet mentality.
We all grow up steeped in diet culture, so of course we’re constantly battling diet mentality. Almost everything we learn about nutrition is rooted in weight manipulation. So when you’re trying to make decisions about food and eating, but all your nutrition/food information is tainted by diet culture, it can feel really confusing and stressful.
I’ve often found people don’t realize how much they are thinking about food and their body until they start working on intuitive eating. It’s almost like diet mentality becomes part of our subconscious. I often use an analogy of retraining our brain away from diet mentality as traveling a well worn hiking path through the woods. The path is beaten down, there’s no brush in the way, and so it’s easy and comfortable to travel. Retraining your brain away from diet mentality is like going off path, hiking through the woods and clearing the brush to create a new pathway. It’s hard and can take a lot of mental energy! I wrote more about this analogy and breaking old thought patterns here.
Part of clearing the noise from diet culture is reducing anxiety. That may mean medications (no shame in taking meds when your neurotransmitters are acting up!). Mindfulness is also incredibly helpful, as this will help you notice diet mentality thoughts so you have the opportunity to challenge and reframe them.
Working with a therapist can also be incredibly helpful if you have access to it. One tool your therapist may use is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which targets and challenges cognitive distortions - unhelpful or inaccurate thoughts, that affect mood or behaviors.
How to Reframe Thoughts in Intuitive Eating
One activity I work on with clients is helping them identify thoughts rooted in diet mentality and replace them with thoughts that are in line with intuitive eating. It’s a huge help in building awareness of that sneaky, unconscious diet mentality, and thinking in a way that more accurately reflects reality -and your values! You may find it helpful to carry a notepad or journal to jot down diet mentality thoughts over the course of the day. You can challenge and reframe them when you notice them, or pull out your journal later on when you’ve got some time to focus on it. If at any point during the day you feel guilt or anxiety about food or your body, take a step back to ask yourself what thoughts are fueling those feelings, and write those thoughts down.
The next step is learning to reframe those thoughts. The goal is to identify what’s actually true and/or reframe the thought in a way that’s more helpful. This can be helpful to do with a dietitian for guidance, since we hold a lot of evidence-based knowledge about food and weight science, and can help in sorting fact from fiction. But I also know you likely hold most of the information you need for how to adequately feed yourself, and you are the expert of your own body.
Here’s some things to think in reframing diet mentality thoughts in intuitive eating:
There is SO much information out there about nutrition, and like 99% of it is based on bunk science. Nutrition is notoriously hard to study because we eat dietary patterns (or diets), not individual foods and nutrients, and it’s hella expensive to study nutrition over long periods of time. You can prove pretty much anything with a single study, especially if it’s conducted by biased researchers (*cough cough* diet and supplement industry). When you look at public health, we know a TON about nutrition. Like, how cool is it that we were able tie these major public health issues like scurvy and pellegra to these teeny, tiny little compounds in food?? But as my fellow dietitian and researcher Kevin Klatt said on twitter, when it comes to eating for immortality or wellness, there’s a lot less that we know.
You don’t necessarily have to be a dietitian to know if something is evidence based or not. If something a.) is a meme on pinterest or IG b.) comes from someone without credentials or specialized expertise c.) trying to sell you something or d.) is absolutist or fearmongering, it’s probably not true.
Your Lived Experience
Dude. You’ve been there. You’ve dieted. You know how this goes. Your lived experience provides a tremendous amount of knowledge, and more important than what any book or influencer or dietitian says. You are the expert of your own body.
Filling in the Gaps
We live in a world with pretty much 24/7 access to highly curated images of other people’s “lifestyle” on our smart phones. When influencers are sharing pictures of their “perfect” meals and lives, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in comparisons. Remember, there’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that you’re not privy to.
“I can’t control myself around _____” is a really common anxiety to feel, especially if you have had past experiences with a food that have felt scary and out of control. It’s important to keep in mind many of your past experiences with specific foods may have been influenced by restriction. Of course you would feel out of control around pizza if you never allowed yourself to have pizza, or if every time you ate it you were ravenously hungry. It’s not that you can’t control yourself around pizza, you ate it as anyone would if they were restricting themselves of it!
What you give up in pursuit of thinness.
We live in a world that values thinner bodies. That’s an unfortunate reality that causes a lot of pain and suffering for many whose bodies don’t conform. I’m a big believer in body autonomy, and as someone who has never lived in a larger body, it doesn’t feel right to me to tell someone they shouldn’t pursue intentional weight loss. That said, I think you deserve to be informed of the risks, and have space to think through whether the benefits of weight loss that society has sold to you are actually realistic or not things you can have in your here-and-now body.
I also think it’s worth considering what you have to give up in pursuit of thinness. When someone chooses to diet or restrict, they’re often focused on the benefits they think they’ll get. But choosing to diet often means sacrificing some or all of the following:
a social life - dieting often means avoiding social events with food
time and headspace
physical health - not eating adequately is harmful to your health
Calories are energy.
Calories are a unit of energy. When we think of them that way, it seems sort of silly to try and eat as little as possible! Along the same lines, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins all provide your body with energy, and each serves a unique role in your body. Carbohydrates are our body’s main source of fuel, and the only source of fuel our brain can use (it can make it’s own glucose when starved of carbohydrate, but breaks down muscle in order to do that). Proteins help build muscle, and fats are needed for brain health, synthesizing hormones, and to absorb fat soluble vitamins.
Weight is not health.
Health is complex. And while weight can certainly impact health (mostly in ways you would’t expect, like weight stigma), much more important to health are things like social health, socioeconomics, spirituality, pessimism vs optimism, sleep, stress, education, healthcare access, etc.
One meal won’t make or break health.
Sure, some foods contain more nutrition than others - that doesn’t mean that they’re healthier, which, as discussed above, is more complex. And sure, nutrition affects health. But the cool this is that one meal or snack won’t make or break your health. There’s plenty of room for foods eaten solely for pleasure, and many times, fun foods actually contribute to physical and mental health by providing pleasurable eating experiences.
I hope this gives you some information and inspiration to help you reframe unhelpful diet mentality thoughts. If you have any other examples of reframes that have been helpful for you, feel free to share in the comments!