October 01, 2021
If you’ve been on multiple diets during your lifetime and have vowed with each one that this diet will be the last one, only to have it end with guilt and shame and a vow to do better next time, you may be stuck in the diet cycle.
The diet cycle often starts with a desire to lose weight. There’s a lot of pressure in today’s society to look a certain way, or if you don’t look a certain way, to be actively taking steps to try to look that way. Many people bond over diet talk and body dissatisfaction, so when you express a desire to lose weight, often you can feel a sense of inclusion and community. It’s understandable, with so much pressure to achieve a thinner body, that most people express a desire to lose weight.
This desire to lose weight then leads to dieting and restricting foods. Sometimes this can look like omitting full food groups or most of one particular food group, like carbs or fat, however, sometimes this is simply watching your portion sizes. In my opinion, anytime you're listening to your brain more than your body's innate hunger signals to decide what and when to eat, you're likely in a period of restriction.
Once you start restricting foods, you typically experience an increased preoccupation with food. This may look like increased cravings for whatever you're restricting, or maybe you're constantly thinking about food: what you can eat, when you can eat next, how many more minutes until your next meal, etc. Think about a kid that you know. If you were to line up 10 toys in a row and then take one away and tell that child you can play with any toy except this one, which one do you think they’d want to play with? Most likely it’s going to be the one you just took away. Why? Because making it forbidden makes it more desirable. It’s the same with our food. When we tell ourselves we can’t have a certain food, we can’t be trusted to have this food in the house, suddenly there are heightened emotions around that food that makes it more desirable. We build that food up in our mind and put it on a pedestal.
Eventually thinking about these forbidden foods often results in giving into the craving to eat them. Typically, when this happens, people feel a loss of control around that food and can't stop eating once they've given into temptation. I want you to know that this is normal. There are biological reasons for this to take place. Unfortunately, dieting is sold to us as a very personal and individual problem, so most people see this as faulty willpower. It isn’t. This is typically your body trying to get enough of its preferred fuel, as well as trying to prepare itself for the next restriction.
After you give in to cravings, there is often an intense period of guilt, shame, even grief. Many of my clients berate themselves for not being able to stick with the diet. They tell themselves that other people can do it, but why not them. In reality, most people can’t stick with a diet, long-term. The “before” and “after” photos we see online are typically a “before” and “middle”. The majority of people end up returning to their previous body shape and size, but are often too ashamed to admit it. The diet industry tells us that if you can't lose weight, there's a problem with you. You must not have been doing it correctly. In reality, our bodies are not meant to diet, it's why we have biological mechanisms that are triggered when we diet like slowed metabolism to more efficiently use the meagre amount of calories you are eating, increased chemicals in the brain sending you cravings, increased enzymes to store fat to prepare for the next famine, and more. BUT the dieting industry spends billions of dollars to make you think that it must be your fault.
Inevitably, because you’re blaming yourself, not the diet, there's typically a vow to do better next time, to try harder. We tell ourselves that the next diet will be the last and then we restart the cycle all over again.
If you’re reading this, and identifying with it, please know that you aren’t alone. If you’re sick of being stuck in the diet cycle, there is another way. I have a FREE workshop on why dieting is so appealing, the diet cycle, and what you can do instead. Click here to watch it right now!
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