Most of us now understand that dieting doesn’t work. We’ve stopped drinking the awful meal replacement shakes. We don’t weigh ourselves every single morning. We do our best to eat more healthy food, to eat less unhealthy food and to move our bodies more.
I’m delighted to see this shift in attitudes toward our bodies and the way we take care of them.
And yet, sometimes I still find myself frustrated with the way diet culture manages to sneak back into people’s way of thinking.
Occasionally I will have to bite my tongue to prevent myself getting ranty when people start telling me about their “healthy eating plans.”
These scientifically-proven, weight-loss claiming, celebrity-endorsed ways of eating that people are quick to defend, ‘it’s not a diet!’
I get the struggle though. It can be really confusing to know what to eat and what not to eat when there is so much information and misinformation bombarding us every day.
How do we avoid dieting while still eating in a way that nourishes our bodies? I have a few thoughts on the subject that I’d like to share with you today, informed by my Bachelors degree in Food and Nutrition.
How to tell the difference between mindful eating and dieting…
Dieting: You can’t stop thinking about food
One of the issues with dieting is that it creates a feeling of scarcity. If we restrict what we can and can’t eat then it has this effect of making us want it more.
For example, on a diet you may tell yourself you can’t have any sweet things and you’ll often find that all you can think about is chocolate, cakes and cookies. As though your body is trying to sabotage you!
The thing is, when you can eat sweet things any time you want, you don’t feel those same intense cravings and you are less likely to binge on them when you do eat them.
Mindful eating: You don’t think about food until you feel hungry
Because you are listening to your body and eating what you need, when you need it, you aren’t constantly yearning for the next time you are “allowed” to eat.
Dieting: Ignoring hunger/fullness cues
On a diet you no longer trust your intuition or listen to your body for cues on how hungry or full you may feel.
Instead, you rely on a carefully constructed (although often not personalised) meal plan to tell you when, what and how much to eat.
It is fairly obvious why this could be a problem. You are relying on someone else to judge how much and what type of food you need when they likely have no idea what your personal lifestyle looks like.
Some days you will be more active and therefore, require bigger/more energy dense meals. Other days you may be more sedentary and require less energy. A generic meal plan simply isn’t flexible enough to accommodate individual lifestyles and needs.
Mindful eating: Being aware of hunger and fullness cues
Eating mindfully means you are listening to your body and you are aware of your needs.
You’ll stop to eat lunch when you feel hungry. You’ll eat a snack in the afternoon because maybe you’ve been especially active. You’ll put down your fork and push your plate away when you feel full.
Dieting: Labelling food as good or bad
Sugar is the devil. Carbs are the enemy. Fat will make you fat. All of these ideas are not healthy nor helpful if you are wanting to eat well.
No one food is bad and you certainly shouldn’t feel bad for eating it. Diets tend to label certain foods as good and others as bad. Some you can eat and some you can’t.
But as we talked about previously, restriction leads to cravings and ultimately bingeing.
Mindful eating: Food is just food
You see no food as better or worse than another and you feel no guilt when consuming food.
You understand that some foods make you feel sick or bloated if you eat too much of them, so you tend to eat less of those. You know that other foods make you feel really good, so you tend to eat more of those.
Dieting: Eliminating whole food groups
First of all, for certain individuals these eliminations are necessary – For example, if you are allergic to dairy or don’t eat meat for ethical or religious reasons.
For most other people however, eliminating whole food groups is totally unnecessary and is a sign of some unhealthy attitudes towards food.
Mindful eating: You can eat anything
You don’t cut out food groups entirely, instead you eat more of what makes you feel good/what you enjoy eating.
For example, I personally don’t like meat very much. I won’t call myself a vegetarian because I find the label too restrictive but I tend to eat less meat and that works for me.
Dieting: Ignoring your cravings
When you find yourself desperately craving chocolate after dinner, you’ll eat a “healthy” snack or drink a glass of water or make a cup of tea to distract yourself from what you really want.
You refuse to indulge your cravings and try to substitute with things you don’t really want.
Mindful eating: Allowing yourself to indulge your cravings
Instead of ignoring your cravings you will indulge them. But when you do so, you indulge mindfully. You take your time and pay attention to what you are eating. You enjoy every bite and stop when you feel satisfied.
Dieting: Tracking what you eat
You’ll have some method of measuring every single thing that touches your lips. Whether that be weighing your food, tracking calories or using a point system.
You are aware of everything you eat, which may sound mindful but is really just restrictive and controlling.
Mindful eating: You don’t track your food
Instead, you trust your body to give you cues about how much and what sort of food you should eat.
Dieting: Making your social life a struggle
Eating out will be nothing short of a nightmare for you. Your dietary requirements will make ordering a difficult and uncomfortable experience.
You probably won’t end up eating what you really want and will spend the evening hungry and/or eyeing the delicious food your friends ordered.
You may even find yourself feeling anxious or avoiding social situations that involve food altogether.
Mindful eating: Socialising is enjoyable
You impose no rigid restrictions on food. You don’t have to wait for a cheat meal or cheat day to enjoy good food or hanging out with your friends.
You order what you feel like and enjoy every bite because you recognise that this is simply one meal and not a reflection of your overall eating patterns. You know that life is too short to miss out on delicious food and fun times with friends.
I hope this helped clear up some confusion for you. For more tips on how to eat mindfully, check out Kylie’s blog – immaeatthat.
Also, take a look at my previous blog post- mindful eating: 5 simple ways to be present while you eat.