Diets in Disguise: Beware of Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
Beware of Diets in Disguise
Have you given up on diets, only to find yourself caught up in the diet mentality or old disordered eating patterns resurfacing? You may be caught up in one of several potential “diets in disguise” that can bring up diet mentality thinking faster than you can whip out your old calorie counts book. (Please throw that thing out already!)
Maybe you’ve decided to eat only “healthy” foods.
You may have given up on your last diet plan, but resolved to “just eat low-carb.”
What about that “lifestyle change” you thought was different, until a chocolate craving hit and took over for the next few days…
If you’ve rejected diets but keep ending up in the familiar “post-diet binge” or overeating episode, you aren’t crazy.
You’re probably still dieting… you just don’t know it!
It happens to most of us at one time or another after writing off diets. You think, “I’m not dieting, but I should (or even want to) eat healthy foods.”
And I understand this thinking. Of course, you’ve been starving your body and not treating it very well. So eating healthy foods may undo some of that damage. Plus, you’ll feel good, knowing you’re giving your body good nutrition. It makes sense.
But if you notice you’re obsessing over food or eating, or craving foods that don’t qualify as “healthy,” or you’re repeating old, familiar patterns you thought were left behind in your dieting days, you may still be dieting.
As crazy as it sounds, you’re likely on one of the sneaky “diets in disguise.” It’s like the wolf in sheep’s clothing!
Before you stop reading, thinking I’ve lost it and that I want to you to be unhealthy (which I have been accused of by people who don’t get it), let me explain.
A Diet by Any Other Name… Is Still a Diet!
Let’s start with the definition of a diet. There are several elements common to all diets, and these elements generally create food and eating issues for so many who attempt them. A sure way to spot diets in disguise is to look for all the rules.
Here are just a few common rules:
• what you can eat (such as eating only “healthy foods,” or no more than 30 grams of carbs a day, etc.)
• when you can eat (don’t eat after 6 pm, eat breakfast as soon as you wake up, etc.)
• why you eat (you can only eat when you’re hungry, eat 6 meals a day – whether you’re hungry or not, etc.)
• how you eat (eat with no distractions, chew each bite 20 times, etc.)
• how much you eat (only fill half your plate, limits on calories, carbs, fat, protein, etc.)
I realize some of the ideas above sound like good advice. But remember, if you have dieted for any length of time, you likely have a little rebel living in your head that doesn’t want to be told what to do! Diets always have rules set by someone other than yourself – this is another way to spot one.
You can create your own rules, or guidelines, or whatever word you prefer to avoid feeling triggered. But if you are still early in the process of making peace with food, your own “rules” may feel too restrictive. Later, you will be able to make these decisions for yourself because you’ll be motivated to do what feels good for both your mind and body. It gets easier over time to make decisions about eating food that’s “healthier” than other food. You want to feel good and in general, healthier food feels better.
However, if you haven’t made peace with food yet, remember all foods are allowed and you make the decisions about what to eat.
Be Aware of Diets in Disguise…
Here are some other “diets in disguise” to watch out for:
• Deciding you’ll just “count calories” or “count fat/carb/protein grams” (let’s not forget about counting “points” too!).
• Eliminating all of a particular food (pasta, butter, etc.) or ingredient (sugar, flour, etc.) There are exceptions, especially if you’re allergic or sensitive to a certain food or ingredient.
• Adopting an alternative way of eating strictly to lose weight (gluten free, vegetarian, paleo, etc.) is one of the more common diets in disguise.
• Restricting what you eat in public or with certain people, so you can be seen as or receive compliments for being “good.”
• Eating low-calorie/calorie-free “foods” when you’re hungry, with the intention to keep your calorie intake low (such as diet soda, gum, coffee, water) is one of the most common of the diets in disguise.
• Using the “tools” of dieting: food scale, measuring cups or spoons (to determine portions), calorie books, and the bathroom scale.
But I’m Not Dieting, I’m Making a Lifestyle Change…
One final example of diets in disguise that drives me crazy is what many refer to as a Lifestyle Change.
Have you done this one? You declare, “I’m not on a diet, I’m making a Lifestyle Change!”
So, how did that go? Yep, me too – didn’t work!
Think about the term – Lifestyle Change – how does that feel to you? For me, it sounds like a lot of work! Do you really want to change your lifestyle?
I can understand changing some habits that aren’t serving you. That makes sense, but your entire lifestyle? Even if you do want to do a complete overhaul of your life, how overwhelming is it going to be to work on all the different pieces at once?
Imagine waking up on day one of your brand new Lifestyle Change. First on the list is to exercise. Then it’s time to clear out the kitchen of all those things you “can’t” eat, go get new groceries and figure out what you’re going to eat as you change everything about your life. And don’t forget to start meditating! Then you can take on that long list of other new habits you want to create. Plus, you still have all your other responsibilities to get done! Your new “lifestyle change” isn’t going to last long, if you make it through that first day.
We’ve all done this, right? You make a New Year’s resolution to work out, and on January 2nd you get up at the crack of dawn, throw on your clothes and hit the gym. Two or three weeks later, it’s hard to get up early. The snooze button is the only thing getting a workout.
Sound familiar? That’s just one change, adding exercise. Clearly, a lifestyle change is not the way to go.
Be especially careful of weight loss companies offering a “lifestyle change.” Years ago, Weight Watchers launched a campaign in which they claimed their program was NOT a diet, it was a lifestyle change. Given the definition of a diet, it’s obvious that Weight Watchers IS a diet. They restrict how much you eat with their points system, and restriction has long been at the center of their programs as well as any other diet.
But What About My Health? Making Peace With Food is the Best Solution
Don’t fall for it! If you’re still learning to make peace with food and eat intuitively, please take your time. Don’t rush the process. (And, be careful not to turn intuitive eating into a diet, too!) You’ll learn amazing things that will improve your relationship with food but help you live a more balanced, happy life.
You don’t need to do anything more to make this happen, simply continue moving forward towards peace with food!
Most people I’ve worked with and others I know that have made peace with food do eventually gravitate towards more nourishing, healthier food. The diet mentality fades and they learn to eat for pleasure, without guilt or shame.
It’s easy to get caught up in the scare tactics. Watching a few commercials or a couple hours on the internet will have you believe that death or disease is hiding right behind that bag of chips or the donut you’ve been craving.
Remember to stay logical. No one gets sick from eating one donut, a single serving of processed food, or a scoop or two of ice cream with real sugar. Chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease or cancer don’t develop overnight, nor do they develop from eating a donut if you really want it. Diseases like these come about over many years, due to many factors, only one of which is what you eat. But genetics, level of activity, smoking status, stress level, and probably other factors not yet discovered also play a role in the development of chronic disease.
One final point… Sugar is not poison. Ask any toxicologist what kills people. They will tell you that it’s not about the substance – it’s about the dose. This is so important to remember if you want real peace with food.
If you eat donuts morning, noon and night for years, you may develop a health problem down the road. Eating an occasional donut – when you really want it – will help you make and keep peace with food. That peace stops the binging, emotional eating and urges to diet. It also keeps you from accidentally ending up on one of these diets in disguise. There’s also nothing more rewarding than getting your life back – that’s the best outcome from making peace with food!
I would love to hear from you! Have you ever found yourself on one of these diets in disguise? What happened? When did you realize it was a diet?
Are you still struggling with making peace with food? Are you worried your body will suffer if you don’t “eat clean?” Please leave a comment. Let me know what’s going on and why you’re concerned and let’s sort it out.