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2 diets in disguise are as depressing as regular diets

Diets in Disguise: Beware of Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

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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.

a wolf in sheep's clothing is similar to diets in disguise

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!).

calorie counts of selected foods - don't count calories

• 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.

cutting out all sugar is a diet in disguise

• Adopting an alternative way of eating strictly to lose weight (gluten free, vegetarian, paleo, etc.) is one of the more common diets in disguise.

an alternative way of eating strictly to lose weight - even eating only apples - is an example of 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.”

Do you eat less when you think others are watching?

• 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.

eating "fat-free, low calorie" rice cakes is another example of diets in disguise

• Using the “tools” of dieting: food scale, measuring cups or spoons (to determine portions), calorie books, and the bathroom scale.

weighing your portions can be a diet in disguise


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 substanceit’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.


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3 woman surrounded by junk food

The 8 Major Obstacles to Overcoming Overeating

Several years ago I was trying to answer the question, “How do I do what I do?” It’s not easy to explain the making peace with food process (especially to those entrenched in the diet mentality), and it’s even more of a challenge to explain coaching in general.

There are several areas that I work with my clients on. And our work focuses on solving issues in these areas. These issues are in fact, obstacles that block people from making peace with food. So while this process is very different for each person, as is coaching, obstacles seemed to be a good way to describe the process and make it relatable to those struggling with food and body issues.

Here are the 8 major obstacles to overcoming overeating and making peace with food:

1. Lack of Foundation (Knowing Your ‘Why’): If you don’t know the real reason you want to achieve something, you will lose your motivation quickly. Building a foundation requires knowing your personal values and what you really want at a much deeper level than just, “I want to lose weight,” which only gets in the way and keeps you from making peace with food.

2. Diet Mentality: This is a huge obstacle. From a very young age, most of us have been taught how we should look and what we should and shouldn’t eat. At the same time, we are also taught that food is love, food will make us feel better, and we are a very food-centric society, with every celebration centered around the food. These conflicting rules and ingrained habits are what lead us to dieting, followed by overeating, followed by guilt, taking us back to dieting.

3. Learning and Applying the Basics of Mindful/Intuitive Eating: Many people start the process of intuitive eating only to find they have turned it into a diet full of rules and restrictions. It takes time to learn these principles and really apply them. Most of us, including myself, went back and forth between intuitive eating and dieting before it finally clicked and felt right. (But it’s worth it for a lifetime of peace with food!)

4. Negative Self-Talk: I think it’s safe to say that this is one issue that almost everyone wants or needs to overcome. The first step is being aware of it. Some people have those negative tapes playing all day long and they don’t even hear them, but the subconscious does. After being aware of it, the next step is to learn how to handle the talk. It’s my experience that ignoring the “voices” or telling them to go away won’t do it. Those voices are a part of you, so rejecting them, yelling at them to go away, or other similar strategies don’t work very well. Neither do affirmations where you say things to yourself that you don’t even believe. There are better ways of dealing with the voices and changing the self-talk to take a more positive tone.

5. Avoiding or Reacting to Difficult Emotions: Classic “emotional eating” is basically eating in response to strong feelings that you do not want to feel (conscious or otherwise). By “pushing the feelings down,” you get to temporarily avoid those feelings or the situations that are causing the feelings. Food can be used as a numbing agent, and when you overeat to the point of feeling sick or guilty, you can now focus on beating yourself up and planning your next diet, instead of dealing with what is really going on. The problem is if you don’t eventually allow yourself to feel your feelings and process them, they will always come back, often stronger than when they initially showed up.

6. Not Getting Your Needs Met: When you don’t feel your feelings, you are not going to be aware of what you are actually feeling (sad, angry, lonely, bored, etc). Therefore, you can’t identify what you might actually need (talking to someone, taking a walk, asking for help, etc.). In turn, when your needs are not met (and again, you may not even be aware of this), it is very easy to subconsciously turn to food because it temporarily fills the emptiness and creates a distraction. This is a vicious cycle that cannot be escaped without discovering your feelings, determining your needs, and getting them met.

7. Lack of Self-Compassion: Self-Compassion is an extremely important skill to learn. If we can’t be compassionate towards ourselves when we make mistakes or in times of difficulty, we end up in a place of judgment, “shoulding” on ourselves, and engaging in all kinds of negative self-talk. Using self-compassion allows for honoring our feelings, soothing ourselves, acknowledging we aren’t alone in these experiences and it brings us back to the moment and being mindful. This is a much better place than the past and regrets, or the future that we often put our lives on hold for, waiting for everything to be perfect. Research on happiness shows humans are happier when they stay in the present, regardless of their circumstances or emotions at the time.

8. Lack of Self-Care: Self-care is much more than lighting candles and soaking in the bathtub. It’s about taking care of your needs in several areas, including physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual health and wellness. It’s about creating a “balance” in your life – but balance doesn’t necessarily mean splitting your time and attention evenly among all four areas. It is about dividing your time and attention in a way that meets your true needs and desires and fits into your values (as determined when working on obstacle #1).

So there you have it – 8 major obstacles to overcome to stop overeating and make peace with food. You may already have some handled, and others may need more focus. This is normal. Take it at your own pace, learn along the way from your setbacks, and get ready to see not only your relationship with food improve, but other areas of your life as well!

control over food

Do You Really Want ‘Control’ Over Food and/or Your Body?

“Instead of either being in control over food while dieting or out of control when not dieting, try choosing. Make a choice, a decision.”

If you’ve ever been on a diet, you know there aren’t many choices. While dieting, you eat what the rules tell you to eat, no thinking required, no decisions to be made.

When you go off (or fall off) a diet, it’s very chaotic. You overeat as a result of the deprivation you experienced while on the diet. Whether it’s simply overeating, or actual binging, this feels like you’re out of control, right?

New clients often tell me that they just want to “get back in control over food.”

I have to question this, do they really want control? What does it feel like to be in control?

Control or Out of Control?

Think about it – being in control is following that diet to the letter. It’s rigid constraint and conformity. You’re trying to keep that grip on yourself so you don’t “cheat.” But your mind and body are fighting you the whole time, keeping you white-knuckling through it.

When you diet, you’re working against your mind and body. They fight back because it’s not an optimal state of being. Restricting food creates a constant state of fight-or-flight because your body is fighting for survival.

Do you really want to be in control, if this is what it takes?

On the other hand, no one enjoys the physical and mental consequences of being out of control over food. It brings on guilt and shame, and you tell yourself you need more “willpower.”

Experiencing guilt and shame after overeating and thinking you need more willpower are both part of the “diet mentality.” These thoughts and beliefs have no place in a peaceful relationship with food.

Another piece of the diet mentality is “black and white thinking.” You’re either in control by dieting, or out of control and overeating. It’s either this or that, there are no other options in between – no gray areas!

I hope at this point neither being in or out of control are very appealing. Let’s move into the gray zone, which is all about choice, or making decisions.

Choices Live in the Gray Area

In the gray zone, all foods are allowed. There is no restriction, and no “good” or “bad” foods. When you choose what you want to eat, you may decide on something yummy or that you’ve been craving. But you may just as easily choose something that your body is asking for. You may feel a craving for a specific type of food your body is wanting.

Intuitive eaters make decisions about what they want to eat. They have their favorite foods, but they are also aware of how different foods make them feel and they often choose those that physically feel good. Whatever they decide to eat, they never spend time feeling guilty or planning a way to “make up for it.”

You may worry that allowing yourself to choose what to eat will lead you to eat chocolate cake all day. At first, this may be the case. But after a few days (if that long) you’ll be tired of the cake and craving something else. Chances are, you’ll choose something that your body is asking for!

The more decisions based on what you and your body want, the more you’ll want foods that provide satisfaction and consistent energy. This is part of making peace with food. As you let go of control and allow for choice, you’ll make satisfying decisions and feel great for it!