What is the diet cycle and why would you want to break free from her clutches?
Because friend, you deserve freedom from the weight and damage of cycling your weight, measuring your worth by numbers on a scale and restrictive diet after diet.
Diets don’t work long term and they do cause damage. We can do better with Intuitive Eating (and I’ll show you how).
If you’re new to Intuitive Eating – welcome! – I invite you to check out this blog post: What Is Intuitive Eating? A Beginners Guide so that you have a foundational understanding of what IE is and how it can improve your life dramatically (unlike diets!).
In this blog post, I’ll walk you through exactly what the diet cycle is, the risks of continued restrictive diets, and how to break free so that you can enjoy your best (and yes, healthiest) life.
First off, what is the diet cycle, exactly?
What is the diet cycle?
Picture this: you finally get to book that next vacation with your best friends. You haven’t seen one another outside of the confines of a Zoom hangout in far too long.
And then it dawns on you: your body looks different than the last time that they saw you.
...and you start to feel anxious and ashamed.
And so you regroup. “No problem,” you think to yourself...there is time to diet so that you can feel confident in your skin and ready for selfies. You brush the dust off of your scale, fill up on lemon water and meal replacement shakes, dive into grocery lists and work on that long list of rules about what you can (and even longer list, what you cannot) eat.
But, if you’re honest with yourself...it kind of sucks. The anxiety about following the plan. It’s impact on your social life now. Missing foods you love...worrying about weigh-ins...
...what if there was another way?
Good news: yes, there is another way! You too can have freedom from the diet cycle.
You don’t need to lose ten pounds (or twenty or fifty) before the next “thing.” The next thing will always happen...and you have better things to do with your precious time and mental energy than to value your worth by your weight.
The diet cycle causes damage
The diet cycle is a sneaky little B. She lures you in with the promises of how good you’ll feel when you’re finally at your goal weight...this time will be different...this is the diet to end all diets.
But the truth? Diets are temporary. They may allow you to lose weight in the short term, but most of the time, you’ll regain the weight back. And maybe even more.
This makes you feel like a failure when in reality, it was the diet (and societal expectations) that failed you.
Cycling your weight actually causes damage to your metabolism. This means that every time you try a fad diet, and then the diet fails you, your metabolism changes a bit.
So, how do you break free? Let’s discuss that now.
How do you break free from the diet cycle?
I’ll never pretend that going against something as omnipresent as the diet cycle is easy. Cuz it isn’t. But breaking free is worth it.
And with practice, it will get easier.
I recommend these five steps (again, not easy steps) to break free from the cycle of yo-yo dieting. This is how you work towards true food freedom and body acceptance. Step one? A bit of tough love and fact-finding.
Step 1: Face the facts
We tend to think about the benefits of dieting related to numbers on the scale, numbers on your clothing tags and acceptance in a society that is very thin-focused.
But if you dig a little deeper, I’ll bet that you can find even more benefits that keep you tied to diets.
What are the benefits to you of being on a diet?
- Distraction from an uninspiring job or lackluster relationship?
- An easy way to connect with your peers?
- A project that gives you the feeling of accomplishment?
And even if you aren’t naming your diet – Slow Carb, Thermo Diet – do you still live by food rules? (If you’re not sure, this blog will help: How To Identify & Break Food Rules). Be honest with yourself that you are on diets, or have a diet mentality, even if you aren’t on a diet that you’re naming right now.
Whew. Facing the facts is an important first step. You’re on a diet. You’ve been on a diet. Now what?
Step 2: Give yourself time
Just think how many times you’ve “practiced” dieting by different means. Probably a lot! Most people will have tried 126 diets in their lifetime. 126! Dieting feels easier and more familiar than not dieting because not dieting is a new skill.
But that’s really all it is: skill-building. And with practice, the right tools and support, you can get more comfortable with not dieting.
Like any new skill, know that it will take time. We have to rewire your brain to think in a brand new way about food and body.
Here is an analogy that I love. If you like to hike a lot (as I do), you can follow a familiar path almost without thinking about it. To walk a new path, you have to consciously make an effort to form a new path, breaking branches that are blocking your new path. Meanwhile, twigs and leaves fall on the first path. After a while you’ll start to automatically take the new path because branches and leaves are falling on the old making it less automatic to take.
Tools to try here include mantras and affirmations. And all new skills are a bit easier with the right support system.
Speaking of tools, there are a few I recommend that you ditch.
Step 3: Get rid of diet tools
Have you ever heard of the expression “create your environment to support your goals?” This is 100% true with breaking the diet cycle.
Think about your life: what tools support being on a diet. A bathroom scale? Portioned containers in your kitchen? Food tracking apps or pro-diet IG accounts?
Ditch ‘em all! They are not supporting the food freedom that you deserve.
Instead, have words of affirmation on your fridge, IG accounts to follow that make you feel good (You’re welcome to follow me here) and keep food stored in a way that is not triggering.
Give yourself permission to have a full bag of potato chips in the house, instead of the individual portions or snack packs.
Whatever you have in your life and home that are pro yo-yo dieting is on the list to kick out.
Next? Nourishing your hunger.
Step 4: Nourish your hunger
Dieting in its essence is about sabotaging your ability to trust your body to tell you what she needs and your body trusting that you’ll respect her needs.
It isn’t about micromanaging your body and hunger with dieting rules such as having a glass of water to “see if you’re really hungry.”
First things first? Eating when you feel hungry. And although that might seem simple on the surface, it can feel out of control to a person who has been dieting.
What can also be tricky is if you’re not noticing your hunger cues to begin with. This can happen if you’ve been ignoring those cues for a while. Here’s How To Get Hunger Cues In 3 Easy Steps.
I recommend breaking this step – nourishing your hunger – into smaller steps.
Biological hunger, first.
Start by giving your body enough overall energy. For now, we aren’t too focused on what you’re eating, just building that trust back between you and your body. If your body says you’re hungry, you eat.
Next: neutralize the rules
Next, begin bringing previously banned foods into your house to practice eating them when you’re hungry. Many people do NOT do this and just go at everything at once. Unfortunately, this is typically too overwhelming for most people and causes the dieting all-or-nothing thinking to come in. You take 80 steps forward then 85 back.
Pssst: This is what I teach in The sociEATy and guides members to such great success.
You may be wondering, what do Intuitive Eating and food freedom actually feel like? Let’s chat about that now!
Step 5: Focus on how you feel
Focus on how you FEEL.
Do you feel content? Satisfied? Calm and focused?
Intuitive Eating should feel good. There is quite a bit of misinformation both about dieting (hint: it doesn’t work) as well as about Intuitive Eating (hint: it isn’t all about gorging on donuts 24/7).
Intuitive Eating should feel good. As an Intuitive Eater, you’ll include a variety of nourishing and fun foods so that you feel satisfied both in body and in spirit. Nutrition DOES play a role (I like to call this gentle nutrition) however it’s not the ONLY aspect of your food choices!
Food is not moral. So pay attention to your language here as you assess and take note of how you feel. There is a difference between I feel bad, as in a stomachache, vs. I feel like I’m being bad for making the food choices that I did.
If you notice statements of morality in your inner dialogue, some positive body image work would be helpful. I have a blog post just for you: How To Overcome Negative Body Image.
If you’re ready to take some real action, get excited for your 5-Day Positive Body Image Challenge, an email-based workshop that is totally free (and totally fun!).
Key takeaways: Breaking the diet cycle
Breaking the diet cycle is hard work: you’re literally going against many cultural and societal norms as well as habits that might be entrenched in your family and friendship and relationship dynamics. Take heart: you can do hard things, and your life will be better, lighter and freer for this work.
Diet cycles cause damage to your metabolism and body trust. And they simply don’t work.
Food freedom does work. If you’re ready to find freedom, I invite you to check out the SociEATY where you’ll join a global community of women who actually like to eat. In the SociEATy, I teach you the skills to break free from the diet cycle that has been holding you back from your most fulfilling life. Join us!
Need more guidance? Be sure to checkout my YouTube channel for more tips to help in your intuitive eating journey and take the no food rules quiz which will tell you what's holding you back from truly finding food freedom and give you customized resources (and a workbook!) to overcome it!