You all know that a large part of my brand and what I do is debunking diets and nutrition trends. A lot of these diets, of course, have to do with telling us how to lose weight, and although they’re toxic and often ineffective (especially in the long-run), that doesn’t stop people from trying them.
Although I don’t support diets, I don’t identify as an anti-diet dietitian. This is because what I’ve seen of the anti-diet community has been too extreme to align with my nutrition philosophy.
Here are some of the differences between what I’ve seen the anti-diet community stand for, versus what I believe:
While I don’t like diets and won’t ever promote them, I still believe that it’s okay to want to lose weight.
I don’t believe that intentional weight loss is always harmful.
I do believe that weight loss can be achieved in a healthy manner.
I don’t believe that diet culture and weight loss are always intertwined.
I don’t believe that my personal beliefs about weight and size and diets belong anywhere near my personalized recommendations for other individuals. While I have my philosophy that I operate around, I don’t think personal biases should impact a professional’s work.
Anti-diet and I do share some similarities:
We both believe that diet culture and fat phobia are unacceptable.
We both believe that there are a lot of people out there who are torturing themselves and negatively impacting their lives with restrictive diets.
We both believe that regardless of a person’s size, everyone should be treated the same way, and that this doesn’t always happen – especially in healthcare.
Now that we have all of that out of the way, I want to address the topic of this post. In the midst of all of my debunking, I’m getting a lot of the same question from my followers:
‘Can you tell me how to lose weight without going on a diet?’
I mean, I wrote a book about it, but in all fairness, not all of you have read it (but everyone should).
Don’t expect meal plans, rules, strict portion size recommendations, and a shopping list: those are things you won’t get from me.
I’m not going to tell you to eat 10 almonds as a snack and some egg whites for breakfast.
I don’t believe that giving people those tools and sending them off to lose weight is useful or sustainable, yet pretty much every weight loss plan on earth does it.
Eat this. Don’t eat that. Weigh yourself. Track your food. Lose X pounds in Y time. Take these supplements. Drink some lemon water.
Instead, I believe in giving people guidelines, which I will describe in another post.
But none of this – even my guidelines – is going to help you, if your relationship with food and your body is broken.
Before you go on another diet or weight loss plan, understand that a journey towards weight loss shouldn’t begin with food.
So, that’s what this post is about. Not prescriptive diet recommendations, but instead, the piece that everyone should start with BEFORE they change the way they eat.
Because if that part of you isn’t addressed, you’ll keep coming back to diets, and I don’t want that for you. I want you to be able to leave diets in the dust, and sail off into the sunset.
Will you lose weight by taking a hard look at your relationship with food? Maybe. You may set things straight within your self, changing your eating habits in the process.
Maybe you learn that you don’t need to have a feast or famine attitude, so you stop binging.
Maybe you stop starving yourself with crazy diets, and start trusting your body, so you can stop compensatory overeating when you’re ‘off plan.’
Maybe you feel comfortable, not ashamed, when you eat what you want instead of what a diet tells you to eat, so you eat less.
Or maybe you don’t lose weight.
Maybe you gain weight, because you’re more well-fed versus chronically underfed.
Maybe you stay the same, but you’re happier and more free, versus miserable and under the thumb of an industry that was created to swindle you into thinking you would be better if you looked different.
What I can tell you is that diets work, but only temporarily.
Cleaning out your closet, aka taking care of the stuff that’s behind your eating habits, lasts forever.
So before you change your diet, there are a few checks you should do.
Keep reading to see the first steps in doing that.
Check one: Question what you believe to be true about your body (and yourself).
What do you tell yourself about your body?
I call this your ‘tape’ – it plays over and over again, and it’s most often a repetition of horrible, untrue statements about ourselves.
‘I’m not good enough.’
‘I have no willpower.’
‘I’m ugly when I weigh X.’
‘Unless I’m thin, people won’t like me.’
You know, some version of the above. These reflect some of our negative core beliefs, which are beliefs about ourselves and who we are in the world. Core beliefs govern much of how we react to situations and the choices we make in our everyday lives.
We frequently tell ourselves negative things about ourselves, which we’ve been told by someone else. For example, when you tell yourself that you aren’t good enough the way you are, is that really you speaking? Or, is it a parent who once made you feel that way?
Whose voice do you hear when you do these things? Is it yours, or is it someone else’s? Where did this belief come from? When did it start? Chances are, you’ve carried it for decades.
Whether your tape is in your voice or someone else’s, put it to the test.
Question whether what’s on your tape is actually true.
Do people really not like you because of the way you look? Really?
Are you really ugly because of your weight? Do you believe that?
Some of us go through decades of our lives just letting our tapes play and play, and not confronting it. I want you to confront your tape, and really interrogate it. Challenge it. Ask yourself if what you’re telling yourself is rational and if you’d ever say it to someone who you love.
Probably no to both, right?
The significance of your tape to your weight is that your tape is where those sneaky negative core beliefs are expressed. Those core beliefs can lead us to believe that we need changing, that we aren’t good enough, and that it’s okay to punish ourselves for the way we look. All of these things can keep us from being happy in our own skin, and from eating peacefully.
Intellectually, most of us know that we should be kind to ourselves. Emotionally though, it’s a tougher sell.
Start to fix your tape by catching yourself any time you say something negative to yourself either in your head or out loud. Challenge the thought, then banish it from your head. Replace it with a more rational one.
“Everyone loves me. They couldn’t give care less about what size pants I wear.”
And to the person who hears a parent in their tape: “My weight doesn’t determine my worth. It never did, so shut up, mom!”
Not everyone who wants to lose weight has negative core beliefs around their body and food, but in my experience, especially if you’ve been on multiple diets, it’s likely that you do.
Check two: Think about why you want to lose weight in the first place.
Is it for health?
Are you a chronic dieter looking to fit into your old pants?
What are you looking to get out of weight loss?
Don’t go blindly into a new way of eating; understand what you’re hoping to get out of it, and why.
Do you think your life will change significantly after you lose weight? How?
Are your ‘goals’ realistic? What are your expectations around your body, and are they healthy and sustainable?
Are you doing this for someone else?
Will you be sacrificing your psychological health for the anticipated physical benefits of this plan?
Unless you have disordered eating, I can’t tell you whether the reason you want weight loss is right or wrong. Take the time to explore whether your desire to lose weight is right for you, and if the reasons are logical.
As an aside, a licensed counsellor can help you work through any or all of these steps.
Check three: Explore how this plan will ripple out to your lifestyle and people around you.
In my book, I describe what most people do – jumping right into a diet without taking stock of what they’re getting into – as stepping on the gas pedal of a car while going around a blind turn.
And while it’s easy to envision an exciting new weight loss plan as all rainbows and butterflies, look beyond the honeymoon period. How you eat impacts everything and everyone – from the example you’re setting for your kids, to your stress levels, to your social life and your relationships.
Is this new way of eating going to fit those things, or will you have to force your life to fit into it? Hint: if it’s the latter choice, it’s probably going to be tough to maintain.
Beware of plans that make big promises, promote cleanses and detoxes, are sold by MLM, and that aren’t run by an RD. Turn and run if it makes you cut out entire food groups for no good reason (red flag: cutting out gluten and dairy) or makes blanket statements about how X food is bad for everyone. A lot of people will lose weight on these programs, but it’s what you don’t see that also matters: what are they doing to their psychological wellbeing, and how long will they keep the weight off?
Be suspicious of any program that has meal plans, or a ton of rules about what you can eat, when. Guidelines, yes. Rules, no.
I’m not following anyone else’s rules about what I should eat and how, and neither should you.
Also, know that you don’t have to take supplements and buy expensive food to be healthy and lose weight.
All of these things are signs that you may be buying into a plan that doesn’t have your best interests at heart, and that may further damage your relationship with food and your body.