Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Reframing diet "failures"

Big news...the third edition of Intuitive Eating was released last month (click the image below to buy it on Amazon)...yeah!  I'm super pumped to read it, because it's been completely revised, and there are even two new chapters: one about raising kids to be intuitive eaters, and another about the science behind why intuitive eating works.  If you haven't purchased the book already, I highly recommend doing so.  As I've said before, this philosophy has been absolutely life-changing for me, and I just know that it can help so many other people out there who are fed up with diets and obsessive thoughts about food and their bodies like I was.

When I was reading the "Reject the Diet Mentality" chapter the other night, I stumbled upon a concept that really struck a chord with me, and I thought I would share it to see if it makes sense to my readers as well. In the chapter, the authors talk about how following a prescribed diet or eating plan requires a person to be obedient.  Often times, people find that they rebel against this structure by binge eating, or "cheating" on their diet.  Most people see this as failing, and bemoan their lack of "willpower."  However, as the authors explain, we all have personal boundaries, and letting a person or diet plan dictate what we eat, when we eat it, and how much of it to eat is a clear invasion of these boundaries.  I mean, how on earth could another person or diet plan know how much food I need to satisfy myself?  Or what will be pleasing to my palate at any given moment?  When these personal boundaries are crossed, we as humans have a natural reaction to reclaim our autonomy, and this is why most of us unconsciously rebel against diets (remember, only 3-5% of people actually maintain weight loss from a diet!) by binge eating or "cheating" when subjected to the strict rules of dieting. 

Most of us see this rebellion as a "failure," but I feel that talking about it in terms of personal boundaries provides a whole new perspective, and explains why it is, in fact, a completely normal response.  Rather than seeing it as a lack of willpower, or some inherent weakness within ourselves, instead this "failure" to stick to a diet shows us that we have a strong need for autonomy and for protecting our personal boundaries, which is a healthy thing!  You know what kind of people have weak personal boundaries and little need for autonomy?  The kind of people who are sucked into joining cults, or who are incapable of saying no to people, even when asked to do something that is against their own interests.

Now, I'm not saying that the 3-5% of people who succeed at diets in the long term are going to run out and join a cult.  I'm just illustrating the point that those of us who have "failed," which is the vast majority of us, aren't flawed individuals.  In fact, we are psychologically healthy, and are reacting in an absolutely normal way to the crossing of our personal boundaries.  

So instead of thinking of your previous diet "failures" as the result of some sort of weakness or lack of willpower within yourself, instead realize that your rebellion against the rules of dieting only demonstrates your strong sense of autonomy, and the fact that you'll be damned if someone crosses your personal boundaries by dictating what, when, and how much to eat! 

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