Do You Struggle with Diet Mentality?

Too many people associate the word “diet” with deprivation, struggle with all-or-nothing thinking with food, and follow unhealthy or overly restrictive diet trends. These struggles are a result of diet mentality.

Diet mentality contributes to poor mental, physical, and emotional well-being and can lead to feelings of failure, missing out on life, and unhealthy habits. Living in diet culture can be hard for anyone to navigate and it’s hard to shelter yourself from its effects since it is so pervasive in our society.

With over 95% of diets “failing” and the diet industry profiting significantly from making us feel self-conscious and confused, it is important to learn the signs of problematic diet mentality and learn how to break through its grip to develop a healthy relationship with food and your body.

Do you have a healthy relationship with food and your body? Here are 9 signs that you may have a problem with diet mentality.

1. Lack of Control Around Food. Having an unhealthy relationship with food can lead to binge eating or feeling like you can’t control yourself when you have access to certain foods. Usually, this feeling develops because you have placed certain foods off-limits. Restricting foods can lead to higher cravings for that food and lead to overeating once you are around that food. When you have that food, you may feel like you don’t know when you will have it again or like you “deserve it” and then end up overdoing it.

On the opposite side of this is feeling like you must control every aspect of your food including your calories, portions, macros, carbs, etc. This often is related to a belief that you cannot trust yourself or your body. Dieting can provide a false sense of control over yourself and your environment, but this feeling often leads to the opposite, leaving you feeling very out of control.

2, Stress About Eating Habits. If you find yourself anxious and stressed about food, including social situations and holidays involving food, this is a big red flag that you need to take a good, long look at how diet mentality is impacting your life. You may find that you not only are stressing about events that involve food, but you are also finding excuses not to attend or spending more time in your head than enjoying yourself. Stressing about food could lead to making decisions about what you will eat based on the rules in your head instead of ordering what you really want. You deserve to enjoy your food, be present, and move on from a meal at its completion.

3. Feel Guilt or Shame about Eating. These feelings could be about what you ate or how you ate. By classifying foods as good or bad or having certain foods “off limits,” you start to believe that if you aren’t perfect there is something wrong with you or that you aren’t good enough. This is usually one of the biggest signs that you have an unhealthy relationship with food. How or what you eat should not dictate how you feel about yourself.

4. Think of Food as Good or Bad. Labeling food into categories of healthy/unhealthy, allowed/not allowed, and good/bad is a surefire sign that you are on a restrictive diet. This could lead to omitting perfectly healthy foods and setting yourself up to fail as you aren’t learning how to incorporate different foods in a healthy, maintainable way. It sets up a forbidden fruit effect where it becomes more desirable. All foods can fit into a healthy, well-planned diet.

5. Significant Time Spent Thinking About Food, Body, and Weight. People who struggle with diet mentality often find themselves obsessing about what they ate, are going to eat, overanalyzing their choices, and so on. This could also be an obsession with the scale, measuring, or exercising. Most thoughts are negative, create anxiety, and take away from being present most of the day.

If you are preoccupied with thoughts about food, it could be a sign that you are being too restrictive, not eating enough throughout the day, or that you are struggling with disordered eating. How much time do you think about food? People with a healthy relationship with food generally answer around 15% of their day. Research has found that people who have more restrictive eating patterns tend to have a higher percentage of daily thoughts about food.

6. Use Food to Cope. If turning to food to deal with difficult emotions or situations is your main coping skill this can be another sign that you have a problem with diet mentality. When food is used to help with every sad, anxious, angry, or bored emotion it teaches you to associate food with comfort instead of nourishment. This can also lead to a pattern where you are not listening to your body and eating because of how you are feeling instead of because your body is actually hungry.

Using food or exercise as a coping skill also prolongs our problems and can make them worse because we aren’t dealing with them. Instead of standing up for yourself at work or studying for an important test, you eat or exercise, which may make you feel better in the moment, but it doesn’t actually solve or prepare you for the problem you are trying to avoid.

7. Feel Disconnected from Your Body. This is a big one! Do you actually listen to your body and eat because it is hungry and stop because it is full? Do you taste your food and eat mindfully? Many diets disconnect you from your body and the entire experience of eating. Learning how to listen to your body and enjoy your food is a step toward giving your body what it needs, healing your relationship with food, and trusting yourself again.

8. Thinking You Have to Earn Certain Foods or Punish Yourself for What You Ate. No one needs to earn a cookie or must get in so many steps if they eat over a certain number of calories. Diet culture brainwashes us with this type of thinking but if you are eating a balanced, varied diet and enjoying regular exercise your body will do its job of self-regulating. By allowing a variety of foods in your diet you will have noticeably less cravings for different foods.

The purpose of or motivation for exercise should not be connected to what you eat. Exercise has many benefits and many of us find many benefits from being active daily, but like food, it should not feel like a punishment or that it is surrounded by rules and defines if we are good or bad. In the same sense, feeling like you must deny yourself when you are hungry because of how you ate or exercised that day is another problematic belief system. Denying yourself food is denying yourself essential nutrients that you may need for your body to stay strong, balance your mood, help you sleep, and much more!

9. Omit certain foods or food groups from your diet (for non-allergy or belief reasons). You should not have to remove items from your house to be healthy. A healthy, balanced diet can include all foods and is not only good for your body but is also good for your mental and emotional health. Food is connected to memories, celebrations, people, and much, much more. If you cannot participate in your child’s birthday party or enjoy a family recipe that has been passed down for generations, you are missing out on experiences and denying yourself opportunities that may fill you with other important benefits that may contribute to a feeling of overall well-being, joy, and connectedness.

Restricting yourself, throwing out foods you like, or telling yourself you can’t have something almost always makes it more likely that you crave those items and cannot control yourself around those foods. Remember, deprivation and restriction drive uncontrolled eating, not the food itself!

How to Breakup with Diet Mentality

Reframing your thoughts around food and your body is the first step towards developing a healthier relationship with both. Food and your body are not an enemy. They do not define who you are or what you are worth.

Start to focus on being more mindful of your food and exercise choices. Allow yourself to eat a variety of foods and truly savor and enjoy them. Of course, be aware of your portions and the balance of the foods you are eating but don’t stress over each little bite. Engage in exercise that you enjoy and look forward to. Instead of focusing on what is “bad” or stressing about making the right choice, try to turn your thoughts around to focus on the positive of what you are doing and feeling. You are uniquely you and deserve to be free from the chains of diet mentality!

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