True Being RD
Emily Marshall 

Do You Have a Diet Mindset? 


What is a diet mindset? Is it the same as being on a diet? There are actually many different mentalities depending on the person, but each one can harm your relationship with food and break trust with your body. Let’s take a look at those mindsets. 

The Chronic Dieter

A person who is a chronic dieter has been on numerous diets or weight loss challenges or cleanses or detoxes.  The really unfortunate part for chronic dieters is that typically they were on their first diet at a very young age. I’ve had some clients who were put on a diet before age 10! Chronic dieters were told to diet or learned to diet from their parents (typically the mother) who were also on a diet or had restrictive eating practices. A common diet that chronic dieters start out with is Weight Watchers. These clients of mine would describe their first time on Weight Watchers like a past love. The “one that got away”. The diet in the beginning was easy for them. They got the results they were looking for and they really enjoyed the camaraderie and complements that came along with it. From then on, the rules of weight watchers are ingrained in their mind like the Ten Commandments.  The weight may have stayed off for a significant amount of time, but ultimately they would gain it back and then some. This would trigger the never ending diet loop for them. Whatever diet would call out to them, promising weight loss and everything else they were looking for, they would try it. 

Chronic dieters don’t know any other way of eating or living. They are often perfectionistic, very disciplined, are successful in many areas of their life and consequently, overworked. Their self-talk tends to be very negative and they view themselves as lazy, gluttonous, and unworthy of love because they can’t keep the weight off or stick to the diet. It is this negativity and judgement that spirals them into chaotic eating. They often identify as having binge eating or emotional eating episodes whenever they break the diet or are stressed, tired, bored, or any other emotion. As they reach the height of their chronic dieting, periods between diets will stretch longer and longer because they don’t know what else to do and they have lost hope. Food is the enemy for them and they lack all trust with their bodies. 

The “Fall Off and Get Back on the Wagon” Dieter

A person who is a “fall off and get back on the wagon” dieter is different from the chronic dieter in that they did not feel the need to restrict their food intake until later in life. These clients of mine would relish the days when they didn’t have any cares about food and their body because it was so different from how their current life is. They would reach a point in their adulthood and realize their body no longer fits into the idealized and normalized shape and size deemed by our culture.  This made them feel uncomfortable, insecure, and confused. To rid themselves of these emotions, they decided to follow what our culture tells us we should do: change to fit the standard norm, or risk being an “outcast”. Of course, who can blame them? It’s only natural to want to fit in; in fact, it’s built into our biological hardware. 

Nevertheless, this sparked a similar pattern as the chronic dieter. While not as extreme or regimented, these dieters would start to “watch” their food intake more closely, use exercise as compensation for indulging, and use guilt as a tactic for keeping themselves in line. This game they would play with themselves would always backfire because willpower only lasts so long and they would restrict themselves too much anyways. When this happens, this phrase is almost always used: “I fell off the wagon, gotta get back on again”. These dieters may actually know the fact that diets don’t work, and yet they find themselves on the same loop. These clients of mine may have actually really enjoyed food and being active, but their quest to control their bodies led them to feel apathetic and disdain towards “healthy” foods and exercise. 

The Clean Eater 

I used to be this type of dieter in the past. This type of person may not have the exact goal of trying to shrink their body; although, they may have it in the back of their head as a fear of ever gaining weight. The Clean Eater is someone who has a goal of “perfect health” in their mind and this goal will still consume them. While not intentionally restricting calories, they may do so inadvertently because their food options they deem good enough are so few and far between.  The list of foods and ingredients they must avoid is ever growing. Due to this, most clean eaters will only accept food if it is homemade and made from scratch, all the ingredients are “clean”, and is from a brand or restaurant that identifies itself as “clean”. 

The reasons for becoming a Clean Eater can vary. Most often it is to feel better and avoid pain and poor health. However, clean eaters also seek control. When control is lacked in other areas of their life (work, personal, health, relationships, the environment, etc.) they seek to control what they can. Again, this is only natural to want to do. I did it in part because of my Crohn’s disease. My symptoms and other areas of my life were not in control, so I practiced control over what I put into my body.

I would spend so much of my time making my food and I did this not to save money or because it was practical, but because I believed I had to do it. What I didn’t realize at the time was what I was missing out on. I could have been spending more time with friends, focusing my attention on meaningful hobbies or actually dealing with the uncomfortable emotions that come along with having a chronic illness. (Those are all health promoting activities!) This clean eating did not do it’s perceived job of making me better, it actually made me feel worse. I always felt anxious whenever I didn’t have homemade food available.  I questioned every single ingredient in the grocery store which led to decision fatigue and a very limited diet. The key I had to learn here is there is no such thing as “perfect health”. Some things we just can’t control. Having variety and flexibility in your food choices always trumps micromanaging your food choices. 

The Lesson

These three types of dieters certainly is not an all-inclusive list, nor do people always fit neatly into 1 of 3 categories. You may know someone who fits exactly into one of these types or maybe you identify as being a little of all 3. I won’t tell you how to diet the “right” way in order to not get stuck on the never ending diet train. I’m here to help you get off the train and find your own path! Your own path is the one only your body knows. Your body is so so wise! We are actually born with that wisdom of knowing what, when and how much to eat! It’s amazing! Finding that innate ability again after being a dieter is challenging. I’d love to be your guide on that journey! 

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