Have you ever been on a diet?
My guess is that you’ve either been on one yourself or have been around dieting women.
It starts with the anticipation and excitement of the first day. Grocery shopping for the ingredients to your new meal plan, memorizing the “ok” foods and eating the “off-limits” foods for the very last time. You start off strong, telling everyone about your new diet and even encourage them to join in too.
You’re following the plan perfectly. To a T. Then comes the invite to happy hour. You tell yourself that it’ll be fine. You have so much willpower. You’ve been doing so well. You decline the glass of wine, sit on your hands when the breadbasket comes, and order the entree that’s allowed on your diet.
But as you leave the restaurant you feel something other than triumph - you feel deprived. A happy hour with the gals is normally a stress-reliever, but all you thought about was avoiding, restricting and powering through. When you get home, you’re exhausted. You open the fridge, grab the pint of ice cream and devour it.
The guilt and shame seeps in. And you decide to get back on the wagon tomorrow. Kicking off the cycle of dieting once again.
Why do we do this? Why do we always resort to punishing and blaming ourselves?
Think of it like this. Say you take your car to the shop for new tires. You drive around with them for a day and they all go flat. Would you blame yourself for driving incorrectly? Absolutely NOT!
So why is it any different with dieting? Why is it that 90 to 95 percent of diets fail - yet dieters blame themselves, not the diet? Because the nearly $60 billion a year weight-loss industry lures us in by making us believe that we can be that 5 to 10 percent that succeeds. But it doesn’t have to be that way and I’m here to show you why self-compassion is a much more effective approach. And why learning to swap dieting for self-compassion is the key to creating a wellness routine that is enjoyable and sustainable long-term.
Self-compassion is a practice that was studied in depth by Dr. Kristin Neff, who defines it as showing yourself loving connective presence. Rather than emphasizing self-care practices like massages and bubble baths (also great!), self-compassion is about showing up for yourself in the present moment. Realizing that you are doing the best you can and being proactive about the low moments rather than feeling guilty.
Here are 3 ways to start incorporating more self-compassion and move away from the diet mentality:
1) Quit Striving for Perfection
One aspect of dieting that makes them difficult to sustain long-term is the all or nothing thinking that comes along with them. Either being “on the wagon” or off of it, no in between. The problem with this? Perfection doesn’t exist! Everyday is different, therefore our bodies crave different nutrients. Rather than following a rigid eating schedule, show up for your body by tuning into your cravings. Be mindful about the way foods make you feel and how they taste. This allows headspace to focus on the present moment and the people you are with, rather than allowing food rules to dominate your thoughts.
2) Nourishment Over Restriction
Think about the scenario mentioned previously...restricting at happy hour and then binging on ice cream. Maybe you’ve found yourself in a similar situation. My guess is that you felt guilty, shameful and like you “blew it”. When in reality, restricting certain foods only heightens the desire for them. Forcing yourself to follow a rule book will only trigger a rebellious chain reaction. A diet plan doesn’t take into account your hunger or what you need to feel satisfied in that moment. Self-compassion could be utilized in a scenario like this by moving away from the guilty thoughts by showing yourself some loving connective presence. Asking yourself if the ice cream truly filled your need and made you feel nourished. If not, then how can you make a choice to change the situation and truly nourish your body well? Rather than seeing setbacks as failures you can use them as an opportunity to grow.
3) Choose Your Indulgences
Practicing self-compassion and allowing yourself to indulge in pleasurable food does not mean a free for all. But when you show up in the moment and ask yourself what you truly want, you can be more mindful about your indulgences. Rather than just taking a cupcake because everyone else is or grabbing a donut at the work meeting because it there, decide for yourself what will bring you joy and pleasure. Then give yourself full permission to indulge in those pleasures, guilt-free. This might be hard at first, but chances are, you’ll notice that the more you give yourself permission to indulge, the more satisfaction you’ll experience. As a result, you won’t find yourself downing the whole pint of ice cream without tasting a bite. Instead, you’ll be able to savor it in moderation and won’t feel the need to overindulge. You’ll feel satisfied afterwards rather than stuffed and sick.
Which of these strategies resonates with you the most? I’d love to hear how you plan to incorporate it into your wellness routine. Keep in mind that these practices can take time to feel natural. Dieting mentality tells us that food is the enemy and that willpower is the answer. I specialize in helping women ditch this rigid mindset and find joy in food again by practicing self-compassion, investing in themselves and learning to nourish their bodies well.
If you’re interested in receiving more support around this, you can schedule a free 30-minute clarity call with me here to learn more about my nutrition coaching programs.
1. Neff, K. (2013). Self compassion. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
2. Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary program that works. New York: St. Martins Griffin.