They come in every form imaginable. Some are more obvious than others. Many under the guise of creating a “healthy lifestyle”, healing your hormones, or detoxing your body. All have an ulterior motive of manipulating body size somehow.
It’s this caveat on which many mothers get caught.
Why Diets Are Appealing to Mothers
Diets, no matter how they’re packaged, offer a false sense of security and hope, which is particularly appealing to mothers who are often in the throes of changing circumstances.
Through the process of growing, birthing, and raising children, mothers experience more dramatic body changes than at any other time of their lives.
But it’s not only the physical body changes that women experience as mothers. No, the physical body changes are the tangible changes that can be observed, measured and compared. But beneath the surface, mothers are also experiencing massive changes across every other aspect of their lives: socially, relationally, in their careers and outside pursuits, emotionally, mentally, and more.
As a Westernized society as a whole, we’re not equipped to support mothers through the dramatic changes experienced across their lifetimes. In fact, societal norms expect mothers to “bounce back”, to come back to life after the transformational act of having children, not just as before but BETTER, to erase every sign from her body that she’s brought children into the world.
There is enormous pressure on mothers to fulfill this arbitrary standard that is impossible to meet by any means. And for many women, finding a sense of stability through the many dramatic changes associated with motherhood can seem like a nearly impossible task.
This is where diets sneakily appear, with their false promises for “fixing” things that were never actually broken to begin with.
Diets, in all their various forms, seem to offer a solution to a tidal wave of changes that feel insurmountable. “Eat this way and shrink that baby fat away!” and the such, alluring mothers toward a seemingly simple solution that offers a sense of security and stability.
Because many mothers are more vulnerable to the ploys of diet culture and it’s alluring promises, it’s easy to fall right into the trap. Unknowing that dieting, in its many forms, actually makes motherhood more complicated than it should be and steals away the ability to live and thrive as we were intended to.
Motherhood, especially during pregnancy and postpartum, can be vulnerable times for women, and the diet industry preys on mothers’ vulnerabilities.
Diets offer a false sense of stability and security, especially when life feels chaotic and unpredictable.
On top of which, we’re immersed in a culture that both glorifies and normalizes dieting, making it nearly impossible to NOT be on the dieting bandwagon. It’s a way to superficially connect with others, gain acceptance, and feel like you have a place in society.
The dieting industry alone is a multi-billion dollar production, which is reflective of the number of people it insnares in it’s trap.
When you start to become aware of the dieting culture we’re living and breathing in, it’s easier to see how it affects us in the most toxic of ways. But first, what exactly is diet culture and how does it show up in motherhood?
What is Diet Culture?
According to Registered Dietitian Christy Harrison in her book Anti-Diet, diet culture is “a system of beliefs that equates thinness, muscularity, and particular body shapes with health and moral virtue; promotes weight loss and body reshaping as a means of attaining higher status; demonizes certain foods and food groups while elevating others; and oppresses people who don’t match it’s supposed picture of ‘health’.”
She goes on to describe diet culture as the “life thief” that consumes us and steals our time, money, well-being and happiness in the process.
If you think about it, how much has your diet and diet culture taken away from you? How much money have you spent on products promised to make you lose weight? How much time and effort and mental space have you lost out on because of diet culture? When you really think about it, it can be a hard pill to swallow.
The hard thing is that diet culture behaviors or things that diet culture promotes are hidden under the wellness culture disguise. Things like skipping meals, overexercising, rigidly watching what you eat, eliminating food groups, counting points, etc. are often justified as “health-promoting” behaviors. Our society is so seeped in diet culture that it literally feels normal to be dieting or always watching what you eat.
So what’s the problem with diet culture?
Diet culture waters down health to mean weight loss and demonizes weight gain and body changes. It glorifies thinness and elevates losing weight at all costs, even though the efforts involved to lose weight are detrimental. Diet culture sells out on the lie that weight loss must be achieved in order for health to be attained, no matter the consequences involved.
For mothers, this is highly emphasized after having children, with this narrative pushed through the “bounce back to your pre-baby body” propaganda.
Diet culture also perpetuates this idea that weight loss is the answer to all our problems.
Need a new career? Lose weight. Want to gain acceptance and approval? Lose weight. Want to have a better social life or intimacy with your partner? Lose weight. This is especially damaging to mothers, whose lives are often turned upside down when having children.
So much changes for a mother when she brings a child into the world – her career, friendships, relationships and more. Diet culture lurks at a time when she’s most vulnerable to push these false promises and hopes. If only you changed your body, you could find some sense of control and security in your life.
This is especially alluring for a mother who might feel like the rest of her life is out of control. Food and her body might feel like the only thing she can control.
Diet culture tells us that our health and success is attributed to the way we look rather than the actual behaviors we’re regularly engaging in, regardless of weight.
Why Fad Diets Don’t Work
Dieting often walks hand-in-hand with disordered eating, which can be characterized by abnormal eating behaviors, such as (but not limited to):
Restricting major food groups
Chronic restrained eating
Restrained eating that’s followed by binging episodes
Purging behaviors in attempt to get rid of food you’ve eaten, including overexercising
Weight cycling (losing and regaining weight continually, which has actually shown to be more damaging to our health than weight stability, even at a higher weight)
The allure of diet culture and false promises that it offers often keeps so many mothers stuck in a vicious cycle. It’s not your fault. It’s the cycle of dieting with no end in sight.
Diet culture makes us solely responsible for what we look like and how much we weigh, when in reality, we have far less control over our weight than we think we do. Our weight is influenced by factors outside our control, such as genetics and our biology.
Diet culture might make you feel like you don’t have any willpower and discipline, or that you lack self-control because you can’t control your weight or avoid particular foods you love eating.
What diet culture doesn’t disclose is that diets intended for weight loss almost always fail and backfire in the worst possible ways. Diets are simply not sustainable for any real length of time – not because there’s something wrong with you or because you somehow lack willpower and control.
Any time you are restricting your food intake, whether intentionally per a diet regime or unintentionally (let’s say you accidentally forgot to eat because of the morning madness trying to get the kids out the door to school), your body’s survival mechanisms kick in to keep you alive.
Our bodies aren’t meant to function in an energy deficit and will do everything possible to drive us to eat (AKA – SURVIVE). This might look like fixating on food or becoming ravenous when opportunities to eat might arise.
This is why you might feel out of control around food after you’ve put the kids to bed at the end of the day if you’ve tried to “limit” how much you eat earlier in the day.
You can only sustain yourself for so long before your body kicks in the drive to eat in high gear. It’s not a lack of willpower on your end. It’s your body’s survival instinct keeping you alive. It’s hardwired to fight against restriction and under-eating.
Weight loss attempts more commonly cause a vicious weight cycling circus, where you might lose weight but then regain it, over and over again as long as you’re on the dieting bandwagon.
Research shows that 95% of individuals who lose weight on a diet will end up regaining it within 2-5 years and often regain more weight than was lost. This is often a result of the restricting/overeating/binging cycle that often results from under-eating on your diet plan and then overeating when you can’t stand it any longer.
In actuality, weight cycling (weight gain and loss) is far worse for your health than having a stable weight, even if you’re at a higher weight.
Not to mention the damaging effects of dieting on your mental health. Think about how stressful it feels to be eating according to rigid food rules or to be actively restricting yourself from eating foods you want and enjoy. It’s awful! And the stress that dieting causes around food is far worse for your health than anything you could actually eat. READ: Anything.
So what does this all mean?
Focusing on weight loss isn’t’ actually the best thing for your health, unlike what diet culture promises.
Dieting isn’t what it’s made out to be. It actually harms our health, physically, mentally and emotionally in so many ways. And worse, children are picking up on dieting behaviors at younger and younger ages, making it all the more difficult to build body confidence and a positive relationship with food.
Ultimately, it’s not conducive to our wellbeing to try to manipulate our bodies by controlling our weight, especially long-term. I remember where I was at my lowest weight, and I was struggling in so many ways: physically, socially, and mentally. I had a raging eating disorder yet was being praised for the weight I managed to lose, even though I was clearly unwell.
In order to truly improve your health, it’s important to disentangle weight loss from your well-being.
Focusing on health promoting behaviors, like actually getting enough sleep, eating enough food, moving your body in ways that feel good (not punishing yourself) – all of these things can help improve your health in tremendous ways and have absolutely nothing to do with trying to shrink your body or micromanage your weight.
What we actually see from research is that weight stability is better for your health than weight cycling, which is associated with yo-yo dieting.
Ultimately, this can help you improve your relationship with food, which is going to facilitate healing in so many areas in your life. Bottom line: focusing on weight loss via diet culture is not the best way to take care of your life. In fact, it can make things so much worse for you in the long run.
(And PSA: You don’t need to lose weight to start giving yourself permission to do all the things you’ve always wanted to – you can start living your best life NOW. In fact, doing so is slowly reclaiming your life from diet culture.)
How Diet Culture Impacts Motherhood
When we think about diet culture in this context, it’s clearer to see it for what it really is: the life thief.
How much has diet culture taken away from you and your own life, especially as you navigate motherhood.
As long as you’re consumed with dieting, following rigid food rules or shrinking your body size, you have very little mental space to focus on the things that matter most to you.
Diet culture makes you preoccupied with food and may prevent you from engaging in activities and experiences with your child, like putting on a bathing suit and actually swimming with your kids or having a piece of birthday cake at your child’s birthday party.
You may be starving yourself during the day or restricting your intake to so little food that it’s difficult to concentrate and actually be present with your child. You may be running on fumes from your coffee throughout the day and trying to suppress your appetite, all while feeling depleted and with little energy to play with your little ones. You might be preoccupied with exercise and working out, missing out on time with your family because you had to squeeze that workout in. Or eating so little during the day that the binging monster activates at night, leading you to eat everything in sight. You might feel completely out of control around food, guilty about anything you do eat, and ashamed in your body. You might be so consumed with food guilt and body shame that you feel you have little left to give to your family and children.
Dieting and diet culture have taken so much away from you that you feel you’re not able to give the best you can to your loved ones or be the mother you want to be for your children.
You’re probably feeling exhausted and so tired of the struggle, but it seems like things will always be this way.
Dieting is a life thief and takes away SO much, including:
Intimacy with your partner
The ability to be present and patient with your children
And so much more.
Let me give you some encouragement here, my friend.
First, you are not alone in this.
I understand this because I was there, too. I know the bondage you can feel in your own body. The dieting rules that were meant to “help” you have just become a cage you feel trapped in. It feels like a nightmare you can never escape.
This is where I want to give you HOPE, because it is possible to find the food freedom you deserve and to be free from dieting for GOOD.
YOU CAN OPT-OUT OF DIET CULTURE.
You can be the one to end these generational cycles of dieting, food guilt and body shame to live for the moments that matter most to you and be present for your family. You can learn to be at peace with your body, no matter your size, and engage in behaviors that are truly healthful for your body and mind.
Dangers Connected With Dieting – Why Your Diet is Failing YOU
Diet culture takes many different forms and can influence your motherhood and infiltrate your family life.
How might dieting rules and diet culture show up in your motherhood?
Here are some of the sneaking ways diet culture may be showing up in your home and sabotaging your life:
Not allowing you to eat with your children or your family
Preventing you from enjoying certain foods with your children, like desserts or processed foods
Eating separate foods from the rest of your family
Not having the energy to play or engage with your children because you haven’t eaten enough
Not having the mental capacity to be present with your family because you’re preoccupied with food rules
Missing out on events or functions that involve food because you’re worried about what to eat
Not being intimate with your partner because you feel ashamed in your own body
Feeling stuck to your scale and frequently weighing yourself. Maybe your child has caught you weighing yourself before or you’ve found your child weighing themselves
Taking a polarizing view toward food that creates rigid food rules in your home
Avoiding buying your family certain foods because you’re afraid of having them in your home
These behaviors are often associated with feelings of guilt and shame around food and body size, poor mental functioning, preoccupation with food, and physical health complications.
Research has found that 65 percent of American women between the ages of 25 and 45 have some form of disordered eating. 10 percent of these women would meet the criteria for eating disorders.
You don’t have to have an eating disorder diagnosis to meet the criteria for having an unhealthy relationship with food and your body.
Too many mothers are suffering with an unhealthy relationship with food because they think they’re not sick enough to get the help they need. However it’s important to understand that if your relationship with food is damaging the rest of your life, this is reason enough to start taking steps toward healing. You don’t have to be stuck in this cycle anymore.
The first step toward healing is awareness of where you’re at and understanding where you want to be. It’s being able to look at yourself compassionately and know that all of this is NOT YOUR FAULT.
Diet culture has generational roots and is often passed down from generation to generation. This is where you can be empowered to know that cycle doesn’t have to be continued through you and to your children. You CAN choose to heal your relationship with food and your body to help your children have a positive relationship with food and their bodies.
Just by making the commitment to yourself and your family, you’re creating a ripple effect that will touch your children, allowing healing to happen for generations to come.
And it starts with you.
It begins with saying, “No more. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH”.
It’s taking a stand against diet culture and all that it’s taken from you so you can begin to reclaim your life and rebuild without dieting dictating what you can or cannot do.
Sometimes, this process also involves grieving the loss of everything diet culture has taken from you.
When you’ve been stuck in a vicious cycle with dieting and in a toxic relationship with food and your own body, it’s hard to really see all the things you’ve missed out on or lost because of diet culture. But as you start moving away from it, those things become clearer, and it can be painful at times.
I missed out on so many things because of my struggle with food and my body: we’re talking about YEARS of my life and memories that are all but a blur. You may be feeling the same thing too. It’s okay to grieve those things, but don’t stay in that place. Grieve and channel that energy as ammunition against diet culture to reclaim your life from it, so that diet culture can’t have a foothold in your life or in your family any longer.
It’s also important to lean into this with curiosity to learn more about the role that dieting may have played in your life and asking yourself instead what you really need. You’re not a bad person for falling victim to diet culture. Diet culture offered SOMETHING to you that sucked you in and kept you stuck there, which is why we stay, even though it’s toxic and painful. It really is like being in an abusive relationship: we might understand that it’s hurting us, but it’s hard to let go.
Some of the common reasons for this is that diet culture offers a false sense of security and stability that we often crave and need, especially as mothers. Life might feel chaotic in multiple ways, and falling back on a diet plan or rigid rules about eating might create a temporary feeling of control – even if it’s short term.
Taking the time to understand why you might’ve clung on to dieting can help you begin to understand what you’ve really needed. When you can start to pinpoint this, you can begin to learn what you can pursue instead that can help fulfill the deeper needs you have as a mother – being accepted, being seen, nurture, care, etc. You can start to reparent yourself in a more life-giving way by starting to give yourself the things you’ve really needed all along that diets just can’t provide.
What To Pursue Instead of Dieting
You can decide to opt-out of diet culture once and for all.
Choosing to ditch diet culture doesn’t mean you’re giving up or don’t care about your health. It’s recognizing that your health involves a much bigger picture than your weight alone and it’s choosing to engage in health promoting behaviors that are actually sustainable and life giving.
It’s learning how to become the best expert of your body and live out a positive relationship with yourself, one that is respectful and compassionate, one that you’d want your children to mimic and model.
You can learn how to reconnect to and honor your body’s innate programming for self-regulation and trust it as the best guide of what you need. List out some more of these non-dieting behaviors that can help improve your health.
Myths About Ditching Diet Culture
The thought of not having a diet with all it’s rules dictate how and what you should eat can feel daunting. In many ways, it can feel like you’re breaking up with a toxic person who you may have really loved but knew deep down that this relationship wasn’t benefiting or helping your life in a positive way.
When you let go of diet culture, you may have the tendency to want to go back.
Just like with that break-up with your ex. You may still keep that number in your phone or stalk their social media handles to see what they’re up to. You might have the inclination to pick up the phone and call.
Because when you’re away from it, it might not seem so bad after all. You might even begin making some arguments in your mind rationalizing all the reasons why your old dieting behaviors were actually helpful. You might wonder if you made the right decision or if you’re really going to be better off without the crutch of a diet to carry you through your life.
Part of the doubting that might resurface can come from fear and uncertainty.
Our brains like to make sense of the world around us to help us understand what’s coming.
When you let go of dieting, especially if it’s something you’ve been with for a significant amount of time, you might not know what to do with that gaping void. It can feel like a loss of control and unfamiliarity with your own body. You might not feel like you can really trust yourself or your body outside of the food rules you’ve always followed. It may even change your social circles and the way you relate to the people around you. In so many ways, this can be a hard period of adjustment, and going back to your dieting ways can feel like the better option.
This is where it’s important to focus on the things you’ve gained through the process of letting go of diet culture and to remind yourself of why you’re never going back. It’s also important to clear up any myths that surround the idea of ditching diet culture, as these can also make it difficult for you to fully let go and trust the process.
So let’s address some of the common myths around ditching diet culture so you can have the confidence you need to continue moving forward.
Here are some of the common myths about ditching diet culture that tend to pop up for mothers who are making the effort to experience freedom with food and their bodies:
Ditching diet culture means you’re letting yourself go: This is a big one. To dissect this, we have to understand where this is coming from – and surprise! It’s a myth perpetuated by diet culture. Diet culture promotes this idea that the way we find control and make sense of our lives is by leaning on a diet. And if you don’t have a diet to fall back on, then you simply don’t care about your life and are just letting yourself float through without any regard for your health or your body. The reality is that you’re working hard to unlearn these unhelpful belief systems that keep you stuck in negative behavioral cycles. Dieting is not sustainable and therefore, robbing yourself of the joy and pleasures that you deserve to experience in your life. Letting go of dieting isn’t about letting yourself go but finding yourself again and being at peace with living in your body, your home.
You don’t care about your health: Ah, this is another big one promoted by diet culture, that dieting is truly the only sustainable way to being healthy. It’s important to know this comes from an oversimplified view of health that centers our weight as the focal point of our well-being. But let me tell you, friend. Your health has so much more to do with the number on the scale. Our health and well-being encompasses so many factors, including our mental health, the state of our relationships, movement, sleep, how you manage stress and so much more. So many mothers who are stuck in the dieting vortex are overwhelmed and stressed out over what to eat, when to eat, and how to maintain the rigid rules involved with their diets. The stress diets cause are far worse for your health than anything you can possibly eat. And if the number you’re pursuing (in terms of your weight) is causing you to engage in unhealthy and unsustainable behaviors, then that weight is likely inappropriate for you in the first place. Letting go of diet culture recognizes that your mental and emotional health are just as important as your physical health, and it means you’re pursuing behaviors that honor your whole health – body, mind and spirit, not just the pursuit of a number on the scale.
You just eat whatever you want, whenever you want: Letting go of diet culture often implies this idea of having impulsiveness with food. This tends to piggyback on the first point, that you just let yourself “go” and aren’t really concerned about what you eat anymore. This idea can bring up so much fear in the mothers I know who are considering ditching diet culture. And again, this is the false allure of diets – it gives you a sense of control over food when making food choices can feel so overwhelming. The reality is that ditching diet culture allows you to be in the driver’s seat again, where you can learn to listen to and become the best expert of your own body and of what your body needs to actually thrive. Letting go of rigid rules around food means you’re creating space to foster intention and awareness with food and able to consider a variety of factors in order to make informed decisions about what, when and how much to eat. You’re able to eat in a way that’s aligned with your body and mind without having to fall back on external rules about how or what to eat.
Acknowledging and working through the myths that might come up for you as you work on leaving diet culture behind are important for reinforcing the work you’re doing.
How to Opt-Out of Diet Culture and What to Do Instead
“I don’t want to diet anymore”. When you’ve gotten to this point and are ready to ditch diet culture for good, what can you do next?
The amazing thing about ditching diet culture is the life ahead of you that you’ll be able to experience in freedom. Think about everything diet culture has robbed you of, including your time, mental energy and memories with the ones you love the most. Now imagine your life with more mental clarity, energy and focus on the things that really matter to you.
But you might be wondering – how can I even get started?
This can feel like a daunting task, especially if you’ve spent years on a diet of some form. You might feel lost navigating what “normal eating” might look like for you after constantly leaning on some form of diet rules to tell you what and how much to eat on any given basis.
How can you actually begin parting ways with diet culture to leave it behind? How can you eat and feed your body outside of the diet culture rules?
I’d love to offer you some encouragement here, as a mother who is a proud diet culture dropout and who’s healed my own relationship with food and my body.
Consider the following when getting started on your journey, because you deserve freedom my friend. It’s possible to end the legacy of diet culture in your family and in your home, one small and mighty step at a time.
Do a Diet Detox:
Not a dieting detox of course, but a diet culture DETOX.
When you’re parting ways with diet culture, it’s important to be aware of all the areas and ways it’s permeated your life. Diet culture shows up in the most subtle of ways, like sliding into your email inbox or via the posts of your favorite social media influencers.
Take the time to audit your social media feeds and unfollow anyone who promotes diet culture. If it’s someone you care about and don’t necessarily want to unfollow, consider muting them so their content is not regularly showing up in your feed.
Unfollow any companies or organizations that are trying to sell you their latest and greatest false promises via diet culture. Unsubscribe from magazines, email lists, news feeds, podcasts or anything else that you regularly interact with that is promoting diet culture. You have full permission to opt-out of diet culture, and that literally means opting out of the things that are serving you anymore and the direction you’re headed.
This doesn’t mean you’re living in a bubble, but that you’re intentionally choosing to create a supportive environment that isn’t touched by the far-reaching tentacles of diet culture.
2. Set Boundaries:
This is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of ditching diet culture, one that takes time and practice. Nevertheless, it’s just as important to support your life beyond diet culture and maintaining a supportive environment in which you can thrive.
What are boundaries and why might you need to set them?
The reality is that a majority of the people in your life are likely highly influenced by and engrossed in diet culture. From your immediate family members to your co-workers to your healthcare providers, diet culture is all the majority of people know.
You might feel like the odds are stacked against you. Sometimes, this journey can feel isolating or even counterintuitive, since everyone you know is living in diet culture. This is where learning to set healthy boundaries with others is powerful in supporting your efforts and your journey toward freedom from diet culture.
This might look like finding weight-neutral healthcare providers who aren’t regularly advising you to lose weight or go on a diet. Or asking your mother to stop sharing her newest diet tips with you. Or shutting down the body shaming and food guilting with your co-workers.
None of this is comfortable or easy. And like I said, it’s a lifelong practice that’s necessary to protect and preserve your well-being, especially as you learn to make peace with food and your body.
Remember that setting healthy boundaries for yourself doesn’t mean needing to convince someone about why it’s important to you. A majority of people I’ve encountered and talked to aren’t necessarily ready or open to the message of ditching diet culture – and that’s okay! It’s not your job to try to convince someone to come over the light, and this isn’t a requirement for setting a boundary.
A boundary can sound like something as simple as, “I’m working on accepting my body right now. Can you help me with this by not sharing about your diet? I’d love to hear more about [anything and everything that’s more interesting about people than their diets]”
Over time and with practice, you’ll learn to master setting boundaries in the inevitable situations where diet culture may pop up. Don’t give up and don’t stop trying!
3. Take a Neutral Approach to Food
Now when it comes down to the food part, you might be wondering what to actually do? How do you approach eating when diet culture has likely created so much fear around food for you, making it challenging to know how or what to eat?
One first step to take is to consider moving toward a more neutral approach toward food and eating. Diet culture loves to demonize food by establishing “good” versus “bad” categories of food.
This alone can make food choices overwhelming, and you might be paralyzed to try foods you’ve been told are “bad” for years by diet culture. Diet culture gives food way more power than it should have over your life. You can reclaim this power by neutralizing all food.
Remember – food is just food, and your body is the best expert of what foods you need to find both nourishment and pleasure.
Contrary to popular belief promoted by diet culture, there are no morally superior forms of food. When you learn to eat in alignment with what your body wants and needs, this is how you’ll discover eating in a more healthful way. There is no one size fits all approach to eating, and you can’t truly discover what foods you like and want to eat if you’re focused on a prescriptive way of eating (like diet culture promotes).
You also will have a harder time rediscovering food if you’re stuck in a good versus bad mentality with food. Try looking at food for what it is – nourishment and enjoyment, molecular structures that your body is capable of breaking down and utilizing to give you energy,enjoyment and pleasure in your life – no matter where it comes from.
If you’re able to break free from the diet mentality around food, you’ll be better positioned to get back in touch with your body, which is the best guide of what you need.
For many people, the thought of leaving these food rules behind can be nerve-wracking. Part of the illusion diet culture provides is that dieting gives you control over your food. The reality is that it gives your food way more power over you than it should have in the first place. It creates fear around food, which in turn, just adds to the stress you might feel around eating.
But when you can break away from the food rules and diet culture dogma and give yourself permission to eat things of YOUR choosing (not your diet plan), you’ll actually find that over time, you’re going to end up eating in a way that supports your overall well-being (physical, mental and emotional health included).
Taking a neutral food approach also means giving yourself unconditional permission to eat the foods you want (but that may have previously been avoided or restricted because they were on the “bad” list). This is where many people can feel uncertain about ditching their diets in lieu of eating what they want. I often hear pushback on this with statements like, “Well, if I let myself eat whatever I wanted, I’d just eat junk food all the time”, or, “If I ate what I really wanted, I’d never eat any healthier foods.”
However, this type of mentality is often a direct result of restricting access to the foods you want to eat.
When foods are restricted, they only become more desirable, and it’s more common to overeat the foods you restrict whenever you do get access to them.
This is why diets often create yo-yo behaviors with food.
Think about it: Your latest diet may’ve told you that you couldn’t eat bread, pastas, grains or sweets of any kind in the name of being “healthier”. So you might cut out all these foods for sometime. You stop buying them and keeping them in your home. But let’s say you go on vacation and decide to let yourself enjoy the foods you really want on your trip, since you’ve been “good” up until this point.
When you do get access to the foods you’ve previously restricted, you might feel more out of control when you eat them. This might lead you to feeling guilty and shameful in your body, which brings you back to wanting to restrict those foods again to “make-up” for what you ate.
Do you see this vicious cycle?
It literally goes on and on until you get to a point where you decide enough is enough. When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods, you won’t feel deprived because nothing is “off-limits”.
This gives you the freedom and flexibility to eat in accordance with what feels best in your body, not what your diet dictates you should or shouldn’t eat. It gives you the capacity to navigate your food choices in a way that centers your body as the best expert of what you need
It is important to understand that you might go through a “honeymoon phase” when you initially give yourself permission to eat, where you may find yourself primarily gravitating toward foods that have previously been off limits.
However, as you begin to trust that you’re allowed to eat whatever foods you desire, you’ll find that you get to a point where you want to eat a wider variety of foods. Research has backed this by showing how individuals who eat more intuitively, or in accordance with what their bodies want, don’t eat any more “junk food” than people who are dieting.
And BONUS – people who eat more intuitively have also shown to have less food anxieties and more pleasure and enjoyment with their food.
Breaking away from the dieting mentality ultimately helps you get back in tune with your body, so you can use your own sense of satisfaction to guide your food choices. This is what can lead you toward eating in a more beneficial way for your overall well-being.
4. Focus on Feeding Yourself Enough Food Regularly:
Diet culture is notorious for restriction, for causing you to eat the least amount of food possible and again, justifying it in the name of health. However, underfeeding yourself directly impacts how your body responds to inadequate calories.
In our diet culture society, under-eating or skipping meals is praised, even celebrated, normalizing a behavior that is harmful to our physical and mental health in so many ways. The reality is that our bodies don’t know the difference between being underfed because of a famine or due to the fact that a restricting eating diet is being followed.
Meaning, physiologically, our bodies are going to respond the same way to being undernourished in attempt to help keep us alive. It’s easy to gloss over this.
You might be thinking, “Is it really that bad to be in a calorie deficiency? That’s how I lose weight, right?” Again, this is the false allure of diet culture. When we try to “outsmart” our bodies by eating less than what we actually need, our bodies will do everything possible to resist the stress that inevitably comes with under-eating.
This might look like slowed metabolism, lower energy levels, mood swings, preoccupation with food, headaches, and digestive issues. It’s easy to brush these things aside and chalk it up to something else. Especially for mothers who may be busy and juggling multiple balls in the air at any given time, eating regularly and enough food can seem like a far distant fantasy.
You might blame any physical or mental symptoms you’re having to your busy schedule or motherhood itself. However, a majority of mothers I’ve worked with in recovery from diet culture struggle to eat enough and really make that a priority.
Healing from diet culture means feeding your body enough food so your body can trust that you won’t be depriving it anymore. It means feeding yourself faithfully and including foods you truly enjoy, not just food you think you should enjoy.
The goal is NOT to eat less at any given meal or snack or to try to opt-out of any eating times when possible. Again, I see this as a common trend with so many of the mothers I work with, where it’s easy to justify taking care of the kids or feeding the kids as an excuse to not be able to feed yourself.
Motherhood doesn’t make you a martyr or mean that you’re not allowed to feed yourself. It’s essential to make feeding yourself regularly and faithfully a priority to help you break free from diet culture. In most cases, when people consider how much to eat, it’s about restriction and eating the least amount of food possible.
However, this will only keep your body stuck in the deprivation cycle, which triggers your body’s defenses against starvation. This actually drives your body to eat more and seek out more food when opportunities present themselves. This might look like a late night binge after you’ve finally put the kids to bed, when you’re exhausted and can’t fight off the hunger you’ve been driving away all day.
So many moms who are stuck in this vicious cycle blame themselves for not having enough “willpower” or self-control. The inevitable guilt and shame that follows a binge drives them back to restrictive eating habits to “make up” for what they ate the day before, when it’s the restriction that drove them to binge in the first place.
If you’ve found yourself in this cycle, please know you’re not alone. You’re not broken and you’re not to blame. Under-eating, no matter how little it might be, will activate powerful mechanisms in your body that will drive you to seek out food in other ways.
Eating enough food is basic to life, and diet culture is robbing you of a fulfilling life by manipulating you to think that you’re being healthy by under-eating. When you’re taking back your life from diet culture, you need to be committed to feeding yourself faithfully.
This means when you consider how much to eat, it’s not about restriction or eating the least amount possible. It’s not about a set of rules, good-food-bad-food ideas, points or food guides.
It’s about learning to eat with your body instead of the rules diet culture has dictated to ensure you have enough, which will decrease your body’s mechanisms from reacting to not getting enough to eat in such a desperate way.
To reassure your body that you will be fed enough regularly and consistently, it’s crucial that you have enjoyable meals and predictable times. Yes, this takes some planning, and this can feel infinitely more challenging when you are a mother, caring for the needs of your little humans in your life. But feeding yourself faithfully can no longer be negotiable.
You can’t heal and end the legacy of diet culture in your family if you continually justify restricting your intake and underfeeding yourself. If this seems completely out of the norm for you, you might feel overwhelmed and not even know where to start.
Remember, the priority is routine around eating so you can feed yourself faithful. Start by building meals with the foods you are eating now, even if you don’t think it’s “good for you.” Eat the foods you enjoy and arrange to have them ready at predictable times.
Set aside time to eat and think ahead for when you’re going to have meals and snacks during the course of your day. For many mothers, eating at or around the same times the children are eating can create a nice form of structure – just make sure YOU are eating, too. If eating with the children feels too chaotic, try creating at least one time per day where you can eat and enjoy a meal to yourself.
This might mean getting up a few minutes early to enjoy breakfast or having something to eat when the babies are napping. No matter what it might look like for you, you are entitled to eat what and as much as you want and eat in a way that feels good to you.
This is not about perfection but progress to ensure you’re feeding yourself faithfully. As a final note on this, sometimes eating is going to be boring. Sometimes it will feel mundane. Eating is something we need to do multiple times a day for the rest of our lives.
You can’t always expect every single meal or snack to be the most amazing experience in the world. Sometimes your eating experiences will feel like that, but that doesn’t need to be the criteria for feeding yourself.
This is about learning to feed yourself in a sustainable way and making it a priority. That requires flexibility and intentionality. It’s learning about yourself well enough to know what you need to find an approach to feeding yourself that works long term. Sometimes that means eating leftovers for lunch or starting with a simple freezer and adding something to it to make it more satisfying. Not every time you eat is going to be mind-blowingly delicious, and that’s okay.
Feeding yourself is the most basic form of self care.
5. Rediscover the Joy and Pleasure of Eating:
When ditching diet culture, you might have a fear growing in the back of your mind telling you that you’re unhealthy. It’s important to be aware of this myth that might be cycling in your mind or subtly creeping in your thoughts in the form of food guilt.
Remember what we addressed in the common myths about leaving diet culture behind. Diet culture promotes the false idea that you’re not healthy unless you’re on some kind of strict diet that dictates how and what you should eat.
Many diets are promoted and justified in the name of being “healthier”. But eating according to external food rules and not in alignment with what your body wants and enjoys makes it virtually impossible to find joy and pleasure in eating.
This actually makes food more chaotic and stressful, and the stress and difficulty of following a rigid way of eating are far worse for your health than any food you could possibly eat. This is why ditching food rules is the powerful first step you need to take to be able to listen to your body again.
And do you know what the amazing thing is?
When you prioritize eating for enjoyment and learning to eat in a way that feels right for your body, good nutrition will naturally follow. Studies have shown that when people prioritize pleasure in their food choices, they have a better nutrient intake over individuals who are dieting. WOW! There really is something to be said about prioritizing pleasure in your eating choices – not just to make peace with food and improve your mental health, but to also prioritize your physical well-being, too!
Why Food Freedom Matters to You and Your Children
One of the most powerful reasons and motivators to leave diet culture behind lies in your children. As a mother, the legacy of diet culture can end with you and not be passed on to your own children.
Indeed, so many mothers I work with share their desires to help their children build a better relationship with food and their bodies than they ever had. They don’t want their children to struggle with food or feel like they’re in a constant war with their own bodies. They want their children to experience freedom with food and not be in a power struggle with it.
Maybe you’ve found yourself in the same situation. You’re unsure about your own relationship with food, but you know with certainty that you don’t want your children trapped in the same vicious cycles you may’ve been in for most of your life.
This is possible, my friend. And it starts with you. It starts with your commitment to ditching diet culture and working on healing your own relationship with food. The good news is that you don’t need to have it perfect or for everything to be sorted out before you help your children. Just taking the step forward to say, “Enough is enough!” is the catalyst that will bring the walls down, for you and your family.
The legacy of diet culture CAN and will end with you.
I also want you to think about what your life could be like without diet culture stealing the show all the time. So often as mothers, we’re motivated to do things solely because of our children, and sometimes, that’s the only reasons we can conjure for change.
However, I want you to remember that you matter, too. And experiencing freedom with food and your body will directly benefit your children. It will also be life changing for you, too.
Imagine how much mental space would be freed up and available if food rules and worries about food weren’t clogging up your precious brain? What could you do with all the time, energy and even money that you reclaimed from diet culture? Truly the possibilities are endless, especially when we consider how much diet culture really takes away from us.
Maybe you could pursue that hobby you’ve always wanted to try or invest in yourself in some meaningful way. Maybe you could finally write that book you’ve had in your head or start that business venture you’ve been dreaming about.
Even on a more practical level, how would freedom from diet culture change your life and day to day experiences?
Imagine having the mental capacity to actually be present for your children, to be able to engage with them in a meaningful way without worrying about food or your body size. Imagine how different your family meals would be when you can actually connect and find joy in eating together again. Imagine actually eating birthday cake on your child’s birthday or being able to go out for ice cream together, just because, without guilt or shame robbing you of the joy that should be part of eating and making memories with your children and those you love.
These are the things you deserve, my friend. This is a sliver of what freedom from diet culture could bring you, and you are deserving of nothing less. It’s time to reclaim your life from diet culture and begin living the life you’ve always wanted (and maybe never even thought possible).
You might feel disheartened about all that diet culture has taken from you over the years of your life, and it’s okay to grieve those things. Also use that as ammunition to fight against diet culture, to refuse to let it take anything else from you, whether it’s memories, joy and freedom with food and your body.
Know that this journey also takes time. Healing takes time, and you don’t have to do this alone. It’s a process that begins with awareness and the commitment to the journey. There are a plethora of amazing resources that can also help support you every step of the way.
Consider some of these resources below if you’re just getting started and want to begin your journey with reclaiming your life from diet culture:
Health at Every Size
Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family
I’d love to hear from you – where are you on your journey, and what are your questions about ditching diet culture? Leave your comments below, and thank you for taking the time to read!