All around us are signals and signs telling us about how we “should” be, look, act, etc. Society seems to force this perfectionistic way of living on us from the moment we are able to reason for ourselves.
Today, I wanted to talk about how societal impacts have formed a Diet mentality that plagues most of us mentally and physically, how it impacts our health, and how to change our mentality.
We are all born with a certain capacity for stress. You might think of it as a stress cup. All it takes is one drop of water and the cup will overflow.
The same is true with our stress levels. We have the basic stressors that fill up a portion of our cup called our constitution: genetics, nutrition from our parents, how you were born, , etc.
Then, we add in the various stressors of life: sleep, diet, nutrient status, gut health, exercise, financial status, work, family, relationships, etc. Not all of these stressors are necessarily bad, but they take resources away from us nonetheless.
Lastly, what seems to often get overlooked as a stressor is our mindset, especially when it comes to guilt, shame, and “shoulds” around our diet and body.
These mental stressors play a much bigger role than we realize on the overall stress load on our body. And like I mentioned before, it only takes one drop for the stress cup to overflow. We see this happen all the time – you have an intense period of stress and then all of a sudden your back flares up, your digestion is off, you have trouble sleeping, you gain weight that you can’t lose, etc. Your body realizes it can’t handle the amount of stress it’s under, and you start to notice a variety of symptoms start to pop up.
Stress from our body, food, and exercise tend to turn controlling and lead to a cycle of guilt and shame, further adding stress to our already full stress cups and leading us down a path of poor health. Working on becoming aware of these thoughts and patterns and working to rewire them is one of the best ways that we can start to feel better and achieve our health goals, whether that is weight loss, more energy, or simply feeling better.
Here are a few examples of how this guilt/shame mentality can cause excess stress:
“I’m going to ___ event tonight, so I better skip breakfast and/or lunch or ‘eat light’ to offset the calories.”
“I’ll just have one bite and that’s all I’m allowed.” (which turns into the whole bag and then) “What were you thinking eating the whole bag? No one else would have so little self-control.”
Imagine if these thoughts were being physically spoken to you by another person; you would want to slap them, right?
The same holds true when these thoughts overwhelm our bodies over years and years. Our body can’t tell the difference between this stress, financial stress, and relationship stress. It just feels stress.
Where are we taught this way of thinking? From society and its proclamation of the “Diet mentality.” This comes from a “health” industry that makes millions of dollars each year off us trying a new diet, failing, trying a different diet, failing – you get the picture.
When we are trapped in this Diet mentality, we never actually get to where we want to be; it turns into a hamster wheel of guilt and shame. This mentality leads to food rules, binging, cravings, disordered eating tendencies, excessively counting calories, eating disorders, weight gain, the inability to lose weight, excess weight around our mid-section, and/or an excess preoccupation with food.
Instead, we want to focus on building a solid, real food nutrition template (not Diet) that is sustainable, consistent and doable for us based on what our body actually needs. This requires that we take the time to listen to our body’s signals and see what it actually needs.
Asking questions like the following helps establish this relationship with your body and allows you to tune into what your body needs, not what society tells you your body needs.
“Did you sleep enough last night? Was work extra stressful this week/month? Are you under more financial/work/relationship stress? Did you have a hard workout yesterday? Did you eat enough yesterday? Are you anxious about___?”
These are all questions to help us discover patterns in our eating tendencies and allows us to become more intuitive as we piece together a nutrition template that works for you. It also helps us make decisions versus being controlled by a Diet: “I choose to eat or not to eat this” vs “I can’t have that because I’m on __ Diet.”
If we go back to the examples from above, we might change those accusatory thoughts to something different.
“I’m going to ___ event tonight, so I better skip breakfast and/or lunch or ‘eat light’ to offset the calories.” Change this to: “I am going to ___ event tonight, and I’m not sure what they are serving. I will eat a solid PFC balanced breakfast and lunch so that I’m not starving by the time I get there and end up overeating, feeling crappy, and beating myself up later.”
“I’ll just have one bite and that’s all I’m allowed.” (which turns into the whole bag and then) “What were you thinking eating the whole bag? No one else would have so little self-control.” Change this to: “I ate the whole bag of chips. Why was that? Was work more stressful today? Did I get enough sleep? Did I eat enough yesterday/today? How did that make me feel?” You can use this information to decide for next time.
What is important is this – it is a learning process that takes time. You will not magically turn away from the Diet mentality to mindful eating right away. Practice, patience, and time are your friends!