CT coffee and ice cream

Dieting is saturated in shame and judgment. But those aren’t the only cons to restricting your intake.

Many people think that dieting will keep their eating in control. That they need these rules and some kind of structure to keep them “eating right” or “eating healthy.” And they think that giving up dieting will make them feel out of control and all over the place.

But it’s actually quite the opposite: Dieting keeps you oppressed and, while it gives the illusion of control, there’s nothing empowering about it.

Below, Judith Matz, an eating disorder expert and co-author of the book Diet Survivors Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care, dispels these common diet myths. She also reveals the true oppression of dieting and how attuned eating (i.e., not dieting) leads to freedom and helps you feel in charge.

And, again, here’s Matz’s excellent outline of the (surprising) differences between the diet mentality and attuned eating. (This appeared in her and Ellen Frankel‘s Diet Survivors Group newsletter.)

Diet Mentality Attuned Eating
External Rules Internal Cues
Rigid Flexible
Deprived Satisfied
Guilt Pleasure
Fear Trust
Preoccupied Empowered
Weight Loss Nourishment
Shame Compassion
Judgment Acceptance
Oppressed Freedom
In control In charge

Oppressed vs. Freedom

When you’re caught up in the diet mentality, you spend a tremendous amount of mental energy on what you should eat, what you shouldn’t eat, how much, when, etc., according to Matz. “Oppression is about the preoccupation [with food].”

In attuned eating you’re free from obsessing about food, which gives you “more energy to enjoy life. You welcome your hunger. You enjoy what you eat. You feel satisfied, and you’re ready to move on with your day.”

Attuned eating gives you the freedom to be fully present in your relationships and in your life, without being chained to calorie counts, shakes or other forms of restriction.

In Control vs. In Charge

“A diet is about controlling your appetite [and avoiding certain foods],” Matz said. For instance, “you might want a certain food, but you’re going to use your willpower to stop yourself from having it. You’re only going to eat the foods that are deemed OK.”

But sooner or later, you’ll have a rough day or you’ll be at a party, and you’ll turn to the very foods you’ve been avoiding, she said. You’ll lose control, and find yourself overeating and feeling ashamed.

That’s because when you avoid food, you actually set yourself up to feel out of control, she said.

In the diet mentality, food is the enemy, which, according to Matz, creates “a very conflicted relationship with food.” There’s always a struggle – you versus some food.

However, “When you’re in charge [as in attuned eating], you’re the one making decisions,” she said. You pay attention to your hunger cues, and decide to eat when you’re hungry. You decide what foods feel good – which doesn’t mean that you’re at the mercy of capricious cravings.

In fact, it’s a common misconception “that a non-diet approach or attuned eating means eat whatever you want, whenever you want,” Matz said. “Eating anything any time would feel out of control and wouldn’t feel good,” she said.

“What we’re saying is to eat what you’re hungry for when you’re hungry…[You] use your internal cues so you’re making decisions based on what’s best for you physically, emotionally and spiritually.”

For instance, ice cream might sound good, but because your cholesterol is high, you decide to have sorbet instead.

“You’re deciding and coming from a place of nurturing and taking care of yourself,” Matz said. You’re thinking about what really nourishes you and there are many different levels of nourishment, she said.

Ditching dieting is a journey, Matz stressed. Have compassion for yourself, and know that it’ll take time to recognize and reconnect with your hunger, she said.