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The Surprising Differences Between Dieting & Not Dieting

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Our society is used to viewing diets as no big deal. If you need to lose a few pounds – or more – you just get on a diet, and restrict what you eat, count your calories, sip on a shake or swear off sugar.

We think that dieting will solely affect just one area of our lives: eating.

But dieting actually affects your entire life. It stops you from being fully present, and keeps you preoccupied, ashamed and oppressed – among other things.

In the Diet Survivors Group newsletter I receive from eating disorder experts Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel, Matz laid out just some of the key differences between dieting and attuned eating (i.e., not dieting).

(If you recall, I’ve interviewed both Matz and Frankel many times before. They’re authors of the powerful must-read Diet Survivors Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care.)

Even though I’m very familiar with the cons of dieting, her chart still surprised me. And I think it’ll be an eye-opener for you, too.

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

I wanted to dig a bit deeper into some of these differences, so I recently spoke with Matz over the phone. And here’s what she told me:

Shame vs. Compassion

“The diet mentality is based on shame,” Matz said. It always implies that there’s “something shameful, defective or wrong about your body.” That’s why we diet in the first place, right? To fix whatever is supposedly flawed.

But “because diets don’t work, there are so many places for shame,” she said. For instance, when you eat something that’s off your diet plan, you feel shame that you don’t have more willpower or control over your eating, she said. Then when the weight comes back, so does the shame.

In fact, according to Matz, shame is the “most insidious part of the diet mentality that gets internalized in your psyche.”

Compassion is the complete opposite. There’s no blame and no thoughts of fault. It’s the idea that you’re doing the best you can.

“If you find yourself emotionally overeating, instead of yelling at yourself – a shame-based response – you might say, ‘I’m reaching for food and I’m not hungry, something might be bothering me right now,’” Matz said.

If you’re talking about your body, instead of saying, “My stomach is so fat, it’s disgusting,” you might say, “This is just the way my stomach looks. It’s the result of giving birth to my two beautiful children.”

Or instead of saying, “How did you let yourself go?” you might say, “My weight is the result of various factors, including genetics and yo-yo dieting.”

Shame backfires anyway. Did you know that shame is a trigger for overeating?

“If you’re shaming yourself and overeating, you feel anxious [which leads] you to eat more.” Cultivating self-compassion can help. “Just ending the yelling will slow down the overeating.”

Judgment vs. Acceptance

The diet mentality encourages us to judge ourselves, especially when we eat something we’re not supposed to.

How often have you said – or heard someone say – “I’m so bad for having a piece of cake” or “I have to be good today, since I had pasta yesterday”?

How often have you thought, “I overate, so I need to make up for it” or “I need to exercise tomorrow or not eat any more tonight”? Judgment leads to punishment.

In other words, because you disobeyed the dieting rules, you deserve to be punished…punished either through cutting your calories even more or working out harder or longer.

But acceptance in attuned eating means that there’s room for all types of food, Matz said. It also means that when you overeat, you note that you’re uncomfortable and use it as information, as an opportunity to understand what you need.

You might say, “I’m going to be more mindful and pay attention to how my body is feeling,” or “I need to find other healthier ways to connect in the world,” Matz said.

Acceptance helps you move forward; judgment keeps you stagnant and miserable.

“Judgment is based on perfection.” It’s black and white, whereas acceptance allows for mistakes and curiosity, she said.

Shame and judgment — or compassion and acceptance — inevitably spill over into other areas of your life. Shame and judgment — and the endless pursuit for supposed perfection — keep you steeped in negativity, unable to bask in life; compassion, curiosity, flexibility and acceptance lift you up to pursue your passions, help others and enjoy the everyday.

Stay tuned tomorrow for part two, where Matz talks about oppression versus freedom and having control versus being in charge. 

What do you think about these differences? Are you surprised? 

The Surprising Differences Between Dieting & Not Dieting

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2014). The Surprising Differences Between Dieting & Not Dieting. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Mar 2014
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