Why diet plans give me anxiety

Me: “So, are you making any changes with your diet?”

Her: “Well, I don’t know. I was thinking about that last night. I’ve been walking, but I don’t know if I should do Paleo, or cut out carbs, or what. What do you think?”

Whenever I hear someone mention a certain ‘plan’, whether it’s The Paleo Diet, The Zone Diet, or even The Eat Clean Diet, or even make drastic, sudden changes, I always cringe. Yes, I know it’s easier when you have a list of ‘rules’. This is what you can and cannot eat. There’s no grey area; that grey area where you’re unsure, “Am I on plan? or off?”

It’s definitely easier to say yes or no to food if you know where the line of on and off are. We understand the rules. I basically have rules for my diet. But I’ve created those rules myself. And they’re not rules. They’re barely guidelines. And it’s a way of eating that I have built up over the years. Unlike a “diet”, which you have been given, this is a way of eating that I have cultivated for myself over the years.

Just Listen to Your Body

Don’t you just hate that phrase, “Just listen to your body”? Because people who say “I just listen to my body” when you’re feeling vulnerable about your eating are jerks. They sound so smug & self-righteous that you just want to punch them in the face. You can hear that tone in their voice as you read that. Can’t you? “I just listen to my body.” Pshaw.

I recently wrote a newsletter about how I struggled with the deprive/binge/guilt cycle. In it, I explain that during the week, my diet was pretty on point, but on Saturdays (my designated cheat day), it was Game On! Everything that I couldn’t eat during the week was now on the table (figuratively and literally), and so I did. I ate it all.

Your Food Choices Do Not Define your Moral Virtue
Your Food Choices Do Not Define your Moral Virtue

But I realized that my mindset around food (designating foods as good and bad) wasn’t serving me. Through a few mental shifts, I  changed my mindset about my eating so that my weekday diet was the same as it was on the weekend, but that also meant that I could have what I wanted during the week. Off plan foods weren’t banished to only one day a week.

If something is available any time, then it no longer has the allure of being off-limits. Because if nothing is off-limits, then you can eat whatever you want whenever you want. And if you can eat whatever you want whenever you want it, you can’t be deprived. Right?

Now, I’m sure you’re asking, “But, how do you do that?”

To be honest, you do that by paying attention to how you feel after you eat (aka, listening to your body). I know! Now I’m the jerk! But seriously…

This process takes a fair amount of time to figure out what you can get away with, and what you can’t. Most of my meals revolve around protein and vegetables, which I know sounds boring, but I think I am a pretty awesome cook, and I enjoy what I eat. When I do have cravings for foods that aren’t typically considered healthy, I will give in to them. But when I reflect on how I feel, how I sleep, my energy levels, and whether those foods lead me to more cravings, my reflection guides me to narrow in on how much I can have without having to ‘pay for it’ later.

What happens in the end, is that you feel more empowered to make your own choices. Instead of saying, “I can’t eat that because it’s not on the plan.” It’s a hell of a lot easier to say, “I don’t want that because I know I won’t feel good afterwards.” It’s a total mind shift. Instead of “I can’t,” its “I don’t want it.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m still learning to be honest with myself, and there are certainly days when my brain lies to me. There are still times when I say, “Oh! I shouldn’t have eaten that!” or translated, “I ate too much of that.” Occasionally, my food tastes so good that I want to keep eating past being satisfied. But it happens less and less. Its a practice.

What did I tell my client? Well, I can tell you that I didn’t tell her to listen to her body, that’s for sure!