If you’ve been non-dieting for a little while, you might be thinking at what point will you be recovered from dieting and diet mentality.
You might be new to non-dieting and wonder what is possible for you if weight loss is not the end goal.
In this post, I want to share stories and advice of inspirational clients I’ve had the pleasure of walking alongside until recovery from dieting.
Clients who do well with non-dieting make the commitment to themselves that non-dieting, health and positive behaviours are the thing that they will focus on no matter what.
Past dieters making the transition to this alternative evidence-based approach to health are able to take the skill of focus into their new journey because dieting requires a lot of focus and attention to the rules.
In the non-diet approach, the rules are substituted for guidelines, recommendations and encouragement to hold space for what is going on and finding a way of reconnecting with the true self.
This commitment usually comes from having hit rock bottom. They know that dieting has not worked for them.
People who have hit rock bottom just cannot diet one more time because they want to start living their life freely. They are ready to embark on the non-dieting journey.
They bring a sense of opened-mindedness and curiosity to the approach as they want to find peace with food and their body.
One thing that can be hard is changing the self-talk and judgement that was so ingrained and so necessary to keep these types of clients stuck dieting.
Becoming aware of how you talk to yourself and judge everything you do as “good” and “bad” is unhelpful as it simplifies things and leads you to the assumptions dieting promises. E.g. If I just do this, I will be able to lose weight and be happy. Only when I do this, this will happen. Unfortunately, dieting never delivers.
Throughout the non-dieting journey, it is very common for you to find yourself relapsing into old dieting behaviours and mindset (thoughts, feelings and moods). This is all part of the journey and you should look at the “off track” times (as people refer to it) as learning experiences or opportunities to experiment, challenge and grow.
Because at the end of the day, living in diet culture, it is highly unlikely that you will never slip back into diet mentality and behaviours, especially early on in your journey.
As a dietitian supporting people who have nutrition and body image concerns and want to stop dieting, I have found it essential to meet people where they are now rather than only when they have stopped dieting altogether.
Non-dieting is not a linear learning process, rather cyclical and messy. For clients starting out on this journey, I understand that it can be an emotionally intense, frustrating and time-consuming journey, especially for clients who have dieted for years or decades.
Because of the cyclical learning journey, clients often reflect back weeks and months after non-dieting work and realise they have actually been non-dieting and are no longer dieting.
The transition to non-dieting is not exactly clear at the moment, but it is clear when you look at the big picture and the progress that has been made.
As a dietitian walking alongside clients during the last quarter of their journey, I know they are so close to maintaining the habits of non-dieting without too much thought and effort.
For example, one client of mine was about 9 months into her non-dieting journey when she hit the point where she knew she was doing well with non-dieting, but felt she was about 75 percent of the way through her therapeutic time with me supporting her to non-diet.
This client was a professional business-woman and enjoyed applying her analytical skills and personality to her non-dieting journey.
We try to understand the world from where we have been.
In this moment of feeling like she was 75% done, the client was feeling like she could be doing more and wanted to be doing more so she could finish the non-dieting process of recovery.
Upon exploring this new stage of non-dieting, it was clear this client was preparing herself for non-dieting self-management. This was great, as I am all about self-management and it is needed for nutrition and life resilience.
There was interest in developing more of a habit and unconscious thoughts and behaviours around non-dieting. She was looking to the future and seeing how she could maintain her progress and work on the next and final steps of the non-dieting process.
Like any behaviour that we work on changing, it takes time (according to the book by Gary Keller, The One Thing, it takes on average 66 days to form a new habit)….So if this client felt like she was getting the process just now, possibly in 66 days time the habit would be formed if she continued to maintain the focus that she had during the last 9 months.
We explored the topic of habit-forming from her perspective. What was stopping the client from making non-dieting a habit and highlighted all the progress that she had made. The client could see she was ‘almost there’.
We also explored what the habit looked, sounded and felt like and reviewed her SMART goal so she could see when she had achieved it.
We also explored what had changed with her thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviours since non-dieting?
I felt it was important for this client to take the emphasis off forming a ‘habit’ or reaching a ‘goal’ as it can distract people from what is happening now (Fiona Sutherland, 2017).
The “reaching a goal” mindset can distract people from being present, mindful and building skills in curiosity, awareness, self-kindness and resilience to manage life’s ups and downs and diet culture (Fiona Sutherland, 2017).
Advice To People New To The Non-Diet Approach
Here are some wonderful words of advice from some of my clients.
Let go of the thin dream.Acknowledge and celebrate all the amazing things your body can do.
Trust the journey. It’s a mental process that takes time and can not necessarily be sped up. I had to get my body in sync with my head and head in sync with my body. The process of eating intuitively or naturally just happened. It wasn’t clear in the moment when it “just happened”, but after doing it for a little while and reflecting on the process, it became clear that I had been eating intuitively.
The biggest shifts in clients non-dieting are that they put their weight loss goal on the back-burner, become open-minded and trusted the process.
They soon discover that the previous goal of weight loss was no longer important to them as they realised that they were no longer preoccupied with food and body and were able to eat naturally or normally.
If you are working on your journey and are not sure if you have recovered from dieting or your eating disorder ask yourself:
- Am I taking care of myself well?
- Do I have a self-care routine?
- Do I respond to my body in the most appropriate ways, i.e. Do I rest/sleep when I am tired, do I eat when I am hungry, do I go for a swim if I feel like it, do I go for a walk if I need to clear my head and so on?
- Am I kind to myself? Do I treat myself like I treat a friend?
- Am I able to manage tough emotions and life events in a positive way or do I try to numb my feelings?