Many of our patients and clients have been there - experiencing guilt for what they eat and restricting themselves from certain foods in order to improve their health. However, this type of thinking can actually be detrimental to their health when they become so focused on their weight that they dismiss their well-being.
Despite the fact that people often start diets to lose weight, what researchers have found is that there is little evidence that dieting will lead to lasting weight loss or health benefits.  Even though there are certainly some notable exceptions, what many people fail to acknowledge is the long-term consequences of dieting.
In a 2015 study in Social & Personality Psychology Compass researchers found that the energy intake recommended in many diets can prompt an increase in calorie consumption which can undermine weight loss efforts.  In other words, people who tend to go on overly restrictive diets end up eating more overall calories than they would if they never went on the diet at all. Therefore, it’s essential that you help your patients and clients understand that dieting can be contributing to weight gain - the very thing they’re looking to avoid.
That is also why weight-inclusive approaches, such as Health at Every Size and intuitive eating (IE), can have a positive impact on the health of your patients and clients. For one, HAES interventions have been shown to help people shift away from restrictive dieting and increase their intuitive eating. Additional HAES and IE have been found to be effective in helping people develop a healthier relationship with food and their body. 
Despite the benefits of these weight-inclusive approaches, the dieting mentality often gets in the way of our patients and clients fully implementing these practices into their lives. That's why in this article, I share four steps to help your patients and clients ditch the diet mentality so that they can become more intuitive eaters.
1. Identify What Triggers Them to Diet
As a former chronic dieter, one of the most important steps that I made to ditch the diet mentality started with getting clear on the things that triggered me to diet. Whether your patients and clients are chronic dieters or not, it’s going to be essential to help them get crystal clear on the things that trigger them to diet.
Is it an upcoming vacation to Jamaica? A comment from a “well-meaning” loved one? Or, a before and after photo that they saw on social media. Whatever it is, helping them identify the things that are triggering them to diet is vital. By first identifying those triggers then they'll be able to start doing anything about them.
2. Identify the Meaning Behind the Trigger
Once you’ve helped them identify the trigger it’s time to help them do something about it. For instance if they’re triggered to diet due to an upcoming vacation to Jamaica this is a great opportunity to help them dive deeper into what meaning they're putting behind this vacation. Are they uncomfortable with wearing a bathing suit? Or, maybe they feel that they’ve been eating “clean” and don’t think they’ll be able to enjoy themselves while on vacation?
Even if they (or you) feel that the meaning behind the trigger is insignificant, it can actually be hugely impacting their actions. By identifying the meaning that they’ve placed on this trigger you can help them start looking at things from a different perspective. In doing so, you’re helping your patients and clients recognize that dieting might be addressing the symptom, but not the underlying problem they are looking to solve.
3. Do Something About The Trigger
Now that they’ve identified the meaning behind the trigger, it’s time for them to start doing something about it. Using the upcoming vacation to Jamaica as an example, this is an opportunity to help your patients and clients recognize they don’t need to change their bodies nor do they need to wear something they aren't comfortable wearing. This might mean shopping for a beautiful cover-up to go over their swimsuit. Or, deciding ahead of time that they’re going to use this vacation as an opportunity to eat more intuitively.
The key thing here is to recognize that being able to ditch the diet mentality requires intention from your patients and clients. As dieting is often an automatic process, they will need to be intentional about choosing to do the opposite of what they are used to doing.
4. Allow Themself to Indulge without Guilt
Once your patients and clients have begun feeling comfortable with the things that once triggered them, it’s important to start reframing the way that they think about indulgence. For many people who engage in dieting the only time that they allow themselves to indulge is during a “cheat meal.”The problem with this concept is that excessive calorie restriction will almost certainly lead to indiscriminate eating. Therefore, helping them reframe the way that they look at indulgence as a choice they can choose or not choose is key to ditching the dieting mentality.
Continuing with the Jamaican vacation example, they can choose to indulge at their all-inclusive resort, knowing that they do have the foundation of intuitive eating to eat for their wellbeing. As they implement what they're learning into practice they'll be able to make intuitive eating an automatic process that empowers them to make healthy food choices in the future.
Even though dieting has been long thought to be the cure for obesity, research has shown us that this can't be further from the truth. It’s time that we treat dieting as the problem rather than the solution.
I hope that this article has provided you with four simple steps that you can share with your patients and clients that will help them ditch the diet mentality. Whether they realize it or not, dieting is the very thing that is keeping them from achieving their health goals.
It’s our responsibility as health professionals to ensure that they have just what they need to live healthier and fuller lives! If there are any steps that you think would be beneficial to help others diet the diet mentality, let us know below!
- Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: Evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition Journal, 10, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9
- Logel, C., Stinson, D. A., & Brochu, P. M. (2015). Weight loss is not the answer: A well-being solution to the “obesity problem.” Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 9(12), 678– 695. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12223
- Brown, L.B. (2009). Teaching the "health at every size" paradigm benefits future fitness and health professionals. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 41(2), 144-145. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2008.04.358
- Carbonneau, E., Bégin, C., Lemieux, S., Mongeau, L., Paquette, M. C., Turcotte, M., Labonté, M. È., & Provencher, V. (2017). A Health at Every Size intervention improves intuitive eating and diet quality in Canadian women. Clinical Nutrition, 36(3), 747–754. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2016.06.008