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How to Spot a Diet

How to Spot a Diet

The diet industry is on to us.

In the past, diets were pretty easy to spot—Atkins, South Beach, Cabbage Soup, you name it! They were proud to be called diets, and people felt good and virtuous about dieting to lose weight.

But then, people started realizing that diets don’t work.

It’s well-documented that dieting is associated with weight gain, not weight loss. Anyone who has been on a diet has probably figured out that yes, weight loss generally happens while they’re on the diet, but once they’re off, the weight comes back (often with some extra to spare).

While most dietitians secretly hoped that this would cause the diet industry to implode, instead the industry is more successful than ever.

Nowadays, the diets hide behind euphemisms like “detox”, “cleanse”, “reset” or “clean eating”, and we gladly hop from one to the next, losing and gaining that same amount of weight, hoping that the next will be The One that will finally make the weight go away for good.

Are you tired of feeling stuck on the yo-yo, and ready to ditch dieting for good? Here’s how to spot whether your next “lifestyle change” is really a diet in disguise.

5 Ways to Spot a Diet in Disguise

1. It Dictates Exactly What, When, and/or How Much to Eat

Recently someone asked me whether Whole30 is a diet, because it doesn’t promote weight loss.


While this is true, I would argue that Whole30 is still a diet, because it is based on a very specific set of rules as to what you can/can’t eat, instead of encouraging you to listen to your body’s natural hunger/satiety cues and your inner wisdom to help you determine what you actually need. In fact, it promotes “tough-loving your friends into Whole30 compliance” – doesn’t sound like “food freedom” to me.

2. You Can Cheat On It.

If you have “cheat days” or “cheat meals”, if you can “fall off track”, “fall off the wagon” or “be bad”, it’s probably a diet.

Even when there isn’t a prescriptive list of “allowed” and “not allowed” foods like in Whole30, I often feel that people have created their own lists of food in their head; if they eat foods that they deem healthy, clean and good, then they in turn are healthy, clean and good. Conversely, if they eat foods that they deem as unhealthy or bad, they are filled with guilt and shame, and vow to “do better” next time.

If you truly tried to “cheat” on eating, you would die. Your body needs food to survive. We will all eat tens of thousands of meals in our lifetime, and all of them serve a purpose—sometimes it’s primarily nourishment, other times celebration, comfort, discovery. In the grand scheme of things, unless you’re deathly allergic, there’s no single food that’s going to kill you, and conversely, no single food is going to give you eternal health. Food and nutrition is but one of many factors that can influence health, and there are many more factors that are out of our control.

If you can cheat on it, it's a #diet. If you truly tried to 'cheat' on eating, you would die. Click To Tweet

3. It Moralizes Food/Eating/Health

By the same token, in addition to “good” and “bad” foods, diets imply that you are a good person when you follow their recommendations to the letter, and that you’re bad, lazy, and killing yourself if you don’t.

Food is just food. You don’t become a better person by eating certain things and avoiding others; heck, you don’t become a better person for caring about your health, or a bad person if you don’t. There is no moral obligation for you to live a “healthy lifestyle”. You are a free person.

You don't become a better person by eating certain things and avoiding others. Click To Tweet

4. It is Temporary

Cleanses and detoxes only last for a few weeks or a month, maximum, because let’s face it, no one would ever want to just drink green juice for the rest of their life. Not only is it boring, you’re also depriving your body of the nutrients that it needs to function properly.

It’s no secret what happens for most people on day 11 of a 10-day cleanse, or day 31 of Whole30. You binge or indulge because you’ve deprived yourself for so long, or as a reward for surviving the torture.

What’s the point of white-knuckling through these terrible experiences when you’re just going to be back where you started? Why not start something that will last for a lifetime now?

I get it. Eating well isn’t sexy. It’s not like the Olympics, where you train and make sacrifices for your moment in the spotlight.

There’s no end goal, no gold star. It’s just the sum of what you do from day-to-day in order to take care of yourself and feel good. The good news is, because we have so many meals and snacks to work with in our lifetime, eating is very forgiving. You don’t need to be perfect, because there’s no such thing.

5. It Celebrates Weight Loss

If you are eating with the intention of manipulating your body or your weight, you are on a diet.

While changing your eating habits for other reasons could result in weight loss, tying your “success” or “progress” to weight just continues to feed into the thin ideal. Fatphobia hurts people of all sizes – if you’re fat, the message is that you’re not worthy unless you’re actively trying to be thin; if you’re thin, you’re told to do everything you can to stay that way and keep your privilege.

Just like food is just food, weight is just weight. Weight itself does not cause chronic disease or death. Being fat doesn’t make you less worthy. If you are changing your eating habits for whatever reason, celebrate the behaviour, not the outcomes. Nutrition can only influence health; it does not control it.

What’s So Bad About Being On A Diet?

After reading this, you may be thinking – OK, I guess I’m on a diet, so what?

If the way you’re eating, living and thinking is serving you, great! You do you, and I’m super-happy that you’ve found a way of eating and interacting with food that makes you feel good, because that is what my work is all about.

In my experience, however, agonizing over eating only the “best” food, or the number on the scale distracts people from focusing on what’s really important in life. Plus, any possible health benefits that you might get from losing a little bit of weight (usually temporarily) are outweighed by the mental health impact of disordered eating and body image.

Are you on a #diet and you just don't know it? 5 Ways to Spot Diets in Disguise #nutritionmonth Click To Tweet
Want more tips on spotting food fads? Check out this fact sheet from the Dietitians of Canada Nutrition Month campaign.

Feeling ready to ditch the diet mentality once and for all, and learn to eat and live with confidence, joy and ease? Find out how to work with me.

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