We’re four weeks into the New Year, and this means many have been engaging in the most recent rounds of Whole 30s, 21-day sugar detoxes, and a variety of other regimented eating plans marketed as a means of achieving better health.
I don’t look at many things through a black-and-white lens these days, and these eating plans are no exception.
Some of the benefits can include a heightened awareness of food preferences, food intolerances, and the positive effects of more whole foods in one’s diet.
However, there are many potentially negative consequences for those who are not ready to participate in one of these, including attachment of morality or emotions to foods that aren’t labeled as acceptable, binge eating behaviors, and increased reliance or rules as opposed to one’s own brain and body.
After working with clients, in addition to my own experience, there are six clear indicators of when you’re NOT ready to opt-in to one of these eating plans.
1. You’re a yo-yo dieter
This encompasses a large percentage of the American population, as 45 million people diet each year, and 95% of people regain all weight lost—if not more. Yo-yo dieters often hop from one diet to the next after periods of weight regain, and they often feel out of control when it comes to food.
This differs from natural weight fluctuations due to changes in lifestyle, preferences, injuries, health concerns, or age, as yo-yo dieting is hallmarked by heavy reliance on diet rules and extreme changes in eating behaviors.
With heavy reliance on diet rules comes a lack of connection to one’s own body, absence of mindfulness, and ignorance of hunger and fullness cues, to name a few.
These are absolutely essential to the foundation of a healthy and stable relationship with food, which should be in place BEFORE engaging in one of these eating plans.
2. You’re doing it solely for weight loss
Participating in one of these structured eating plans with the sole goal of weight loss often leads to turning our brains off and following the rules to a “T”.
Along with this comes a lack of mindfulness and connection to the effects these foods have on us—one of the only potential benefits these offer in the first place!
Further, for those who do experience weight loss as a result of following the plan, it’s common to subsequently believe that the only way to achieve this result is via a diet exclusively comprised of whole foods.
Not only is this incorrect, but it often leads to stress, emotional attachment to foods, and bingeing behaviors associated with processed or “disallowed” foods.
3. You regularly engage in emotional eating
Eating to sooth, cope, numb, or distract isn’t terrible in a nutshell, but we want to do it sparingly and with awareness. This is similar to how we would view alcohol, drugs, sex, or shopping when driven by these intentions.
If you find yourself engaging in emotional eating on a regular basis, this should absolutely be resolved first, as jumping into a regimented eating plan will only put a temporary band-aid on the real issue.
Not to mention, it often exacerbates an already tumultuous relationship with food.
Focus on treating the root cause of your emotional eating first, and you’ll then be able to look at food through a neutral lens and become an observer of how your body responds to one of these programs.
4. You aren’t aware of and/or don’t honor your hunger and fullness cues
Being able to identify and honor hunger and satiety signals most of the time is an essential part of the foundation of a healthy relationship with food. When we have the ability to do this, we are deeply connected to our bodies.
Further, eating according to physical hunger and fullness cues requires awareness of emotional prompts as well, so this often indicates a high level of connection to our internal landscapes as well.
Without this skill, regimented eating plans will only cause more confusion and mistrust with our own bodies, as we’re led to believe we have to be told what to do. That our own bodies don’t possess the wisdom we need.
We need to learn how to listen to our bodies first, rules second (if at all).
5. You attach emotions to your food choices (most commonly guilt)
If you’re attaching guilt, shame, or even pride to your food choices, then chances are very high that you’ve already been on a diet of some kind. The rules of that diet—or those diets—led you to viewi food through a good/bad lens.
“I’m good if I eat clean.”
“I’m bad/a cheater/a loser because I ate that food I wasn’t supposed to.”
After supposed failures in food choices, the wheels often fall off the bus and lead to binging behaviors.
A regimented eating plan that dictates strict rules about foods that are allowed vs. disallowed is the worst thing you can do at this point, as it will only exacerbate the issue.
Work on viewing food through a neutral lens first, and be aware that this can certainly take time depending on your starting point. Once again, this is an essential part of building the foundation of a healthy relationship with food.
6. You’re hoping this is your ticket to happiness and self-worth
Engaging in any form of diet or body changes in hopes of finding self-worth or happiness at the end is not only unsuccessful, but it can be extremely detrimental in the long run. These eating plans are no exception, regardless of the way they’re marketed.
With this as our motivation, you’re extremely susceptible to attaching your worth to your food choices, and you may resort to desperate measures to achieve your goals. Not to mention, the entire process will be absolutely miserable.
Rather, I strongly advise focusing on your internal landscape and cultivating a strong foundation of self-respect, care, and worth prior to engaging in any of these plans. Intentions matter TREMENDOUSLY, even with behaviors that appear to be healthy on the surface.
If you fall into any of these categories, you’re just not ready yet. Plain and simple.
It doesn’t mean you won’t be able to engage with one of these programs in the future—if you still find that you want to—but now is not the time.
Rather, I strongly encourage you to focus your time and energy on building the foundation of a healthy relationship with food FIRST.
Focus on the big-ticket items, which primarily include:
Mindfulness—my recommendation is via meditation.
Awareness of emotional prompts for eating or restricting.
Addressing the root causes of these emotional prompts.
Connection with your physical body and its signals pertaining to hunger, fullness, and the effects of foods (which will likely lead to you never having to do one of these programs anyways).
Movement and how it affects your body & your food choices.
Filling your life up with things outside of the pursuit of health, food, or the pursuit of a better body.
This may seem like a hefty list—and one that will require a lot of work—but I believe in my core that this work is essential before embarking on another diet or eating regimen.
Those options will always be there waiting for you, and you can revisit them with a completely different perspective and with an entirely new set of intentions.
If you find yourself standing in the same place that you’ve been in time and time again when it comes to food and your mindset around it, then it’s time for a change. It’s time for another approach.
Give yourself the gift of learning to turn inward for guidance and stop outsourcing this wisdom to others. Build your foundation to freedom once and for all!