- Emily Van Eck, MS, RDN
What To Do Instead Of Diet In The New Year
Updated: May 2
I know how tempting it is to try to lose weight by going on a new "diet" - especially when you feel like your motivations are coming from a good place. I want to feel great! I want to be healthy! I want to look amazing. What could be wrong with that?
I hear this a lot in the wellness media lately. There's such a strong backlash against people like me trying to help people find a healthy relationship with food and peace in their bodies without shaming them for their body size. The fitness industry is generally a problem too, often so racist and fat-phobic.
Striving for better health, an improved sense of self, a stronger body, a clearer mind - these are fantastic aspirations. Self improvement can be a great thing. No need to let that go. But dieting is not the answer. Diets are set up to be temporary, giving you no skills for the long run and eroding trust in yourself day by day. Every time you want a piece of bread or a cookie or a freaking bowl of brown rice, you're told NO! THAT IS BAD. THAT WILL MAKE YOU FAT. (p.s. there's nothing wrong with being fat).
Whole 30, yep. Weight Watchers, yep. Keto, yep. Ideal Protein, yep. The diet ends and you're relieved. A month later, you end up back where you started (or heavier), defeated, confused, and feeling even more disconnected from your body. And who's to blame you - you were sold the bullshit that dieting is normal, hating your body is normal, and that trusting your body to tell you what and when to eat is a disaster waiting to happen.
A short plug for the physiological harm that yoyo dieting does - it harms your metabolism and raises your set-point weight. Diets increase food obsession and reduce your ability to hear your hunger signals appropriately. They cause you to crave high-fat foods and increase your appetite.
But do not worry - giving up on dieting does not mean giving up on yourself. Letting go of the food obsession will not make you eat all day and night like many experts are afraid. But geez - the fact that we're scared that will happen sure is proof that we're out of touch with our bodies.
So instead of telling yourself you'll better happier when you lose weight, you'll feel better, you'll be more comfortable, you'll exercise more, you'll go on more dates - I encourage you to choose those things now, in this body. Loving yourself more as you are - since you are perfectly fine the way you are - is a goal more aligned with your true desires, and therefore couldn't possibly end in defeat.
Not to mention this is a radical, liberating, and badass goal to have. Women have been body shamed into believing they needed to be a certain size for decades - but why? We are different colors, different ethnicities, have different preferences, different tastes, different personalities, different skills - why shouldn't we have different bodies?
Here are some things you can do instead that help you listen to and develop trust in your body.
1. Develop a mindfulness practice.
Using mindfulness in your life will help develop self-acceptance and reduce stress. A mindfulness practice could be done outdoors, stopping to notice the shape of leaves or sound of wind on a walk. Or done while eating. For example, eat one dinner per week without the TV on. Sit quietly and calmly and eat while using all your senses. Or this could be a morning intention setting practice. I like the practice of considering how I want to feel today. And then come up with a few things I can do to make myself feel that way.
2. Cook a little more. Or a little different.
No need to go overboard, just try cooking twice per week. Cooking at home helps you build skills and understand flavor combinations. Invite friends over instead of going to a restaurant. Go easy on yourself, here. Learning to cook and meal plan will not happen overnight, just like accepting your body the way it is. It takes practice, like learning the ukelele.
3. Give up calorie and macro counting.
Delete My Fitness Pal. Instead focus on trying a vegetable every week or new ways of cooking. Figure out how to make your favorite Asian dish. Or make sure you eat lunch every day. Research is pretty clear that counting calories contributes to problematic food preoccupation and that percentages of macros don't matter in the long-run anyway.
4. Stop body shaming yourself and others.
Every time you catch yourself saying something negative about your body, take a breath. Then say three TRUE AND POSITIVE things about it. For example: my body is strong and healthy, my body appreciates being touched affectionately, my body is capable of carrying and delivering a baby, my body loves being outdoors on a sunny day. Stuff like that. You're not expected to think your body is perfect ever or even love your body every day, but learning to respect it and appreciate it as it is can be a huge relief.
5. Find movement that moves you.
Finding types of movement that make you truly happy is the key to finding a sustainable exercise routine. Try new kinds of movement. And remind yourself it does not matter how many calories you're burning. That is not the point of exercise and thinking that way will deter your progress. You can tell if this is an area you need to work on if you find that you only exercise when you're dieting and when one goes out the window, so does the other one.
6. Find ways to manage stress.
Food is often turned to in times of stress. And a little of this in your life is perfectly healthy and normal. But if it is happening often, you may benefit from some alternative ways to handle stress. Mindful movement, cooking, and self-compassion practices all work, just to name a few.
We have the ability to control our thoughts, not our bodies. So start there. Be kind to yourself - no one got anywhere with self-hatred.
Emily Van Eck, MS, RDN specializes in intuitive eating, mindfulness-based eating practices, embodiment with food and movement, and healing from years of weight-bias and chronic dieting. She helps people find balance, consistency, and peace with their eating habits so they can feel confident to get outta their heads and into their bodies. Emily is a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor with a master's degree in nutrition science.