Diet Brain vs. Formal Dieting

It’s important to understand the difference between formal dieting and the diet brain. Many women come to us and say “I’m not dieting anymore” or “I haven’t done anything like Weight Watchers in a long time.” And that may be the case. But that does not mean you aren’t operating with a diet brain. And unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if you’re not formally dieting anymore. If you haven’t actively taken steps to heal your diet brain, a lot of the same frustrating, blow-back behaviors caused by formal dieting are likely continuing to present themselves in your life. 

So today we’re going to discuss the different aspects of diet brain and how healing them is necessary if you want to stop binging, emotional eating, rebound eating, Last Suppering and just generally feeling crazy and out of control around food. 

diet brain

Speaking of, if you haven’t yet taken the free master class: The 5 Shifts to End Binge Eating, you should go do that now. You can find it at here. It will walk you through these 5 core shifts we lead our clients through to set the foundation for healing your relationship with food. It’s sort of like diet recovery 101 and if you haven’t yet, do not miss out on taking it. 

The Difference Between Formal Dieting and Diet Brain

Formal dieting is something we are all intimately familiar with. Weight watchers points. Atkins carbs. Nutritionist’s macros. South Beach good carbs. The Whole30. The Zone Diet. And yes, Noom. Noom is definitely, definitely a diet. (Dwight gif). 

These are all formal diets. Plans of eating or not eating certain foods in an attempt to control our weight and/or our health. But mostly our weight. A diet is any attempt to control food to control weight (or any form of eating that you’re emotionally attached to). Yes, intermittent fasting counts too. 

We can usually recognize these with ease. Although many cleanses, detoxes and healing protocols in the medical and wellness industries are putting on quite a disguise these days. 

Formal dieting is usually the first thing to go when we decide to aim for food freedom in our lives. A diet brain, however, is more covert, and made up of everything going on between our ears about food. 

Your diet brain is the cumulative impact that diet culture has had on your beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behaviors throughout your life. It’s the result of our brains adapting to survive the interaction of the oppressive forces in life like diet culture, racism, fat-phobia, capitalism and Patriarchy. Yikes, right? 

We talk more about all of this fun stuff on the pod this week too:

Diet Brain has Different Parts 

At the heart of why diets don’t work, we have weight set point theory. This explains what our brains do physiologically to fight back against the restriction, deprivation and initial weight loss that might occur when dieting. “Whenever your weight changes too much, your brain will intervene to push it back to what it thinks is the correct weight for you.” says Sandra Aamodt, PhD. It fights back with increased appetite, numbed fullness and satiety cues, lethargy, slowed metabolism and obsessive thoughts of food. This is the proven impact of dieting on our brains. For survival purposes, our brains are very sensitive to food scarcity and tend to freak out if they perceive it in the present or anticipate it in the future. 

On the behavioral side, a diet brain tends to create some common thinking patterns that would be called cognitive distortions in psychology. 

Distortions like: 

Black & White, All-or-Nothing Thinking 

This distortion occurs when people habitually think in extremes like pass/fail. This idea of being on the diet wagon or off the diet wagon, bleeds into a lot of thinking in our lives. Not just around food, weight and exercise. 

diet brain

Perfectionism 

This distortion is defined as the over-dependence on self-evaluation on the determined pursuit and achievement of self-imposed, personally demanding standards of performance in at least one salient domain, despite the occurrence of adverse consequences. We hear time and time again from women in our program (link) that they are much more compassionate to others than to themselves. That they demand much more of themselves than they would demand of others. That they are the exception that must adhere to unrealistic standards of perfection when it comes to performance – and in this case performance in terms of maintaining a certain weight through diet and exercise. We also tend to see perfectionism in many areas of their lives, not just around food and body. 

People Pleasing 

At the heart of this one, we believe, you’ll find Patriarchy. This is the habit many women have of putting everyone and everything else first, and their own needs dead last. Selling yourself short, really. But in the end, we wind up feeling resentful and exhausted. 

We’ve had clients report being diligent about preparing and packing food for their entire families for outings, but never thinking to do the same for themselves. Our colleague Stephanie Dodier says the connection between dieting and people pleasing is “Good Girl Syndrome.” Where women in our culture learn from a very young age that it’s extremely important to be a good girl.  And to do so requires constant vigilance of our appetites and bodies, being small, beautiful, quiet and accommodating. To be a good woman means to be small and self-sacrificing. This shows up everywhere in our lives. 

Mental Filtering or Body Blaming 

Another lovely faulty thought pattern writhing around in our diet brains is mental filtering, also known as body blaming. We filter all the negative aspects of a situation through to our bodies to be blamed. We blame our weight for everything. Our lack of confidence, success, access to resources, love and happiness. “If only I could lose this weight, then I’d be….” We see this show up for clients all the time in moments that have nothing to do with our bodies or weight. We feel something we don’t want to feel and we immediately blame and beat ourselves up. We focus on our bodies, because actually, dieting sets us up with a neat, and tidy perceived solution. When in reality, life is hard and there aren’t always neat and tidy solutions to what we’re feeling. 

diet brain

Why We Have to Actively Work to Heal Our Diet Brains

Quitting dieting isn’t enough to truly heal. And contrary to some popular belief, intuitive eating alone isn’t the full solution either. It’s one of the most important tools for sure but, it must be combined with the work to heal body image and our dieting brains as well. 

We’re not dieting and feeling out of control around food in a vacuum. Our current, troubled relationship with food is the complex result of a lifetime of surviving diet culture in whatever body we are in. And in order to truly heal, we have to work through each piece to shift our perspectives, beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It’s not just about food.

The good news is that we commonly see the dysfunction around food – like binging, emotional eating, rebellious or rebound eating – dissipate very quickly. Sometimes literally overnight, which is wonderful. But then, in order to continue and fortify our recovery, we must do the work of rooting out the beliefs that sucked us into those patterns in the first place. 

If You’d Like to Heal Your Diet Brain and Put This Struggle Behind You…

Our recommendations would be this. 

  1. Go take the free master class if you haven’t yet. You can find it at wellneslately.com/masterclass.
  2. Book your free Breakthrough Session to get started on your own, personal journey to healing your diet brain. You can grab an open spot on our calendar at wellnesslately.com/appy 

You Can Absolutely Stop Dieting and Heal Your Diet Brain for Good. 

You simply have to be ready to commit to a real change in your life. 

If you’re at diet rock bottom and cannot fathom starting on another new program you know isn’t going to work. If you know in your gut that if you’re ever going to be happy and confident, you need to find a new way to relate to food and your body – then now’s the time. 

Go to wellnesslately.com/apply to get started today. 

diet brain

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