Health And Wellness

5 Truly Terrible Reasons People Go On Diets — And What You Should Do Instead

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It's time to stop dieting. 

It's all kinds of hope wrapped up in a shiny package that wears off after days or weeks or months and almost always leaves you feeling worse than when you started.

If you say that you're dieting not just to be thinner but to be "healthier," I'm raising an eyebrow at you. Being fat or in a bigger body doesn't automatically mean you're unhealthy. Not even a little bit.

It's very possible to be fat and healthy. It's very possible to be in between thin and fat and be healthy. It's very possible to be thin and be unhealthy.

Yes, dieting is bad. 

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Health is not about weight, it's about what you do in terms of moving your body and eating food.

If you believe that fat people are fat because they eat too much and don’t exercise, you're engaging in weight bias or stigma.

Bodies don’t work exactly the same. Different bodies have different needs and don’t process food or use energy at the exact same rates. 

Here are 5 "bad" reasons why people diet, and what to do instead.

1. "I want to feel better about myself."

This is probably the number one reason people go on diets. They want to feel better about themselves and society tells them that if they look "better," they will feel better. And looking "better" generally means losing weight.

If you're focused on looking better or feeling better about yourself and using your weight as part of that equation, it’s possible to accept that your weight doesn't have to be an obstacle to feeling good about yourself without losing weight. 

Self-acceptance removes any leverage the haters have — external or internal. You don’t have to look to others for acceptance or prove anything to anyone.

Look for people who don’t attach their worth to their weight like @SonyaReneeTaylor or @thebodyisnotanapology in Instagram. View them as teachers.

Learn about body neutrality. Focus on how your body allows you to live your life and have the experiences you have, rather than on how it looks. Set a daily intention to look at your body through that lens.

Try it for a week and notice how it impacts your relationship with yourself.

2. "I want to attract a partner."

This reason is rarely explicitly offered but often a motivator. It's easier to attract a partner when thin because weight stigma is a real thing. And if it were easy and not soul-crushing to lose weight and keep it off, sure, why not?

In reality, what happens is you lose the weight to find the partner and then being thin becomes your identity. You believe you can’t attract or keep a partner without it.

Weight is still an issue — your identity and self-esteem are in constant peril, based on whether the numbers on the scale go up.

These are not ideal conditions for feeling good about yourself. It's easier to "put the work in" of searching for a partner when you feel good about yourself.

Ask yourself if the possibility of finding a partner is worth having the emotions the search for that partner will evoke. It's rare to put yourself on the dating scene and not feel anxiety, self-doubt, low self-esteem, or fear of rejection at some point.

Is it worth having some of those feelings? If the answer is "no," there are tools to that can help you manage and move through those feelings. Psychotherapy, like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, is helpful.

Body movement (like dance or movement therapy) can help process and express feelings. Energy work such as tapping can also help you move through emotions.

When the answer is "yes" decide which actions you will take to look for a partner and prepare to have persistence. As you get clearer about who you are and who you want in your life, you may find that the pickings are slim. This is reality.

You can decide if you want to widen your search by geography or other categories that may be lower on the priority list. Or not.

3. "I want to feel happier."

Losing weight may make you feel happier while it lasts. But happiness is transient, so even if you lose weight, you will still feel all the other feelings too. No one can feel happy all of the time. And you don’t want your happiness to be dependent on your weight. 

Consider that your weight may not be the only thing keeping you from feeling happy more often. Identify those obstacles — self-judgments or limiting beliefs about yourself — and work on letting them go. Decide what you want to focus on instead.

One focus that I use often is asking myself, "What lights me up?" Write down at least five things, if possible, and then set an intention in the morning to find opportunities to do those things. 

Another tool is practicing gratitude. Write down three things every day that you're grateful for. Be as specific and descriptive as possible. This helps you focus on what you have, which keeps your focus off of what you don’t have, creating those good feelings of appreciation.

Practicing gratitude reminds you that you have parts of your life that make you feel good, if you just stop and notice them.

Being mindful means being in the present moment without judgment. Noticing what's going on right now around you and/or inside of you, without judging it. The more mindful you are, the more you let go of judgment.

Judgment rarely makes us happy. But stopping and noticing the sounds you can hear or the colors you can see can provide a moment of interest, peace, and the possibility of feeling wonder. It’s not exactly the same as happy, but you might find that it is as appealing.

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4. "I want to be healthy."

If you want to be healthy, first be clear about what is "unhealthy." What exactly needs addressing? Your weight is not an acceptable answer.

If you have lab results or vitals that are outside of normal limits and/or that your doctor has expressed concern about, that counts as unhealthy or potentially unhealthy.

If you're having experiences like feeling lethargic or feeling physical pain, please check with a doctor to determine its cause. That will be relevant to addressing the issue.

Once you're clear about what's unhealthy, you can work on addressing it directly via your movement and food habits and perhaps medicine or supplements. This is how you get healthy.

"Food habits” is not code for "a diet focused on losing weight." Eating based on your body’s needs and your wants is the goal. Pay attention to what you're eating and drinking in terms of how it makes you and your body feel, not in terms of calories or weight. 

Also pay attention to your sleep, your stress level, and the time you spend in the present moment. Do you think about the past or worry about the future a lot?

All of these factors are more relevant to health than weight is. Meditation is a great tool for improving all three and has well-documented health benefits.

5. "I want to move more easily."

The size of your body and you may genuinely impact your stamina and your ability to move or move with ease.

Shift your mindset. Instead of focusing on losing weight, focus on moving your body more. Always consult with your physician first if there are any medical concerns. Then, start moving your body a little more than you currently do.

Make a plan about how you will do it: what movement will you do, for how long, when? Start slow. Stretch a little. Walk a little. Dance a little. Start with whatever part of your body you can comfortably move. 

Please stop dieting. It doesn’t work. The weight doesn’t stay off and it doesn’t fix your self-esteem. More often than not, it makes both worse.

The kindest thing you can do for yourself when you want to try another diet is to shut that door and try something that targets the actual issue.

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Suzanne Manser is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Northeast Portland, OR. For more information on her services, visit her website.

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This article was originally published at suzannemanserphd.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.