Rejecting the Diet Mentality: Am I Pseudo-Dieting?

What comes to mind when you hear the term “pseudo-dieting”? If it is something along the lines of unconscious dieting, you hit the nail on the head! If you are in the early stages of recovery, or just starting your intuitive eating journey, chances are you are trying to unlearn all of those rules that diet culture has taught you. What a daunting task. Perhaps you even feel as though you’ve given up dieting for good! But, if you’ve worked so hard to stop the dieting roller coaster you were on, you might be wondering why you are still experiencing the mental barriers related to dieting. 

In this blog post, we will explore some of the nuances of the diet mentality, and provide you with ways to identify if you are engaging in pseudo-dieting. 

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So what exactly is pseudo-dieting?

Pseudo-dieting is the idea that while you may be physically off of a diet, the dieting thoughts (and sometimes consequences) remain. Why is this an issue? Well, while discontinuing dieting is an amazing first step, the lingering dieting thoughts are likely to translate into diet-like behaviors, which are the very things you are trying to stray from. Also, those intrusive dieting thoughts do not allow you to experience the true mental freedom that you are working so hard to achieve!

Okay, so I get the concept of pseudo-dieting, but how do I know if I am engaging in those behaviors?

Unlike “traditional” dieting behaviors, pseudo-dieting behaviors are harder to pinpoint. While everybody engages with food differently, here are some examples of what pseudo-dieting could look like: 

  1. Counting the nutritional value of the food in your head (i.e. macro counting, calorie counting)

    These days, diet culture encourages us to keep track of everything we eat and drink in one way or another. While being aware of nutritional content might seem helpful, it actually has no place in the early stages of recovery/ intuitive eating. The last principle of intuitive eating is gentle nutrition (more on that in an upcoming post ;) You can start practicing gentle nutrition by separating compassionate nutrition needs vs. rule driven diet mentality mindset. 

  2. Eating only “safe” foods, limiting a food group, or cutting back on food

    Most diets involve some form of restriction, set of rules, or list of foods to eat/ stay away from. If you identify as a chronic dieter, these food rules might still be swimming around in your head, even throughout your recovery. Becoming aware of these thoughts and naming them as dieting behaviors / rules that no longer serve you is a very important step in overcoming pseudo-dieting. For those who have been on the diet roller coaster for years, several different food rules might be ingrained in your head without you even realizing that it was a learned behavior from a previous diet. That is why mindfulness can be a helpful tool. If you start to notice that you are gravitating toward certain foods that were deemed “safe” during your dieting days, chances are that food choice did not from a place of honoring your hunger/cravings. Ask yourself questions, such as “why did I choose this food if I really wanted that food?” or “what actually sounds good to me right now?” This can be a great way to identify if those food rules are trying to challenge your food freedom journey. 

    Here’s an example: 

    Food Thought / Desire: Oh my gosh, that donut looks and sounds so good for breakfast.

    Dieting Response: There’s no way I can have that without ruining my diet. Way too much sugar and carbs! If I have that I’ll have to start all over again tomorrow.

    Rational Brain: That donut will satisfy my craving, but because it doesn’t have any protein or fiber so I know I won’t be physically satiated from it.

    Gentle Nutrition: I’ll have the donut and also a tall glass of milk to hold me over longer.

    Notice any trends? How does it feel to respond from a healthy, non-dieting mindset? Do you notice you feel more satisfied and your cravings decrease as a result?  Let us know!

  3. Compensating for eating “bad” foods

    This one is a bit tricky. While it may be easier to identify behaviors such as over-exercising or intentional restriction as compensation for the food you ate, there are several other ways you may be paying penance for your food choices. Skipping snacks/ meals, judging what you deserve to eat based on what you’ve previously eaten, feeling guilty and promising to be “good” the next time you eat are all examples of compensatory behaviors. Feeling guilty about eating certain foods might take more time to heal because it is not a concrete behavior that you can just stop doing. A way to overcome the guilt around certain foods is to actually give yourself unconditional permission to eat as much as you want of those foods (and any other food). This is especially helpful for those who struggle with bingeing. The first step is to identify which foods are your “trigger” foods. 

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Pseudo-dieting is a very common experience among those who are first learning about intuitive eating. Just remember, there is a reason that the first principle of intuitive eating is Rejecting the Diet Mentality. We encourage you to take as much time as you need to unlearn all of the harm dieting has caused you. Remember, there is no wrong way to navigate your food freedom journey and don’t forget, we’re here to help and support you!

Are you picking up on any pseudo-dieting banter? How are you challenging it? Let us know!


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We're a group of non-diet, balance seeking, cupcake consuming, quinoa loving, registered dietitians. 
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