How to recognize if you're in a dieting mentality

Although we live in a diet culture, the word “diet” has a lot of negative stigma associated with it. The fact that diets don’t work and can even have a negative impact on our health has become public knowledge. As a result, many of us deny being on a diet, yet the way we eat is still controlled by external rules, rather than our own internal wisdom. Many of us are no longer following the Atkins diet or South Beach diet. We aren’t buying frozen diet foods or substituting meals for slim fast shakes. But if we look at the definition of dieting: following an external plan, including changing eating and exercise habits in an effort to lose weight, it is evident that many of us are in fact dieting. Instead of following official diets, we’ve made up our own lifestyle changes and weight loss plans. We eliminate sugar or carbohydrates. We count calories and track macronutrients. We use exercise as a way of making up for eating foods that we deem unhealthy. We label foods and our eating as good or bad. This way of eating can be thought of as a pseudo diet or a “diet in disguise”. It takes the form of paleo, Whole 30, elimination (of sugar, carbs, etc.), ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting, raw food diets, juice cleanses etc. A pseudo diet may also take the form of a “lifestyle diet” or saying that you are trying to “watch what you eat and be healthy” when really you are trying to find ways to restrict your eating and lose weight.

If weight loss or changing your body is the goal, then your eating is guided by a set of rules rather than listening to your own internal wisdom and you are operating from a dieting mindset even if you’re not officially “on a diet.”   

This mindset is often so ingrained that we may not even be consciously aware of it.

The dieting mindset originates from a place of self control and gives rise to perfectionism rather than from a place of self care and self-compassion. In the dieting mindset the goal to become thinner takes over caring for our own emotional and mental well being. We make decisions only from our head and are cut off from the feedback that we receive from the body. In this mindset we believe that a plan is necessary and that our eating needs to be controlled in some way.  The dieting mindset usually leads to diet-like behaviors which are often not apparent to the person engaging in them such as:

·         eating only “safe foods”

·         eating only at certain times of the day (regardless of hunger cues)

·         paying penance for eating certain foods (restricting, doing extra exercise)

·         judging what you deserve to eat based on what you’ve eaten earlier in the day

·         judging your eating as “good” or “bad”

·         using willpower to control your natural desires  

The dieting mindset creates an obstacle to intuitive eating by disrupting the process of listening and responding to the needs of the body. When operating from a diet mentality, it is difficult to build trust with the body as your eating and food choices are dictated by rules that block your ability to tune into your intuitive internal signals.

Another consideration for exploring the diet mentality is to examine your emotional relationship to food. Perhaps you don’t follow any food rules but you still find yourself feeling guilt or shame around your food choices. This is a sign that you are operating from a dieting mindset.  

Becoming an intuitive eater means giving yourself permission to eat any food, free of guilt.

In the culture that we live in this may seem like an impossible feat but as you learn to trust your body again and reclaim your relationship with food, you will be able to find pleasure in eating and enjoy foods guilt-free.

When exploring your dieting mentality, it may be a good idea to ask yourself what is the intention behind the behavior?  Even if you don’t share this intention with anyone else, try to be honest with yourself. See if you can do this from a place of compassion rather than judgment. In the culture that we live in weight loss behaviors are normalized and celebrated. We are continually bombarded with the message that we need to lose weight and change our bodies. However, operating from a dieting mindset is detrimental to becoming an intuitive eater and developing a healthy relationship with food and your body. The goal of weight loss needs be put aside as it will get in the way of being able to listen to and trust your body. Remember we live in a diet culture, meaning that these thoughts and behaviors are not just yours. They are things you’ve internalized from the culture that we live in. Many people believe that the diet mentality will just go away with time and age. Unfortunately because of its prevalence in our culture, time alone does not change our way of thinking and the diet mentality doesn’t usually go away unless we actively work on challenging it. 

Letting go of the diet mentality is the first step in becoming an intuitive eater and probably the hardest step.  In order to make any change in our lives, the first step is recognizing that a problem exists. Change can’t take place without awareness about what is going on. If you find yourself consumed with thoughts about food and your body and ridden with the fear of eating certain foods, the first step is recognize that these thoughts and feelings of fear exist before we can change them. And with change comes the freedom to have a healthy relationship with food and our bodies, to enjoy food without feeling guilty, to allow food to be pleasurable and satisfying, to reclaim all of the mental and physical energy that we previously spent controlling our food and to channel it towards pursuing our passions and life purpose. This work can be challenging to do on your own and, if it feels overwhelming, the first step may be to reach out for counselling.

I’m a registered clinical counsellor in Vancouver, BC and I offer eating disorder counselling and intuitive eating coaching to help people reclaim their relationship with food and their body.


Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2017). The Intuitive Eating Workbook Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Lorilee Keller