The definition of “dieting” is very fuzzy. Even “Weight Watchers are now calling themselves “WW” and using the term “wellness” instead of weight! (I am onto you WW.)
We need to be totally clear what dieting is because so many people believe they’ve quit, but they haven’t. They are just doing a watered-down version of dieting i.e. “leading a healthy lifestyle”. Or they are doing it for their health i.e. “the wellness diet.” The diet and fitness industry have become so sneaky that a brand-new definition to be clear about what dieting is. And it’s not just industry that’s cashing in, the medical profession is still intrenched in diet culture.
The current understanding of the “dieting” is something like, “changing the eating in order to lose weight.” or “eating ‘healthily’ to lose weight”. Some people just say they are “being good”.
But dieting is actually anything that involves doing anything different to that you would do if there was no connection between weight, eating and exercise. When you do different to how your eating and activity would be when you are definitely not dieting you are automatically “restricting”. In other words, dieting is any effort you make to control your weight or health.
Effort is the Devil
But why is restricting – making effort to change your behaviour – so wrong?
The answer is that making effort – doing anything to control or counter your eating – will make you eat more. It might not show up on the same day as the restricting but it does accumulate and show itself in the form of “overeating” or binge-eating. There are now hundreds of studies showing that restricting eating leads to eating more in the end.
But why does restricting eating (and indeed doing exercise in the name of weight control) lead to eating more?
Eating is an Instinct
Well, apart from the effects of an excess of the hunger hormones present in the body creating a “primal drive to eat” (that’s another story), it’s all down to what eating actually is meant to be. You see, eating is an instinct. The eating instinct works silently without interruption from the person’s thinking. If you interfere with the eating instinct’s workings by using your brain for consciously learning about food and exercise for the purposes of weight control or even in the guise of “health” e.g. which foods are “good” for you and how exercise “burns food”, the instinct will stop working.
How The Eating Instinct Works
Let’s take a closer look at how the eating instinct works: Instinctive eating (“Intuitive EatingTM”) is when your body can physically perceive when it needs food because it’s actually monitoring your blood glucose. This (unconscious) perception makes your thoughts turn to eating and you have the strongest urge to eat which must be acted upon. Another way the eating instinct works is when your body can physically perceive when it has taken in enough food, by the same monitoring, making your thoughts turn to stopping eating. This create an unstoppable urge to stop eating. Another example is how the instinct can also perceive which foods your body needs the nutrients of and it makes you have to eat those foods.
Auto-On, Auto-Off and Auto-Choice
The eating instinct is a super strong, automatic process with no consciousness involved, let alone effort. People who were allowed to preserve their eating as an instinct from birth – yes, we were all born with it – have all these automatic eating “switches”. The “on” and “off” switches which are really cool, but also this amazing switch which automatically makes them want to eat the foods containing nutrients their body needs.
This delicate instinctive functioning requires complete silence in the brain for it to work.
People with a history of dieting have a very noisy brain when it comes to eating. They are constantly “deciding” when, what and how much to eat, making effort to “do the right thing” and are constantly making conscious decisions about when they “should” eat, what they “should” eat, and how much they “should” eat. Their brains do not have the library-esque conditions the instinct needs to function. Their brains sound more like a football match at Wembley cheering on their favourite team “willpower”.
Can you see how this incessant thinking brain-noise will stifle this instinct’s workings? And it does. The eating instinct not only doesn’t speak in terms of “shoulds”. It doesn’t even gently weigh up what would be “best”. Actually, it doesn’t think at all!
When you stifle your instinct you gradually become totally powerless to control your eating.
This is why people find themselves binging after a period of extra-restrictive eating or find on some days they can’t stop eating.
So, what constitutes this so rude and disruptive “brain noise”? What do you need to stop doing to create the serene conditions the brain needs to keep eating in the instinct zone?
The answer is you need to stop everything that constitutes “effort”. Effort is using your willpower to not eat something or using weight control as a reason to do exercise. And just switching your focus to “health” isn’t going to cut it because in your mind weight and health are synonymous. Only eating and exercising for the pure pleasure of doing it constitutes effortless. Again, back to the way you eat and exercise when you have your foot firmly off the willpower pedal. What would you really choose to do if there were no connection between weight, eating and exercise?
You have to be perfectly honest with yourself. The brain knows when you are trying to kid it that you truly love eating salad more than pizza and you truly enjoyed that gruelling run to “make up for” eating. No matter how much eating the salad or doing the run feels like the right thing to do, it is the wrong thing to do.
Any effort-making will only make your overeating protective eating instinct disappear more into the depths of your brain. You become dependent on making effort to control your eating because you have nothing internal controlling it for you! It’s a viscous cycle of trying to control it and the control making it worse.
Dieting is Everywhere
Can you see how dieting is so insidious. So many people have understandably are still buying into the idea of “being good”, “healthy lifestyle” and “wellness” not knowing they are just full-blow diets.
Because diets are so pervasive and persuasive, we not only need another definition of what a diet it, we need a brand-new word to replace the word “diet”.
Trying to Control
This new word is “triet” (Alison Hall 26th May 2022). Because anything that is “trying” to control or counter the eating in the name of weight or health (or anything else!) effort and so is restrictive.
Are you a “trieter”? Do you make effort to control your eating, body weight or health?
Did you think you’d long since given up dieting , but realise you are still trieting?
Do you feel like you’ve lost your eating instinct protecting you from automatically wanting to eat just what your body chooses?
Natural Exit Routes
The longer someone has been trieting, the more often they will feel the exposure of not being protected by the eating instinct. People can get to the point where they have no internal overeating protection at all. There are a few different routes out when this happens:
1) into an eating disorder (anorexia or bulimia);
2) into “disordered eating”;
3) into gradually gaining weight steadily for the rest of their lives (this is the healthier route of the 3).
Beware the Triet Pedlars
Beware of those dressing up dieting in another guise. They are making it about “health” or “wellness” but it’s still about effort and not “instinct restoring” – so it’s going to inflict further damage to your appetite.
How to Stop Trieting!
If you’d like to know how to teach your brain to stop all the incessant trying and get your eating instinct working again, contact me about Intuitive Eating counselling.
By Alison Hall
Alison Hall is an ACSM Clinical Exercise Specialist, Intuitive Eating counsellor and founder of HFI Training and Try Freedom
There are now over 150 studies on Intuitive Eating showing benefit.
There is also a plethora of evidence of the wider topics of Interoceptive Awareness, Food Restriction/Dieting/Binge Eating/Inefficacy Harm from Weight Loss / Reactance Theory. Click below to see the science: