written by Matt Marchant
So what is it about dieting that makes it so damn tempting to do? We know diets, for the most part, rarely work and if they do, the changes that develop only last a brief time. What then is the allure of going on a diet?
We might want to blame good marketing on the “success” that diets receive in reaching more and more participants, but I don’t buy it, do you? That may only be one small part to the puzzle. Diets gain popularity not for what their programs offer us physically, but for what they offer us emotionally. In my personal experience with dieting, it offers me a chance to “check out” from a deeper personal awareness and responsibility. Might that be true for you as well?
Let’s check out how we check out with the use of diets. I find it to be very similar to how we check out of social/political awareness or responsibility... and so, diets are like politicians:
Diets are like politicians: They focus little on WHAT they offer, and more on HOW they offer it. (In most cases, mass marketing is inversely proportional to the quality of the product).
Diets are like Politicians: Their “success” has little to do with them, and everything to do with those who “bought in” to them or “voted for” them. (Most dieting success works in spite of the actual diet, as opposed to in response to it).
Diets are like Politicians: Many people vote, just like many people diet. Even fewer have a clue why they are voting, just like few know why they are dieting. (Remember: most diets fail to deliver the true message to the dieter).
Diets are like Politicians: We don’t care how they work, we just want them to work, we’ll worry about any negative consequences later. (The allure of instant gratification sells products, just like it wins votes).
I do not believe that a diet’s “success” rests on the amount of weight lost or even the increased health that a person receives as a result. As discussed in part 1 of this article, diets fail to deliver the true message to the dieter, and runs close to deep grooves of the shame cycle. Most eating plans fail to do the same thing. So, when I say “diets do not deliver success”, my definition of success has nothing with how much fat weight one can lose, but how much personal depth one can find.
Looking within ourselves is not as popular as going on the newest diet.
Don’t get me wrong (unless you need to get me wrong): There is a benefit from losing weight and becoming healthy. I invite you to consider that you are here with us on earth for a greater purpose than to just lose weight and become healthy. Your life carries much more depth to it than just losing weight so that you can fit into a bikini or show off your abs at the beach. That is true for me, is it for you?
It is for this reason - a deeper purpose to my existence, that I am driven to look past changes just in my outward appearance. Our outward behavior is a reflection of our inner beliefs. To change our behavior, changes only our behavior. To change our beliefs will most likely result in a change in our behavior, but it is the change in belief that matters most. That to has been true for me.
Success, therefore in this sense, indicates that we have looked within ourselves to find the message that our weight or health problem offers us. Failure to discover more about why we diet, leads us to diet over and over again. Let me say that again:
Failure to discover more about why we diet, leads us to diet over and over again.
Success Rule #1: Find out what the majority of people are doing, and do the opposite.
A majority of people go on diets, are you ready to do the opposite?
What would happen to the world of diet books and products if we all stopped using them? Is that possible? Unfortunately, for the masses I don’t think so. For you reading this... is it absolutely possible!
It is time to take back the power we have given to diets!
In order to regain our power, we must find out why we give it away so easily. What is it within us that makes us want to diet? What makes going on diet so tempting to us, even though we know they are severely limited and quite possibly a complete failure? Here are my answers to that question, I invite you to come up with your own.
Most diets gain popularity not for what their program offers us physically, but for what their diets offer us mentally and emotionally, and with most that offering is a chance to check out from our personal awareness and responsibility.
What makes going on a diet so tempting to us?
1. We no longer have to make decisions.
Main Point: Following a diet lets us off the hook from having to make decisions about our health. What happens when the diet is over and we have not learned to make the daily dietary decisions for ourselves?
What stops us from making decisions? First, a lack of knowledge will. This is a key reason why diets fail - they do not teach health, they dictate about health. The second thing that stops us from making decisions is being tired of having to make decisions.
Do you have decision fatigue? I know I do at times. There are many unique problems to modern man, having to make an overwhelming amount of decisions everyday is one of them. Roy F. Baumeister, research psychologist, has written much on the subject of decision fatigue. In his book “Willpower”, he states,
“When asked whether making decisions would deplete their willpower and make them vulnerable to temptation, most people say no. They don’t realize that decision fatigue helps explain why ordinary sensible people get angry at their colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket, and can’t resist the car dealer’s offer to rustproof their new sedan.”
Having someone tell us what to do, can actually relieve us of stress - initially and temporarily. But what if the long term result is that we stop the growth process? This is what I have found to be true in following any diet. When growth stops - motivation seems to stop as well.
Making decisions is a part of life, and if we don’t learn to make decisions for ourselves on what we eat, what happens when the book or nutritionist is no longer there to do that for us? I think we have all seen the answer to that - we revert back to where we started. Hence, time to start another diet.
What if there was a way to cut down on the amount of decisions we are required to make everyday? What if we were to prioritize them? David Allen in his book “Getting Things Done” writes about creating four files that every piece of paperwork can be filtered into: “Do”, “Delegate”, “Defer”, and “Delete”. I have found that by delegating decisions to others when appropriate, deferring decisions that are not necessary to make in the moment, and deleting and deciding not to bog myself down with the meaningless ones, I am much more free to make decisions on things that truly matter and affect me - like my health.
How do we benefit from not making decisions that rightfully should be ours?
My answer would be this, we can continue to let someone else rescue us. “What should I do?”. The light side or positive side to that question may be that we are humble enough to seek advice or get help. The shadow side or negative side may be that we are arrogant enough to think that by acting pathetic, we can manipulate someone into coming to our rescue. Thus, the victim controls the rescuer - or so the illusion goes.
What’s the difference? Asking for directions when we are lost is one thing, asking someone to make decisions that we as adults should have to make on our own is another. I believe that making decisions for our health is our responsibility, guidance may be needed initially, but to not make a choice, is making a choice. To give that up is to give up our personal power and play the “damsel in distress” role, and for every helpless victim, there is a rescuer waiting to save the day. The rescuer is a whole other topic we won’t jump into yet - I know all too much about it, as most who work in the health field know about. Part of me even believes I can save you by writing this article, and that is the other side to the same coin of the victim/rescuer archetype that reads, “The illusion of control and power”.
What decisions can you hand off, wait on and cut out, so that you can make time to make decisions on your health?
2. We no longer have to learn or think for ourselves.
Main Point: Following a diet gives us a license to let others do the mental and emotional work for us. What happens when we fail to learn about or think for ourselves about our dietary needs? What hapens when we fail to learn about our emotional needs and how they relate to food?
Changing how you eat, really requires changing how you think.
Which means, 1) changing how you think and relate to food, and 2) changing how feel and experience your emotions.
Your emotions are connected to your eating. To learn more about why you eat the way you do, is to learn more about why you think and feel the way you do.
“I’m out of school, what can I learn?” Although I have never heard those actual words, I have met many people over the years who might as well have had said it. This attitude is prevalent not only in those looking to go on a diet, but also with those handing out the dieting advice. How many in the health and fitness field are riding on the wheels of their degree or certificate from 15 plus years ago, unaware that the tires have lost their tread?
There are just as many health professionals dispensing out of date “nutritional advice”, as there are dieters out of touch with nutritional basics. Basics like: drink enough water, go to bed on time, and reduce your stress, are just as important, and in some cases even more important than what to eat. To then see health professional pushing pills and creams, without considering the basics, is negligible at best. A health professional can only teach you and take you to the level of depth they have gone themselves.
An eating plan is an educational plan.
When we decide not to learn how to create your own eating plan, we buy into the trick of denial and ignorance. We tell ourselves, “If I can’t do it, something else will have to do it for me. If I can’t do it, maybe I won’t have to be responsibile.” It may seem better to remain ignorant... is it though?
Like a two-year old hiding their head under a blanket, ignorance can give us the illusion that we can hide from the consequences of our choices.
How do we benefit from “not knowing” how to take care of our health? How do we benefit from our unwillingness to learn how to take care of our health?
3. We can continue to be impatient.
Main Point: Being impatient with the results of any diet, plan, or program, is really about us comparing ourselves to other’s results. Comparing ourselves to others is really us judging ourselves. Are you able to see your impatience for what it truly is, a judgement against yourself?
In our culture, we are praised for getting things done quickly, but has this speed with which we attempt to accomplish things led to an improvement in quality, or only in quantity? Here are a few examples: “This man made his first million by the age of 30.”, “This woman lost 50 pounds in only two months.”, and one that I find disturbing, “This child has been able to skip a few grades and head straight to college.” Now, please don’t misunderstand me (unless you really need to): We all have our own natural pace for growth, whether it be financial, physical, or educational, but what happens when we as a society stress the illusion (not the importance), that getting things done faster is better? Is it that we are trying to get things done faster in general, or is it really that we are trying to get things done faster than others? Welcome to the exhausting and frustrating world of competition.
As with all behavior, there is both a light and shadow side to them. Or in other words, a positive and negative, if that makes more sense. Competition’s shadow side seeks to compare ourselves to others, whereas it’s light side seeks to cultivate our creativity. When we compare we cannot be truly creative. When we compare any creativity that may seem to leak out is bound, and not fully free. Is our impatience for results rooted in comparing ourselves to other’s results? If so, might that produce the need for instant gratification?
Impatience is a symptom of the comparing ourselves to others, or even comparing ourselves to what we ourselves have done in the past. I have found that this judgement of ourselves creates the need for instant gratification. Instant gratification inhibits gratitude. The inhibiting of gratitude makes growth impossible. What if that is true? I find it to be true, here’s how it works: Gratitude is an acknowledgement that something we are currently experiencing or something we have experienced in the past, is necessary. But necessary for what? For growth. If we are unable to acknowledge, accept, and appreciate a past or current event as being important, are we able to learn or grow from it? My answer would be no. What would you say?
This is where instant gratification creeps in. When we are unable or unwilling to experience true, lasting gratitude for the past, we search for temporary gratitude in the present. Most diets provide us with instant gratification, yet do not provide us with long term results that we are able to really learn from.
When we judge ourselves, anything that provides instant gratification becomes much more tempting to us.
Things which give us instant gratification, steal our gratitude.
Without gratitude there can be no growth.
How do we benefit from being impatient?
The real question should be, “How do we benefit from judging ourselves?” This exactly what we do when we compare, we judge. There can be many answers to this question, and they may all come from just one person. The point is, there are many reasons why each of us may benefit from judging ourselves. Here is one possible answer: We judge ourselves in hopes that others won’t.
When I judge myself, I do so for the following reasons. First, I do so in hope that you will see my judgement of myself, and in turn decide to not judge me. Call it “have sympathy on me a don’t add to my judgement of myself”. Second, I judge myself as a way of beating you to the punch. The thought is, if I judge myself first and worst, and judgement you have of me after that will seem less painful.
To judge is human. We are required to judge everyday: “Should I eat this, go there, do that..?”. What if we could become aware and observe ourselves while we judge? What if next we could accept and allow ourselves to do so? What if finally we could find the humor in our humanity, and allow our judgements to be simply - a part of being human without having to be a part of our identity? I am not my thoughts; I am not my judgements; My judgements pass through me, providing lessons for me to learn from. How do you find those words?
Have you noticed yourself becoming impatient with your health and fitness results? Do you find yourself comparing yourself to others results? What can you learn from those judgements?
(A very interesting study, is looking at observation vs judgement. They may seem similar, yet come from different intent)
4. We no longer have to take personal responsibility.
Main Point: Following a diet offers a chance to make the diet or coach responsible for our results. What might happen to us if we fail to own what is our responsibility? What might happen to others if we let them own what is our responsibility?
What is it about “taking responsibility”, that makes it easy to demand that others do it, yet is difficult to do it ourselves? We preach it to children, yet our world is full of adults who do the exact opposite.
What would our world be like if everyone took responsibility for what they created in their lives?
Author John McMullin invites us to consider that there are three primary fears all humans face: The Fear of Failure, The Fear of Success, and The Fear of Intimacy. But, intimacy with whom? He continues to answer that with - intimacy with ourselves.
It is my experience, that we could further distill these three fears into the one greatest fear of mankind - The Fear of Intimacy with Self. For in both failure and success we are faced with the vulnerability of being intimate with our truest self. In the book, “Self Growth: The Holistic Approach to The Journey”, John McMullin states:
“Three great fears: I’m not enough, I am enough and the shame of intimacy with self.”
To take responsibility for ourself means we are making an assessment of ourself. To take an assessment of ourself means we will have to look below the surface. It is much like a business review.
I remember recently I hired a company to take a look at my business and assess where I could improve. The first thing they did, was to ask me many questions about the finances of my business. The answers revealed much about my business and myself, and the results where not easy to hear. Taking personal responsibility may make us feel just as uncomfortable.
Is there a way to start feeling more comfortable with the uncomfortable parts to ourself?
I think there is, and the first step is found in admitting you are human like the rest of us - no more, no less.
Taking responsibility for ourselves requires taking a deeper look at ourselves.
5. We can continue to shame ourselves.
Main Point: Following a diet, maybe a way for us to follow what is familiar to us - being shamed for not being “good enough”. Are diets another measuring tool used to show us we don’t measure up?
The fact that diets rarely work long-term and work for very few people, yet thousands go on diets each year, is an indication that some part of us may be looking to find out that we are “not good enough” by going on a diet. The trick is, we think we are trying to find out that we are “good enough” by going on a diet.
You already are “good enough”. You are not bad, you are not good, you are human. The polarity of good and bad is another way to instill shame. A diet can make you feel more than human if you succeed, and less than human if you fail.
If it is true that diets can shame us, why would we want to continue to shame ourselves? To first answer that question, we need to establish what shame is, and how it differs from guilt. We covered this in part 1, but let’s review. In the book, “Shame & Guilt”, author Ernest Kurtz, relays the following:
“Two distinct ways of feeling ‘bad’ afflict every human being... Most hurting people could profit from learning this distinction... The distinction is between guilt and shame.”
“Both guilt and shame involve feeling ‘bad’ - feeling bad about one’s actions (or omissions) in the case of guilt; feeling bad about one’s self in shame.”
The differences between Guilt & Shame:
Guilt: it indicates an infraction, a breaking of the rules, a fault of doing.
Shame: it indicates a literal “shortcoming”, a lack or defect of being, a fault of being.
Here is my version of what guilt and shame look like and how they differ:
Guilt: What I did was not “good” enough, therefore I can make a different choice next time.
Shame: I am not “good” enough, therefore I cannot make a different choice, I will never be “good” enough.
Guilt: What I did was wrong.
Shame: Who I am is wrong
Guilt says, “Things can be fixed”; Shame says, “You cannot be fixed”
Here is my version what guilt and shame feel like and how they differ:
Guilt: offers us at least some amount of hope; “I feel hopeful that things can change.”
Shame: offers us only despair; “I feel despair that I cannot change.”
Guilt says, “There may be hope for you”; Shame says, “There is no hope for you”
The Question: Why would I want to shame myself with a diet?
As we discussed in “Your Diet Failed... You Didn’t part 1”, diets function on the shame cycle. I invite you to consider that it is the shame of dieting you are looking for, and not so much the possible weight loss or health benefits of dieting. What?!
Take a minute and consider that... is that possible? If it may be possible, let’s next consider if it is probable. It may or may not be, but are you willing to look into it?
Is it possible that one part of you is looking for change while another part of your is looking for stagnation?
The Answer: Diets offer us the illusion of control, and problem solving.
Diets offer us the illusion of control, and problem solving, only to later remind us that we are not in control, nor have we solved the puzzle of who we are on a much deeper level. You cannot solve the riddle of a behavioral problem with more behavior. You cannot solve the puzzle of a control drama with more controls.
If diets did actually teach us about control and solve our weight or health issues, we would only need to go on one diet ever, right?
The Answer: Diets feed our addiction to the unhealthy expression or suppression of emotions.
Diets feed our addiction to the unhealthy expression or suppression of emotions, and at various levels of involvement, we are all addicted to the emotions of shame and fear. All of us? I invite you to consider that truth of the human condition.
Shame and fear are what are considered - Primary Emotions. They feed into Secondary Emotions. Here is a personal example: I eat and overeat junk food when I feel depressed. When I am depressed, my depression is a way to hide my feelings of anger. My anger is a way to further hide from the feelings that I am not valued (shame) and/or that I am not safe (fear).
As discussed early in part 1, an addiction can be defined as: “Any process used to avoid or take away intolerable reality.” I have found that the shame and fear we experienced in the past (usually at a very young age), was an intolerable reality for us in that moment. We may have become addicted to our way of avoiding that reality, thus we become addicted to shame and fear. Example: If I have become addicted to becoming defensive, dissociative, or delusional due to shame and fear, I will need shame and fear in my life to continue being defensive, dissociative, or delusional.
This is a very deep topic, and a simple paragraph cannot to it justice. I encourage you to read much more through the resources below.
The Answer: Diets offer us a more culturally acceptable way of shaming ourselves.
Diets offer us a more culturally acceptable way of shaming ourselves, when compared to the other ways people shame themselves with substances. There are many substances to choose from to comfort ourselves: food, cigarettes, alcohol, over the counter drugs, illegal drugs, etc. Some choices are more socially acceptable than others.
The use of food, as a way to shame ourselves, can be a much less noticeable form of shaming when compared to other substances. A “food-problem” can be much more covert than a “drug-problem”. It would be much more acceptable at work, and with the law. There are many places to go, and companies ready to provide the drug of choice for most of us - food. We have access to it 24 hours a day, and commercials cheering us on.
Diets fail, yet we still bite - hook, line and sinker.
Is there a way to see the bait before being caught up in it all?
Diets take our time, money, effort, and most of all our emotional investment. If we are investing that much into something with such a poor track record as most diets do, shouldn’t we take a longer look before we “jump” in?
The purpose of this article was to inform you of the potential ways that most of us, at one time or another, run back to going on a diet, even though history proves we are in need of something else. We may really need a personalized and educational eating plan, or a unique look into the emotional needs that drive us to diet in the first place... or both.
If you are interested in created a personalized Holistic Nutrition plan for you, or you would like to discover more about how food and emotions tie in together for you, please feel free to contact me for your free 30 minute consultation at (714) 342-0359 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources to learn more:
“Self Growth: The Holistic Approach to The Journey”, by John McMullin & Leigh Randolph, 2012
“Healing the Shame That Binds You”, by John Bradshaw, 1988
“Shame & Guilt”, by Ernest Kurtz, 2007
“Willpower: Discovering the Greatest Human Strength”, by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney, 2011
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