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Breaking the Diet Cycle

I was recently met with a WildFit client who was looking for answers. Having completed the 90 day challenge four months prior, she was maintaining her seasons well, but had experienced a setback on vacation. Although she had released an impressive amount of weight, she had yet to reach her goal and was becoming frustrated at a prolonged plateau. She told me that when she signed up for WildFit she had decided it was her last diet, and if it didn’t work, she was going to resolve herself to being happily fat. I knew that she was trying to be good humored, but I could hear the struggle and frustration in her cracking voice.

The truth is that whether we choose to let it in or not, diet culture is incredibly pervasive, and is meant to hit us in our weak spots. Resignation to a life of being fat often sounds like a life sentence in unhappiness, but it is not necessarily the fat that burdens most of us. It is the feeling of not being enough: strong enough, good enough, attractive enough. It is the feeling or stigma of having no self control, of being lazy, and of having given up. Despite experiencing so much progress, this client was still caught in “not enough”.  

I have seen thousands of people go through the WildFit 90 Day Challenge. What I know is that whether they have released 2 pounds or 50, what really makes a difference in their energy, enthusiasm and excitement for life is that they have taken back their power. They have mastered their own mind demons, and they are free of the negative emotions that have heavily cloaked their shine for years at a time. This shift to “enough” has much more to do with how they feel than what they weigh. 

So why is the Diet Cycle so Difficult to Break Free from?

It is actually physically addictive. Here’s how it works: 

  1. You restrict what you are eating in order to lose weight, you feel a sense of deprivation, which creates stress and causes you to release ghrelin, your hunger hormone, making you hungrier. 
  2. Eventually you cave and eat a lot of forbidden food, which creates a release of serotonin, a happy hormone that makes you temporarily feel better. 
  3. You then regret your “bad behaviour” and feel negative emotions (e.g. self-pity, anger, guilt, shame) which activates the beta-endorphin and dopamine pathways of the brain, creating a reward response. 
  4. You then resolve to do better the next time, only to repeat the cycle. 

This pattern of behavior is physically addictive, which is why even if you have been successful with a program like WildFit for months at a time, you think of sabotaging yourself and continue to use diet language that creates self judgement and limitations. Your brain is trying to get a chemical hit. So what does it take to break out of a diet cycle?

Do More Critical Thinking

Recently I have seen many people discussing the anti-diet movement, its associations with intuitive eating, and its misconstruance as gluttony without conscience. The premise of both anti-diet culture and the intuitive eating principles it is based upon are once we remove the restriction and deprivation from the equation, the cycle is interrupted. The idea is to let go of the link between societal beauty standards and health. This is fabulous, but we should add some important considerations:

As with any good rebellion, unfortunately it seems that some people get carried away and the mission is lost when it comes to anti diet culture. Ultimately, a huge focus of intuitive eating is still on the importance of good health. When that is transformed into giving yourself permission to eat an entire Snickerdoodle Cookie Pizza as long as you photograph it well and feel good about it, that focus has obviously blurred. 

There is also an important distinction between being an active person with no health problems who also happens to be categorically overweight, and an obese person with major health problems who is largely sedentary. I have no intention to create shame or blame, because we all know it’s the food industry’s fault. However most of us can agree that a certain percentage of fat release would make a huge impact on the health of many individuals and change the trajectory of their lives, as well as their life expectancy. Does this need to be achieved through long term restrictions and limitations? No. It does merit full consideration of how food choices are impacting the body, so we still need to be mindful of our food choices. 

Move the Focus Inward

Once you are able to stop placing restrictions on what you are eating and punishing yourself through deprivation, there is still the matter of coping with food behaviors. As we learn in WildFit, our emotional ties to food runs deep. If you eliminate the restriction without creating alternative behaviors to deal with these emotions and food fixations, you will still be using food for a serotonin or dopamine hit. Existent tribespeople show us that we always thought about, talked about and generally spent a huge amount of our energy on food acquisition. However, feeling out of control around certain foods and intense emotions about those foods is a new phenomenon. Many people, overweight or not, become fixated on food, it’s creation, and the enjoyment of it to an unhealthy extent.

Intuitive eating, like WildFit, has a large focus on how each person engages with food, building a healthier relationship over time. There is also the importance of building a stronger feedback system between what kind of hunger you are feeling and how unique foods interact with your body. One distinct difference I have noticed between WildFit and Intuitive Eating is that it is really simple to avoid doing this deep work when you can eat whatever you want. The diet mentality tends to creep back in ways like “I’m feeling sad, so I have permission to eat brownies today”. WildFit encourages you to work through the emotions without always having the food to rely on, and therefore develop new behaviors that replace those attached to food. Once the emotional charge is gone, food can simply be about nourishment and sustenance. This creates more time and space for fun and creative endeavors to bring you joy.

Work on your Biology

The anti diet culture has shown through intuitive eating that over time with conscious eating habits and perseverance, people can lose weight. However we know that ultimately, no matter how much we change our behaviour for the long term, there are still physical factors at play. Our metabolism is a complex system, and our hunger and satiety hormones, namely ghrelin, cholecystokinin and leptin, have a big part to play when it comes to getting away from the diet cycle. 

When the stomach of a healthy body is full, leptin is released into the bloodstream to tell us to put down the fork. However, in chronic dieters and those who are obese, the receptors often become resistant to this message. As a result, eating less energy dense foods in an attempt to release weight will usually just make a person hungrier until they finally give into the diet cycle again. WildFit works on those imbalanced hormones directly by introducing a season that resets those responses. In short, ghrelin is not triggered to go up, leptin receptors become more sensitive, and cholecystokinin is released in larger quantities in the intestines to signal satiety. This is why so many people report feeling fully satisfied with WildFit, despite entirely changing the way they eat to accelerate results. 

The biggest problem with diets is that they often set you up for failure by creating unrealistic expectations from the start, and instead of blaming the creator for writing a book about a program that over promised and under delivered, we blame ourselves. At the end of the day, if you are still buying the ‘anti-diet’ diet books, the diet system is still winning. Ultimately, to let go of this system, you need to feel trust in yourself and your body. This comes with time, patience, compassion and understanding for yourself, as well as continually practicing the tools we have taught you. 

Health cannot be hacked. It is an ongoing journey, a string of choices made in line with self discipline and fully enjoying life. The end of the diet cycle comes as you increase self awareness, and realize that most old patterns are never fully gone for good. They will continue to come back to us, and it is an opportunity to take our learning and growth to the next level from within.

What are your thoughts on this topic? How has the diet cycle and diet mentality affected you? Are you finally free? Let us know in the comments below! 

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6 thoughts on “Breaking the Diet Cycle”

  1. Gosh this person was just like me had finished the 90 day challenge and continued well until I broke for holidays from work (6 weeks) and went on holiday, I continued well during holiday with Wildfit and ate no pasta, no bread and no rice just meat and lots of veg, did add alcohol but I was on holiday! It was on my return and my weight had risen just a little 2 kgs, but after that it all has gone downhill and my sugar monster is winning. I then did your 14 day reset which was useful but my sugar monster is still too powerful.
    Since my reset I have had surgery and now in post-op recovery, isn’t it funny how I automatically feel that as a result of the surgery I need all the bad foods as a reward! I need my food angel to become stronger!
    So each day I vow to let her win….but today I have had my fruit, lemon water, boiled eggs….and then a pancake with my redbush tea!!! However there was no bread, so that is a positive as that has crept in since being in hospital as breakfast was either toast or cereal or both!
    I monitor my weight regularly now which I didn’t do on my 90 day challenge and I have retook my measurements as I can feel the difference on the inches more than the numbers on the scales!
    What frustrates me is I know I can do this, I have done it and succeeded really well. I still want to release a little more weight but more importantly I want to curb my sugar craving!
    It is also quite reassuring to know it is not just me!

    1. You are certainly not alone. The sugar monster is tough to beat, especially if you are a sugar sensitive person.

      Eric always says, there has gotta be something in it for you or you wouldn’t keep doing it. So just knowing that sugar and grains are not good for you is not enough incentive to stay away from them. There needs to be a greater incentive to avoid them. Often that is found in pride, self confidence, and self esteem when we make decisions for our greater good using self discipline- but not always. Let me ask, what is the reward system you have implemented for when you make decisions aligned with your goals? How often do you give yourself credit for your progress? Start focusing on celebrating the decisions aligned with better health, and you will start to make more and more of them.

  2. I am 56 and had a complete hysterectomy when I was 49. Since then my stomach has been very protuded. I participated in the
    June 2019 Wildfit Challenge. I look and feel the best I have in 30 years. My old habit of seeking pleasure through sweet treats is slowly creeping into my experience as the weather turns colder and there is less daylight. I really want to allow myself that occasional indulgence without reactivating the sugar nonster. Can this happen? Please advise on a strategy.

  3. Yes, I know the diet mentality all too well. It’s born, as Ariel says, of “not enough.” And it’s perversely punitive; because we believe we are “not enough” we look for ways to fix whats “wrong.” When I was 13 I became convinced that fat was ugly, and every sign of fat on my body was evidence of my worthlessness and weakness. I commenced to quit eating full stop, a.k.a. anorexia. Luckily it was short-lived, but I’m well aware of my “diet mentality” and how easily it can creep up on me. I am now on day 90 of the WildFit challenge (Yay- I’ve graduated!) and I do feel mostly free of this mentality; I’m practicing awareness of my mental conversation around food, and continuing to learn. I know that this awareness is the #1 thing- it’s the key to my freedom. And if I make a choice that is not in my best interest or out of my season, I consider it a valuable learning opportunity and I pay attention. There is no more “on” or “off” for me; that dualistic paradigm has vanished. There is just my love for health and healthy options.

  4. I have to say that the main reason I was attracted to Wildfit wasn’t Eric as attractive, fun and talented a teacher that he is. Nope. It was the fact that inner dialogue was being highlighted. In the many diets I’ve done, Weightwatchers, Dietwatchers, Blood type, Keto etc NOBODY addresses emotional eating! I knew that was my main problem. I’m organized, energetic, and have fairly good will power but get me upset and all the ideas go out the window and everything goes on my mouth. I thought I was pretty aware but I’ve amended that big time doing Wildfit. I’m so grateful. ❤️

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