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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!