What does ‘getting healthy’ mean to you?
Is it losing weight? Toning up? Normalising your blood pressure? Eating less fast food and more leafy greens? Resting more? Going to the gym more?
Depending on your current health situation, you can achieve any number of those objectives by changing various components of your lifestyle.
Now, if you’re one of my regular readers, you’re likely pretty damn switched on to the idea of body positivity and why dieting is a pretty damn awful idea for achieving your health goals.
Hell yeah, you!
With that in mind, you probably steer well clear of active dieting in any capacity… but are you accidentally dieting?
Accidental dieting is the term I like to give what happens when otherwise body positive people find themselves subconsciously engaging in diet-like behaviour, even if all other elements of their lifestyle indicate that they’re in no way a subscriber to diet culture.
It sounds complicated, but it’s actually relatively easy to become an accidental dieter.
Diet mindsets are sneaky little creatures – years of exposure to media messages that equate thinness with self-worth, happiness with jean size and romantic prospects with numbers on a scale is something that’s hard to shake entirely, even if you’re consciously making an effort to shift away from that mentality.
And, if you’ve ever dieted previously, you’ll be fully familiar with diet practices. Just like that, you might find that your morning green smoothie habit starts to morph into an obsessive ritual, or that you go from being okay with missing a workout to a rest day causing you emotional distress.
Although you might not be on a diet, if you’re still following a diet mindset then those patterns can be equally dangerous.
Accidental dieting behaviours might include:
- Feeling safer, happier or even excited when eating foods that are labelled as ‘guilt free’;
- Repenting for your food intake (e.g. feeling that you need to go for a run after eating that chocolate cake) or exercising immediately before a meal to “make room for it”
- Pushing yourself to exercise even when you’re tired, sore or injured because you feel bad about not working out;
- Deliberately attempting to ignore hunger cravings or food cravings;
- Finding yourself trying to get your body “back on track” through food restriction, exercise or detoxing;
- Believing that health can only be attained by eliminating certain food groups from your diet (e.g. sugar, dairy or grains) when not advised by a health professional for digestive reasons;
- Attempting to redirect your “bad food” cravings then overcompensating and emotionally sabotaging yourself (e.g. ignoring that you really feel like some hot chips and trying to forget about it by drinking 2 cups of tea then going for a run, then having some grapes, then a banana, then finally “giving in” and eating the hot chips so fast (because you’ve been depriving yourself) that you make yourself feel sick, then berating yourself for it);
- Feeling less excited about health improvements such as gained muscle mass and lowered cholesterol than you do about inches/cm/kilograms/pounds/dress sizes lost;
- Subconsciously feeling that your worth as a person is just a little bit linked to how much you weigh;
- Believing that you’ll be happier when you’re thinner (because you’ll be thinner and have different clothes – and not because you’ll be able to achieve more with your body);
- Using food as a mechanism of punishment/reward (e.g rewarding yourself with a burger for being “so good all week” or denying yourself a milkshake because you’ve been “bad” all week);
- Noticing yourself comparing yourself to strangers & friends food intakes, bodies and exercise behaviour;
- Avoiding certain social situations where there will be food temptation;
- Feeling disappointed when the number on the scales doesn’t decrease, even if you’ve achieved other successes with your health goals;
- Purchasing “inspiration” outfits to wear when you’ve reached your goal size;
- Finding yourself daydreaming or fantasising about what life will be like if/when you weigh less;
- Deep down believing that success in reducing your body mass is tied to willpower;
- Having a list of “danger” foods that you won’t eat out of fear of losing control; or
- Skipping meals as a substitute for proper nutrition because you feel you overate/ate something you shouldn’t have at a previous meal.
And these are just some examples.
Ultimately, accidental dieting can look different for everyone and will vary depending on the components of diet mentality that you’ve previously subscribed to, and dieting behaviours that you’ve engaged in before.
Whilst accidental dieting doesn’t necessarily imply that you’re headed down a slippery slope towards full-blown, active dieting or even disordered eating, they can be warning signs.
If you found yourself relating to any of the above accidental dieting behaviours, or you can identify other accidental dieting behaviours within yourself, ask yourself a few questions:
Do your behaviours support your health goals and allow you to love and respect yourself regardless of your size?
If someone were to question you about your behaviours, would you feel ashamed of them or feel the need to hide them?
If you were to stop those behaviours, how would life change?