From “Everything’s okay as long as I’m getting thinner,” to “IDGAF what the scale says, I’m gonna do what’s best for myself mentally, physically and spiritually”.
And that paradigm shift doesn’t always come easily.
When you give up dieting, you’re going to feel some things – things that maybe you weren’t expecting to feel. Where you might be expecting to feel instantly liberated and free, you might feel deeply hurt and confused. The grieving process you might experience can be a strange thing, but it’s totally normal.
I asked 18 wonderful women, all of whom are in various stages of giving up dieting and finding self-love, to sound off on what the 7 stages of giving up dieting feel like.
STAGE 1: DENIAL
What’s happening: When we first learn of all the reasons why dieting is absolutely, 100% a terrible idea… it makes us take a step back. If everything we thought we were doing ‘right’ is actually achieving the opposite of what we thought it would, then what are we meant to believe and how do we verify it?
Our trust has been broken by the diet industry, but we’re not quite ready to admit that we’ve been deliberately screwed over.
What it feels like:
“I was like, “No no no this can’t be right…..right?” and it was a shock to my system,” – Danielle, 24.
“Tbh this isn’t the first time I’ve tried to give up dieting. I’ve tried maybe 15 or 20 times and every single time, without fail, I felt like I had no idea how to live my life without the rules that I was used to,” – Keeshia, 36
“I’ve been on-and-off diets for more than three quarters of my life and that just seemed ridiculous at first. I didn’t want to think that that could be true because…. what a waste of my time,” – Deb, 55
(Side note: Deb is one of my wonderful clients!)
STAGE 2: JUSTIFICATION
What’s happening: Closely following denial, we might start to freak out and work ourselves into a tailspin. Part of us in the back of our minds knows that dieting isn’t helping us, but we don’t want to be wrong. We start making justifications.
“Oh, ok so it won’t work for 95% of people but maybe I’ll be in the 5%! It can’t be that bad… people who say it doesn’t work just aren’t doing it right.”
What it feels like:
“Thinking about it, I’ve spent a good few years in this limbo land of, “I’m not really dieting but dieting rules still very much apply to my life” and I’m struggling to come to terms with that,” – Casey, 34
“I’ve been trying to do flexible dieting for a little while now and it doesn’t feel much different from full-on dieting, in my mind… it just allows me to tell people that I’m not dieting,” – Allix, 26
“I know in my heart of hearts that dieting isn’t a great idea but right now, I don’t feel like my self-esteem will let me believe that I’m allowed to stop. I keep waiting for things to get better first,” – Joanna, 26
STAGE 3: ANGER
What’s happening: After you’ve made justifications and excuses for the diet industry for a while, your thoughts begin to return to what you’ve learned about why dieting doesn’t work and how it’s harming you… it’s information that you cannot unlearn.
You’re curious, so you start to research.
You verify those stats.
You start to hear experiences from other women who have similar stories to you.
You think back on your own story and realise that all the things that dieting promised you were falsities; all your insecurities still remain.
This part of the grief process can be scary, as often the anger can manifest as anger towards ourselves – and you’re not to blame for this. Dieting teaches us that any “failure” we feel is caused by lack of willpower or not being strong enough, and we learn to associate negative events with self-blame. It’s crucial, though, that you understand that you are not to blame.
Not for the anger that you’re feeling, not for the wrongs that have been committed against your body (or womankind, in general) and not for the way that you’ve been made to believe your body needs “fixing”. You are not to blame for being indoctrinated into a system that, from early childhood, tells women that their value lies in their bodies.
The message that smaller equals more worthy has been repeated to you, thrown at you and played out in the world that you live in so often that you may not even realise there’s another way to think of yourself.
And that is in no way, shape or form your fault.
What it feels like:
“This stage lasted the longest for me! I’ve been not dieting for 5 years now and tbh I’m STILL pissed about all the time I wasted on low carb and low fat and low everything,” – Miranda, 31.
“When I first started learning about self-love and I added up how much money I’d spent on dieting, I broke down in tears. I didn’t realize it was so much and it has gotten me nowhere. I could’ve used that money to make life so much better for my family instead of chasing my pre-baby size and I’m so angry at myself for that. I don’t quite yet believe that it’s not my fault,” – Kate, 32.
“I feel like I’m still in this stage. I keep thinking I’ve healed from the anger but I keep bouncing back and forth from it. For me the next step is learning how to channel that anger, because now I know to be angry at the culture and not at myself,” – Bridgette, 28.
(Side note: Bridgette is one of my wonderful clients too!)
STAGE 4: DEFEAT
What’s happening: First, you get angry at all that you’ve wasted on dieting. Then… once it hits you that you can’t get that time/money/energy back, you’ll often feel sad or even depressed. That’s okay – go with it. It’s an uncomfortable emotion to sit with, but it’s part of the healing process and it’s important that you don’t try to suppress it.
It’s okay to be sad. Or depressed. It’s okay to mourn the ideals that you’ve held, the time/money/energy you’ve used or a time in your life that, in hindsight, didn’t help you as much as you thought it did.
Remember, this isn’t your fault. What you’ve believed isn’t your fault. What you’re feeling isn’t your fault. You are not to blame for the system failing you – the system is fundamentally faulty and designed to see you fail (because when you “fail” at dieting, you’ll keep going back for more – it’s a very clever and sneaky business model).
What it feels like:
“I legit cried for days when I started healing and trying to find self-love. I didn’t really know why at the time, but it felt like my world was caving in. I now realize that because dieting was all I knew, I was terrified of having to find a new way of relating to food,” – Sarah, 26
“In many ways feeling so sad about everything dieting had taken from me was one of the most healing parts of the early stages of my journey,” Mary-anne, 43
“I’m still in this phase right now… well actually, it’s like a mix of this and being furious all the time. I’ve been trying to fight it because it feels impossible to move on from this, but I need to let myself be sad and angry so I can grow,” – Sophie, 31
STAGE 5: NEGOTIATION
What’s happening: You might flip flop back and forth between the negotiation, defeat and anger stages for a while – and that’s okay! Remember, no grieving (or healing) process is ever totally linear. And in the process of lamenting all the time, money, energy and sanity that you’ve given to dieting… you might find yourself asking,
“Okay, this sucks. Buuuuut what about my health?”
Or, “But I feel better when I’m thinner?”
And those are valid questions. Don’t run from your analytical inner voice that questions what you’re told – that’s GOOD! You should question what you’re told! Dieting teaches us to be mindless consumers and in learning to question what we hear/see and try and gain as many facts as possible, we can become clever consumers. This negotiation phase is frequently driven by your inner voice of fear. Diets have taught you that thin equals healthy, but we know that isn’t inherently true for every body.
And often, when we feel better when we’re lighter, it’s linked to our social conditioning that lighter/smaller is socially better – of course we’re going to feel better when we’ve learned that looking a certain way is tied to social approval and validation.
During this time, immerse yourself in research and seeking greater understanding of yourself – mind and body. There’s no such thing as too much information when it comes to knowing yourself, and where diets have taught you to shut up and consume, take this opportunity to make informed decisions about how you’re treating yourself and any special needs that you may need to take into consideration.
It’s at this phase in which many people choose to work with a coach, therapist or otherwise to help them delve into the reasons why they feel tied to dieting, where their insecurities are truly stemming from and how to begin resolving them.
What it feels like:
“I’m learning how to balance physical and mental health without getting obsessive about it, for the first time ever. It’s easy and difficult at the same time, but I know it’s worth it,” – Rhonda, 39
“For literally all of my life I’ve measured how healthy I am by what the scale says… so it’s weird to focus on other ways of measuring it. It makes so much sense, I just have to learn to stop wanting to rely on the scale by default,” – Jenna, 27
“Working with a coach was really helpful for me as it helped me to see why I felt better about myself when I was thinner, and how that was tied to some deep rooted insecurities that I hadn’t really explored,” – Laura, 29
(Side note: Laura is one of my wonderful clients too!)
STAGE 6: ACCEPTANCE
What’s happening: This is the good stuff. Once you’ve bounced back and forth between defeat and anger and negotiation… you heal. You make peace with what’s passed (you can’t change the past) and you focus on the future. Armed with knowledge about why diets suck, a beginner’s understanding of how to honour yourself in mind, body and soul… you’re determined to find a new outlook.
If you have a coach or therapist, they’ll guide you through this and give you tools to help you grow. If you’re on your own, you may like to dig into research and tools and begin to forge some long term strategies for taking care of yourself that don’t involve restriction.
Disclaimer: Once you reach the acceptance stage, there is still the possibility that you might jump back a step or two if there’s an emotional catalyst that triggers some insecurities within you. If this happens, it’s important not to take it as a sign of failure. The whole process is non-linear, and it doesn’t mean that you’re ‘doing it wrong’.
What it feels like:
“Fucking LIBERATION!” – Kate, 30
(Side note: Kate is one of my wonderful clients too!)
“This is difficult at first, but I’m getting into the swing of it! The more I understand myself, the better inspired I am to keep doing right by myself,” – Kathleen, 42
“The best part of this is learning so much about myself and being inspired by other women in the community. My social media is filled with inspiring women and it’s the best, honestly,” – Camille, 24
STAGE 7: THE REST OF YOUR LIFE
What’s happening: You continue to grow, learn, understand and THRIVE! You live your damn life and aren’t held back by the constraints of an inner critic that tells you that you’re not enough/too much. Diet culture still exists and it’s still all around you… but you’re getting awesome at blocking it out. Not only that, but you’re inspired to help others around you fight back against diet culture and find body peace, too.
You model happy, healthful, holistic, joyous, freedom-filled behaviours to every single woman you know… and your attitude spreads. That’s the ripple effect, baby. And that’s how we change the world.
What it feels like: In a word…. peace. The way it should be.
Remember, in letting go of dieting… you may grieve.
You might feel a sense of loss (of time, money, sanity, potential).
You might get a little bit mad. You might get really pissed off. You might get fully, unapologetically, intense-rage pissed off.
All of these reactions are okay.
Because what you’re processing – the aftermath of dieting – IS trauma.⠀
Restriction DOES change the way your mind and body work biologically… it’s not just ‘in your head’ (we talk about the biochemical processes behind this in Module 2 of Self-Love Breakthrough).⠀
So, let yourself grieve… however that manifests for you. This is a process, and it’s unique for all of us.
But don’t try to skip a step… resist the temptation to shove those thoughts to the back and label yourself ‘fixed’ (you were never broken).⠀
Your emotions are valid and important. Lean into that.
As a final note, I want to take this opportunity to let you know about my online course Self-Love Breakthrough, designed especially for helping women just like YOU to stop dieting (for-ev-ahhhhh!), make peace with food, find joyous movement and slay through the diet culture bullshit like Buffy (the ultimate badass slayer, am I right?!)
After listening to your feedback, Self-Love Breakthrough will now be accessible at the earlybird special price… for everyone, forever. This course is designed to be life changing and what good is that without accessibility – so please know that I value you, I value your feedback and I value what you need from the materials.
You are important. Please believe me on that.
Come slay diet culture with me!