Ep 89: Why You Think You Want Food Rules, Meal Plans, and Diets

Today, we want to commiserate with you for a minute and really validate how you’re feeling. Dieting feels so compelling because it offers us something we think we want, which is control. 

We are all under this illusion that the missing ingredient in our relationship with food is control or willpower, and that if we could just get more or find more, everything would be fine. We would eat the exact right amount and have a perfect body and live happily ever after.

Clearly, we all probably know on some level that that’s not true, and if you’ve been listening to this podcast I hope we’ve opened your mind to a new way of thinking, but also that’s what diets sell us.

That’s why the diet industry is so ginormous and why so many of us feel compelled to go back to dieting after a quick stint with Intuitive Eating. Because there’s something about dieting that we WANT.

Of course you want to diet, when you think it’s the only way to get structure and predictability with food! 


In this episode, we’re going to validate why food rules, meal plans, and diet programs feel so compelling, help you recognize what sacrifices you had to make for the sake of dieting, and help you see how you can create the predictability and structure that you want, without dieting or using food rules and restriction.

This is the way diets, meal plans, and food rules have made you feel. We want to validate that. Of course you want structure and predictability and to feel in charge. But what did it take - what sacrifices did you have to make?

Let’s start by defining diets, for clarification, and then jump into what we have for you. We love this definition by Rebecca Scritchfield from her book Body Kindness:

“A diet is any plan that promises weight loss as an outcome, usually by attempting to exert control over behaviors, cutting calories, and restricting foods.”

Diet, for our purposes, is synonymous with any method or strategy designed to get your body to lose weight or fat. Whether it’s counting macros or calories, drinking special shakes or taking supplements, counting points, portion control, or just creating a caloric deficit - all of that falls squarely under the category of dieting.

So now that we’ve defined and clarified what we mean when we say “diet,” let’s jump into why you think you want food rules, meal plans, and diets.

First, what diets give you/do for you.

Why do you want food rules? Because you feel overwhelmed by food, it feels chaotic and unpredictable. What we want to help you do is create that predictability and feel in charge, without the diet.

We talk about how diets don’t work. In the long run, they don’t. But what we hear from you is that, in fact, you really do feel like, on some level, diets DO work! They do something for you and give you a feeling that you like, and that’s why it feels compelling to go back to them.

In fact, diets DO work for all the reasons you sought them out - you likely felt in charge, eating felt predictable and “controlled”, you didn’t have to make many decisions about what to eat, which can be exhausting (decision fatigue is real!), you might have felt better physically/mentally/emotionally, you were choosing more nutritious foods, you had a plan and felt prepared, and maybe you even lost weight and that felt encouraging.

(Stephanie) When I was healing my relationship with food, there would be times when I look back at past pictures and see times when I was dieting. I would remember the good feelings that came of that. I also remembered the misery and restriction, but I would look at the pictures I would take of my food, or the new recipes I would try, or the way I made more of an effort to grocery shop and cook, and I would miss it. I missed that feeling of being taken care of, by me. It was a while before I realized that I could have all of that - without the misery and restriction! I could be intentional about food, I could grocery shop and cook, I could try new recipes...but I could do all of that because of my own free will and creativity and self-care - not because some book or program was telling me to. That was a life-changing realization for me.

Second, what diets take away from your life.

In addition to giving us those things we like, though, we know that dieting does harm. Dieting affects us physically, socially, psychologically, and behaviorally. We want to quickly run through a few ways dieting causes us harm.

Dieting increases craving for carbs, keeps us disconnected from hunger and satiety cues, causes you to have to eat differently from other around you in either quantity or type of food, causes you to worry about what people think of food or your body - maybe you even miss social events because of anxiety about those things - and interferes with your relationships.

Dieting breaks your trust with your body, encourages worry about food by giving you strict rules to follow and always keep in mind so you don’t “mess up,” encourages good or bad food thoughts, and causes you to feel afraid of feeling hungry AND of feeling full.

It causes you to fantasize about food and keeps you preiccupied with thoughts of what you can and can’t eat. Dieting leads you to do mental gymnastics with food - numbers or quantities - trying to figure out if you eat too much, how you can make up for that by skipping meals or exercising more to burn extra calories.

It sucks up your bandwidth so food and weight loss becomes all you want to talk about. It leads to all or nothing mentality around food, which is never helpful.

Sticking to a diet, meal plan, or food rules requires SO MUCH of what we think of as positive willpower. But think about what you sacrifice to keep your food rules. What was required to stick to that? Probably a tremendous amount of time, resources and energy.

You may have needed to skip (or at least felt anxious about) social events/traveling/holidays, you were restricting foods you like and didn’t feel satisfied, you were obsessed and preoccupied with tracking/numbers/food/weight, and exercise felt punitive instead of fun. 

Lastly, what have you learned from diets that you can use?

We know diets keep us stuck, but it doesn’t mean we can’t learn from our past dieting attempts. They likely taught you a lot and aren’t for nothing!

You can take the things you’ve learned about nutrition and self-care and carry that over into your path of confident eating.

You can take what you’ve already learned and use it to set up flexible structure for yourself around food.

You can remember data you’ve gathered from past food experiences and move forward in creating that sweet spot of nourishment and satisfaction.

You can practice meeting your own needs knowing that you’ve already learned quite a bit about what you need.

You can confidently embrace the gray middle with food - armed with your understanding of your body, your knowledge about food, and your trust in yourself.

Take what you learned from diets/food rules to create your own structure.

You don’t have to be extreme or black/white with food, and that includes your own experiences with dieting.

We encourage you to think about what you like about dieting, food rules, or meal plans, and add those back into your life. Just leave out the restriction.

Diets aren’t something you should feel bad about or spend energy on regret. If that was part of your past, fine. Welcome to the club.

So instead of wishing you could undo that - you can’t - what can you take from what you learned through your dieting experiences and apply it to taking good care of yourself right now?

Can you bring more awareness to how food makes you feel, while also prioritizing foods you love?

Can you be more intentional in meeting your own needs?

Absolutely, you can.

Dieting doesn’t get to own self-care. Dieting doesn’t own grocery shopping or vegetables or meal planning or any other self-care behavior. You can reclaim all of that as you practice leaving behind food rules, meal plans, and diets and learn to take care of yourself on your own terms.

Now you know why you think you want food rules, meal plans, and diets. If you are serious about finding wellness without a diet and moving forward without relying on food rules, join us for our upcoming free online workshop Cultivate Confidence: How to Bridge the Gap Between Food Rules + Food Freedom and Find Peace with Your Body.

All you need to do is head over to eatconfident.co/freeworkshop, pick from one of the 3 times we’re teaching it this month, and save your seat. 

We’ll be back next week with another episode, on how to care about what you eat without really caring at all. It’s going to be a good one, so don’t miss it when it comes out on Wednesday morning. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll talk to you next week!

Stephanie Webb