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a dead rose with text overlay saying, "A Diet by Any Other Name Would Smell As Stinky"

Have you noticed that dieting seems to have fallen out favor? Or rather, the word “diet” has fallen out of favor.  Now, we have new and not-so-improved names for the same-old, same-old.

Now, instead of all your friends and coworkers being on a diet, you hear them talking about clean eating. Or detoxing. Or my personal unfavorite (and the one you’re most likely to hear from your healthcare professional), “lifestyle changes.”

Language is powerful! Changing a label – using a euphemism – attempts to scrub the connotation from something.  The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines euphemism as “a mild or pleasant word or phrase that is used instead of one that is unpleasant or offensive.” Diets have long been equated with Great Miseries such as cottage cheese and plain, broiled chicken breasts. (“Yum!” said nobody ever.)

So some people decided to use a new name and hope nobody notices it’s still the same thing.

Adopting a new name for an old behavior doesn’t change the essence of that behavior. My brother once observed a little boy picking his nose during a church service. When his mother admonished him, the little boy said, “I’m not picking my nose. I’m just cleaning the edges.”

Cleaning the edges, indeed. Call it what you want, kiddo, but if your finger is up your nose, it’s still ewwww.

Adopting “lifestyle changes” is like picking your nose but calling it something less offensive. If your coworkers are calling their latest plan something like – oh I don’t know – maybe “lifestyle toxclean,” it’s ultimately still a diet. Phrases like “clean eating” and “detox cleanse” add a sparkling layer of morality on top, but it’s still a diet.

Why? Because no matter what it’s being called, a diet uses external, prescriptive rules to tell you:

  • What (or what not) to eat. Like no carbs. And maybe no fat. Or you have to combine a perfect ratio of chia seeds to lemon water. Or at its most seemingly innocuous, eating only “healthy” foods. (Which begs the question, are “unhealthy” foods running a fever?)
  • When to eat. One of the most common rules is to not eat after 6 or 7 in the evening lest you summon the Fat-Storage Fairy.
  • How much to eat. This is most commonly about counting calories, carbs, or points. It also includes weighing/measuring your food to impose portion control.

The problem with relying on external rules to tell you how to eat is that it cuts you off from recognizing your body’s signals of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction.

The alternative is to listen to your body from the inside, rather than impose rules from outside. This is what will ultimately give you freedom and peace around food. This is known as attuned eating or intuitive eating. It can be a daunting process, though, because so much of our culture is focused on dieting and weight loss.

A good place to start is with a hunger scale, where 0 is so hungry you’re practically passing out and 10 is so stuffed you feel sick. Using a hunger scale helps you assess when you are feeling physically hungry and need to eat. It also helps you figure out when you’re getting physically full and might consider ending your meal.

One of the biggest fears people have when beginning intuitive eating is that they will never stop eating. Trust that when you really begin to listen to your body, it does not want to eat ice cream 24/7. It’s a process to get back in touch with your internal body wisdom, so be patient with yourself.

You’re worth it.