5 Warning signs that you have a diet mindset

Ever wonder if other people experience the same thoughts and feelings as you do when it comes to your perception of yourself, your weight, your fitness, and your food?

The diet culture has sunk its fangs into our general psyche with the belief that all your problems with weight and self-image can be impacted by going on a diet to become a better you.

Diet culture often wants to tell you that you aren’t capable of change unless you decide to stop eating carbs, never drink alcohol again, and never have tasty treats after dinner.

For many, the diet mindset is something that has been ingrained from a very early age. Some clients can report on being on their first diet when they were pre-teens!

Before we get a chance to understand ourselves and our bodies, the diet culture seeps into our families as parents who are looking out for the best interest of their child.

This cycle then repeats itself...those kids grow up to be parents themselves who then believe that this is the only way to be healthy, the only way to find yourself is to find a diet that works for you.

Today I want to talk about 5 different ways that the diet mindset shows it’s ugly face and how you can know if you subscribe to these thoughts and feelings. I’ll give alternative beliefs around dieting that can hopefully guide you into a better direction if you find that the diet mindset no longer helps you.

What is a diet?

First thing’s first here - let’s define what I mean when I talk about diet and the dieting mindset.

A diet is defined in the dictionary as: the kinds of foods that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.

When speaking about one’s diet, generally this just reflects the types of foods you eat. If I say that I include peanut butter in my diet, this simply means that peanut butter is part of my normal eating pattern.

I am NOT talking about dieting in this way. This is just one way to describe eating habits. However I do think that most people won’t think of diet in this way but rather…

A diet is almost always understood as a style of eating with the intention of losing weight in mind.

I know know this...when someone says “I need to go on a diet” they mean exactly that...a style of eating that will promote weight loss. Often this is in response to a scary medical diagnosis, prompted by family members who are worried about one’s health, or simply looking in the mirror and being unhappy with how you look naked.

So then as we go through this article let’s assume the latter...a diet will be defined as a style of eating that promotes weight loss.

What then, is the diet mindset?

When was the last time that you muttered those words, “I need to go on a diet!”? Was this your gut response when you noticed that you’ve gained a little weight over the holidays and look a bit thicker in the mirror? (No pun intended!)

Oftentimes this will result in the thought of wanting to “fix” yourself. You look at yourself and you self-deprecate. You tell yourself nasty things about yourself so that you will feel bad enough about yourself, that you finally decide to make that diet change.

You might remember back to that infomercial that stated that in 7 days you can lose 15 lbs if only you do this. You might remember that time in college when you decided to only eat fruit and vegetables and lost 10 lbs in just 10 days. You might go back to that time before getting married and remember that vigorous exercise regime you did to burn calories, lose weight and fit into that dress!

On one hand I can celebrate any positive change in body...however at what cost did you attain these results?

The diet mindset is powerful in of the biggest indicators of this mindset is the belief that true changes can happen very quickly.

The diet industry has sold us on this belief - lose weight fast so that you can get to your goal in no time!

More importantly is the impact that these thoughts have on us throughout our adulthood. If you started your first diet as a teenager, you’ve grown up with the thoughts and beliefs that dieting is the answer to any body image and health issue that might arise. It’s what you were bred with, what you’ve been familiar with for so long. Of course you are going to go straight to weight watchers once you start to feel you are “falling off track”.

This diet mindset has been cultivated to keep you in the diet cycle.

Take a second and think about if this is true for you:

Has your weight and body fluctuated greatly over the past 10, 15, 20 years? Were there many swings in weight each year? You were up 10 lbs, down 10 lbs, up 15 lbs, then down 30 lbs, then back up 40 lbs, then back down 10 lbs?

This is the diet cycle at it’s best.

This will happen naturally however keep this in mind…

I’m not saying it’s not normal to fluctuate in your weight and body image over the years. It has been estimated that on average adults will gain 0.6 - 1.7 lbs annually every year after 30 years old. This assumes that you move less, eat a less nutrient dense diet, and burn less calories because of muscle loss.

There is no doubt that in high school you probably moved around a whole lot more just because you were a kid and were more active. As we get older and get into our career, we become more sedentary, have less time to cook and plan what to eat, and are more likely to get an injury that prevents comfortable movement.

However the swings in weight are often due to going on a diet that is out of line of your normal eating, sticking to that plan for X amount of time...then when you start to get tired of that diet you tend to go back to your normal eating habits that you had when you were heavier. You then slowly gain the weight back and wind up back at square one...or worse!

If you do a quick google search on the effectiveness of diets, you’ll find that after 5 years of time, 95% of dieters gain all their weight back.

95%!! This is crazy, how can a diet be called effective if 95% of people resort back to where they were on day 1? Isn’t the whole point of changing your food intake, to be in a better position for your life?

Some of you may argue that while yes, you will eventually regain your weight after 5 years, the loss in the moment will be worth it and feel good.

I would ask those who believe this - what is the purpose of making a change in your life? Are you only looking to make a change that lasts for part of your life, and then be back to where you are after 5 years?

Is it worth it to you to go through this emotional journey of losing weight, gaining it back, losing it, gaining it back?

So without further ado - here are the 5 red flags that fall in line with the diet mindset!

5 signs of the diet mindset

You see foods as good or bad.

Diet culture has taught us that there are foods that provide no inherent value to us. Diet’s normally will teach you their “basics” by vilifying a food group. Think about the diets you have been on in the past - what do they teach you about food?

I know that diets teach you that a particular food group is bad. Fat is bad, carbs are bad...animal protein is bad! These things are seen in an all-or-nothing state. A bad food will result in poor health, weight gain, and should be avoided at all costs.

Take for example a tasty dessert like Ice cream...many will see this as an unhealthy food, something that doesn’t provide anything for the body. However ice cream might bring about comfort, be a pleasurable experience, or a family tradition that brings everyone together. Is this really “bad”?

A common theme that I see in clients is the belief that carbohydrates are “Bad”. You might make a proclamation “I’m never eating carbs again!”. The belief that carbs can lead to weight gain is misguided, however it is something that many, many people believe.

Now some of the savvy dieters may say something like “processed carbs” are bad for you. You can eat whole grain bread but you can’t have white bread! You should replace pasta with the whole wheat version of pasta.

Reality check: White rice, and pasta are not bad for you - it won’t cause cancer, it won’t cause you to balloon and gain 10 lbs in a week. Food does not have the power to do this, and I hope as you read through the rest of this list you’ll understand how these thoughts and feelings have become part of your normal thinking patterns!

For a deeper discussion on this topic, check out a past blog here.

You believe exercise is a way to “make up” for your eating habits

Exercise is a powerful tool that can transform bodies, and transform your life in such a positive way. Getting into a routine of strength training alongside cardiovascular training is a great way to not only look better but feel better as well.

However exercise can often be used as the crutch that we lean on when feeling guilty about food choices and weight gain. Exercise becomes more about burning calories then it has to do about making the body feel good.

If you’ve ever thought “I need to do extra cardio to make up for that brownie last night” you are effectively telling yourself that you need to “pay up” for your transgressions! You might force yourself to do an extra 30 minutes on the treadmill solely because of what you ate.

We believe that doing this extra work will lead us down a better path but instead what often happens is that we burn out, get consumed with trying to over exercise, and ultimately fall back on bad habits of binging food, exercising to exhaustion, then binging on food!

Reality check: Exercise is supposed to make you feel good. Exercise is something you are doing to treat your body with the utmost respect and love. When moving the body you are essentially taking action to improve muscle function, muscle strength, cardiovascular health, joint health, and mobility. Exercise should be an act that causes great pride and excitement...don’t use it as a remedy for your eating habits!

You feel guilt and shame when eating certain foods

This one coincides with the idea that there are good and bad many times have you felt guilty after eating a meal that you would deem “unhealthy”?

If you’ve ever had the thought of

“I’m really disgusted in myself for eating that meal…”


“I just can’t avoid the ice cream at night, I’m never going to get the body I want”

These thoughts are manufactured! These come from the belief that there is something inherently WRONG with the actions you take surrounding food and health.

It’s no wonder why the diet industry is a 71 BILLION dollar industry. The industry is founded in t