5 Signs You’re Ready for Diet Recovery

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I’m Sarah (she/her), a Toronto-based writer, anti-diet nutritionist, and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor. I teach folks how to have a healthy relationship with food and accept their natural body size.

Hi, I'm Sarah

Do you ever wonder what life would look like without constant food and body obsession? If so, it might be a sign you’re ready for diet recovery.

First off, know it makes so much sense to want to stop dieting…and worry about what eating will look like without a structured eating plan. I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t at least somewhat ambivalent about starting this work.

Right now, you might feel safer with rules to follow and numbers to track. If your friends, family, significant other, or co-workers are dieting, you may be afraid of what they’ll say or think if you quit trying to lose weight. Maybe you worry you’ll be out of control with food if you let yourself make your own food decisions.

I hold a lot of respect for hesitancy. I consider it your system’s way of taking care of you and ensuring your safety. What a gift to find yourself in a body so steadfastly committed to protecting you, even if it doesn’t always feel this way (and even if you don’t trust your body.)

What I know is that you can feel deeply afraid of recovering from dieting/disordered eating and simultaneously crave tolerable bites of change.

Here are 5 signs you’re ready for diet recovery — even if you’re scared:

You “fall off the wagon” before the week’s over. 

Dieting gets progressively difficult over time. While many report their first attempt at dieting was “successful,” these results are seldom (if ever) replicated. Most people struggle to stick with a set of rules and lose weight the longer they diet.

I want you to know that this isn’t an issue of willpower or self-discipline. Your body can’t differentiate between a diet and a famine, and repeated attempts to lose weight will essentially train your body to get better at defending itself against what it detects as a threat to your survival. 

In the past, you may have been able to follow a diet for several weeks or months before “falling off” the wagon. That said, most people get to a place where they can barely go a day without eating something off-plan. You might be ready to start diet recovery if you can’t diet for longer than a few days.

You resent your meal prep time and exercise regimen.

What would you rather do on a sunny day — prep perfectly portioned meals or spend the day at the beach catching up with a friend? 

Don’t get me wrong: meal planning and some meal preparation may still find their way into your life post-recovery. You may choose to meal plan for a number of reasons, like budget, logistics, or more time freedom. That said, many find their food planning is much less time-consuming (and less costly!) than it was when they were dieting. 

For one thing, Intuitive Eating offers the permission and freedom to opt for prepared and convenience foods. Even though I enjoy cooking, I don’t love doing it all the time. I appreciate being able to stock my closet-sized kitchen with quick options like microwaveable rice, prepared soups and salads, frozen vegetables, canned beans, frozen entrees and pizza, jarred sauces and dressings, and so many other things that I would have historically insisted on making myself.

While it can feel great to have a plan in place, I find many people start to seek out an alternative to dieting because of the time and labour involved in upholding their diet. They resent spending so much time preparing and portioning out food that they don’t even want to eat. 

Exercise can feel much the same way. If you’re forcing yourself to get out of bed to exercise even after a sleepless night or skipping social events to hit the gym, it’s totally understandable that you’d like to adopt a gentler approach to movement. You might be ready to start diet recovery if you’d love to simplify your meal planning efforts or would like to have a kinder relationship with movement.

You’re flooded with food cravings. 

You might be ready to start diet recovery if you struggle with food cravings. Many dieters report particularly strong cravings for sweets and crunchy foods. Regardless of what you’ve been told, this isn’t because these foods are inherently addictive. (We simply don’t have sufficient evidence to substantiate clinical food addiction (and food addiction studies are extremely flawed.) 

More likely, your body isn’t getting the energy it requires to function adequately — and is busy seeking out the very foods that would help to get the job done most efficiently. (Hot tip: lettuce isn’t it.) 

The times when I struggled the most with food cravings were also the very times when my eating was the most disordered. 

One thing many Intuitive Eaters notice over time is a sharp decline in their food cravings. While food cravings may intensify initially for a couple of good reasons — deprivation and nutritional restoration — they tend to subside over time. The intensity of the cravings themselves also tends to wane. It doesn’t mean that you won’t ever get food cravings, which can happen for a number of reasons. But you may find yourself eventually craving a variety of different foods. You might be ready to start diet recovery if you’re overwhelmed by food cravings and feel compulsive around certain foods.

Your way of eating is negatively impacting your relationships.

One of the chief reasons folks seek out an alternative to dieting is because they don’t want to pass down disordered eating to their child(ren). It’s entirely understandable that you’d want to model a healthy relationship with food and help the little ones in your life to develop a positive body image. I also think it’s so, so important to have self-compassion here if this feels arduous for you. Many of us were never taught how to have a supportive relationship with food. It’s tough to do this work on ourselves while raising children in real-time. And I don’t think we need to be “perfect” or have it all figured out to raise competent and confident eaters.

You may also find your dieting behaviours or disordered eating is interfering with your romantic relationship(s). Many want to do this work because they want to eat the same dinner as their partner, share a bag of popcorn at the movies, or spontaneously head out for dinner or order take-out. Eating less than you need usually takes up a lot of mental real estate. If you want to have fewer thoughts that go like this — “What can I eat?” “How much can I eat?” “Should I eat that?” “Will this trigger a binge?” — and think about other things instead, it might be time to think about diet recovery. Doing this work can also help you to be more present in life’s meaningful moments, improve memory and focus, and improve mood. 

Perhaps you are seeking stronger connections more generally. It’s common for those struggling with dieting or disordered eating to feel alone or isolated from the world around them — even if they have a large social circle. As I often say, a restrictive mindset with food often shows up in other areas as well. If we want a full life, we need to develop the capacity to sit with fullness. If you find yourself declining dinners out with friends for fear of eating over your calories or skipping events to lose weight, this might be a sign you’re ready for diet recovery. 

You’re craving something more (even if you don’t know what more is.)

It’s been my experience that many hold on to their dieting pursuits or disordered eating because it gives them a sense of accomplishment. It may feel like the only method for getting what they most desire. Many years of food and weight preoccupation can lead us to believe that we have no identity outside of being a “health nut,” “wellness fan,” “successful dieter,” “gym rat,” or thin person.

Letting go can involve feeling a lot of feelings and sitting with grief. But if you want your life to be about more — and possibly a lot more — than the size of your pants, what you ate today, or how much you exercised, I’d highly recommend giving diet recovery some serious consideration.

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