Oh, diets... I have a long history of restrictive eating and food fear. I've tried it all: low-carb, keto, vegan, intermittent fasting, clean eating, emotional eating (I really perfected that last one).
It took me years of studying the science of nutrition and cravings, working on my mindset, and practicing self-awareness to understand that restrictive diets are not the solution to my "problem areas" but the problem itself.
Because a diet culture that is build on clickbait-worthy advice and photoshopped bodies all over instagram conditioned to feel guilty when we don't adhere to the latest unsustainable rules made up and promoted by some self-proclaimed diet-guru. My approach is to re-emphasize the concept of "listen to your body, know your facts, and eat what makes you feel (and yes, also look) good".
So what does self-care have to do with dieting?
I like to compare good self-care to being your own best friend.
Image your friend, who is frustrated with their diet and feels like a failure, asks you for advice. Which of the following sentences would you rather say to them?
1: "Eat as little as possible. Ignore your hunger. Just have some discipline or you'll look this fat forever."
Probably not. We tend to only talk that negatively to ourselves...
2: "Why don't you make small, more sustainable changes? Like eating more mindfully, adding in more vegetables or replacing highly processed snacks with a real-food treat?"
Sentence 2 is much more likely, and much less asshole. You care about your friend, and you want them to be healthy and happy, regardless of their current weight. So how about you give the same loving but constructive support to yourself?
Nutritional self-care means supporting your own mental and physical wellbeing by making the best food choices for yourself in the moment. Whether that means indulging in your favorite comfort food or choosing a light dinner to give your digestive system a break. Trust that your body tells you what it needs once you start to listen.
What if my body tells me to eat chocolate all the time?
I encourage my clients to listen to their hunger cues and eat accordingly. But that's not always easy because a lot of factors can mess with our cravings and hunger hormones – lack of sleep, stress, insulin sensitivity, hormonal imbalances or a poor diet, to name a few. You might also confuse emotional hunger with physical hunger.
In that case, you have to find a way to fill the emotional void with something other than food. Here's where self-care comes to play. Check in with yourself, find out what you are really craving, and why, and then give that to yourself.
Maybe that's something small like taking it slow, calling a friend, or getting yourself a massage. Maybe the only cure is to make that big change you've been wanting to make, like quitting your job, moving to a new city or ending a relationship.
Making time for a few minutes every day to check in with yourself helps you to take care of your real needs, and that will reduce your need to compensate emotions with comfort food.
It's not your fault that you can't stick to an unsustainable diet
First of all - you didn't fail the diet. The diet failed you.
You shouldn't beat yourself up for it. Diet plans floating around on the internet are rarely set up right to be a lasting success. Here's what's wrong with it:
Unless you work 1-on-1 with nutritionist, the diets you try are cookie-cutter approaches.
They tell you when, how much, and what (not) to eat without factoring in anything about YOU. Like your sleeping habits, your body composition, your matabolism, your stress levels, your emotional relationship with food, medical conditions, food sensitivities, hormonal imbalances, your schedule, your taste...
Taking into account your whole situation will make it easier to find the right way of eating for you.