Why going on a diet sucks

by Paul Goodchild on April 22, 2009

Yes.  Dieting sucks.

This is perhaps a little harsh, albeit true, and is completely different to:

A balanced / healthy diet sucks.

There’s a huge difference to between dieting, and diet.

What is dieting?

Dieting is the forced addition/removal of food [quantity], or food groups, to/from your diet.  In this case I do not refer to vegetarians, vegans, raw-food diets or fasting.  I’m talking about those that make a significant change in their diet with the main purpose of improvement of self image.

It’s not usually dictated by health, though we may fool ourselves into thinking that that’s why we do it.

If you look in the mirror and you’re unhappy with the way your body looks, going on a “diet” will not fix that.

I’m not going to allow this article to degenerate on the pros and cons of various fashionable diets that come and go, but rather on the principles and motivation that underpins the practice of diets in general.

Self-image and how we think we can improve it

When your sense of self-worth is propped up on transient constructs such as your figure, your looks, your fashion, your possessions etc., then it’s not a diet you need, it’s a period of self-appraisal and reflection.  When you understand that you are perfectly okay the way you are, that what actually makes you you is nothing to do with any of those things that ultimately fade away, you can then effectively make changes in your life based on what is best for you and the health of your body and mind.

You make changes and improvements to your life not to make you feel better about yourself, but to make you feel better.  Or rather, that’s how it ought to be…

Exercise makes you feel great physically.  If you’ve ever done it, you’ll know – you’re more alert, more responsive, and stress is reduced.  But you typically don’t feel better about yourself.  You’re still the same person as before you worked out, right?  Are you a better person than before you worked out?  Perhaps once your body has recovered, you are better physically.

These questions/distinctions may sound a little silly, but if you listen to your internal monologue, you will observe that your mind tells you all sorts of things that make you feel better and worse all at once, and since we’re all closely identified with our mind and what it has to say, it dictates how we feel about ourselves.

Are you comfortable with your mind dictating how you feel?

An alternative approach

First, before anything else, there is the practice of acceptance.  Sounds corny, eh?  You’re maybe wondering how that helps…

“Sure, I’ll accept it, I’m old/fat/thin/wrinkly/hairy!  Now what?! I don’t feel any better yet!”

You’ll perhaps be surprised to hear this, but saying it and knowing it are two different things entirely.  Once you can take your body image and feel that how you look does not impact how you feel about who you are, then you have accepted it.  If you’re thinking that if you just lose a few more lbs you’ll be (more) attractive or you’ll attract the man/boy/woman/girl of your heart’s desire, then you have a little further to go.  I’m not saying it’s easy, but the payoff is worth the effort.

There is a difference between looking better and liking that fact, and feeling good because you’re looking better (or feeling bad for not).   I like to look better than I do sometimes… when I wake up in the morning I am not a pretty sight to say the least.  So I’ll wash, shower and comb and maybe shave.  But really… if I walked out the door without doing any of this then I’ll only stink, but I wont feel any less me.  I exercise aerobically (mainly through cycling) because I know it’s a great start to the day and I feel better for it, it allows me to by-pass public transport, and it saves me money.  If I don’t do the exercise, I only feel relatively lethargic but I don’t feel guilty, lazy, fat, or otherwise.

So let’s say you’ve accepted how you look.  You may realise that you’re over-weight… not that it’s bad, it’s just the way your body is right now.  You want to feel better: to have more energy and to manage things like stress.  You know that being over weight has implications on your long-term health and you wish to reduce weight as a risk factor.  Great!  That’s a good place to start since it’s provides sustainable motivation.  You can approach it, and ideally would do so, with both regular exercise and a healthy balanced diet.

Diet, not dieting

I mean migrating your diet to one that is, if it isn’t already, healthy and balanced.  It doesn’t mean cutting out chocolate cake, or chips, or eating only apples and pears.  It means a diet that consists of a rounded and balanced intake of foods that contains all the nutrients and vitamins your body needs.  I’m not a nutritional expert or a dietitian so I’m not here to offer advice on that.  Research what is good for you and what food groups contain the right sort of nutrients in the quantities you require.

It’s not news that fruits and vegetables are where it’s at! For nearly 6 months until the end of last year I was making a fruit smoothie consisting typically of about 4~7 different types of fruits every day.  It usually blended to about 1 litre.  It’s a lot, but I felt great!  That combined with light, almost daily exercise served to put me in very good health and for that period and a month or so afterward, I was never in ill health or seemingly even close.

Personally, I would avoid “diets” altogether, but if you want to start a regimented routine, that’s your choice, but I would avoid those that exclude certain food groups such as no/low-carb, low-fat, low-calorie.  That’s my opinion and nothing more, since simply based on what I have read and researched myself it makes no logical sense.  Your body needs all these things and once your diet is excessively weighted for or against something, you’re just causing yourself problems.

Like I said before, I’m not a dietitian… so follow your own path and the advice of whomever you feel most qualified to assist you.  I don’t believe there much harm in experimenting, so look around and try out things that you think suit you and your body best.

Here is one example of a popular diet designed to mess you up.  Look down at the section entitled “Does the Atkins diet have any side effects?” and ask yourself if you were really healthy, would this be happening to you?  It’s not about how you look, but about how healthy you are.  Don’t get caught up in the hysteria, just use your own common sense…

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jo Goodchild April 23, 2009 at 17:43

I read this with my flatmate and we agreed with everything you said. It’s interesting to see it all spelt out the way you have done it here. I think it is so easy to get wrapped up in self-image when you begin to compare your looks with others and then judge your whole self accordingly. I used to do it and I think there is stll an element of that in me when I do a lack of exercise. Like you said in your blog, I feel fat / guilty. This is clearly a part of me that needs more work. Your blog pointed that out very well!


Paul April 24, 2009 at 00:14

Indeed… dieting lately isn’t about health it seems, it’s about a glossy self-image and that just isn’t a good enough reason to restrict/imbalance your diet.

As for the part of you “that needs more work” … not some much work, it needs replaced. Your mind has no authority in dictating this part of you. Once you take back ownership of your identity from your mind, you’re done 🙂


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