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Dieting Stages of Grief

As you break free from dieting, stop having a disordered relationship with food, and start accepting your natural body size and shape, there is a tremendous sense of relief. 

  • You have broken free from counting calories or carbs.
  • You have stopped feeling guilty because you had some dessert or fries.
  • You have stopped punishing yourself for overeating.
  • and you might have even stopped using food to cope with your emotions. 

All of this can feel wonderful and freeing. However, simultaneously, you might also be feeling a sense of loss as you let go of all that dieting had promised you. 

  • That once you lose weight you will be happier and more successful. 
  • That cutting out certain foods would make you healthier. 
  • That all those smaller clothes in your closet will finally fit. 

You wonder how can I feel both relief and grief at the same time? 

People go through stages of grief when they experience the loss of a loved one. You might be going through the same as you let go of dieting. In their book, The Diet Survivor’s Handbook, authors Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel, apply the stages of grief to “breaking up” with dieting. 

  • Denial: You don’t truly believe that you need to give up dieting, and since it worked for “so and so”, then why shouldn’t it work for you too? Remind yourself that if you were going to be one of those very few people for whom dieting worked, then it would have happened by now.  
  • Anger: It might be anger that you didn’t get the “skinny” genes, or anger at the aunt who commented on your weight when you were a teenager and started you on this dieting journey, or anger at the dieting industry or diet culture that perpetuated your struggle. Expressing this anger can be healthy in this process. 
  • Bargaining: Part of you still wants to diet just one more time. Or you say to yourself “I will start Intuitive Eating after I lose X kilos”. This strategy will fail because dieting fails. 
  • Depression: Dieting may have become a big part of your life. For some, it is their whole identity. For others, it was a means to realize a dream that promised so much. Letting go can be painful. 
  • Acceptance: You have accepted that dieting is not a successful method to control your weight or improve your health and has never been. You have realized that breaking from dieting helps you live a happier and healthier life. You are more willing to accept whatever your natural weight as you progress to eating more mindfully and moving joyfully. 

These stages may not be very clear to you, and you might go from one to the other or be in two stages at the same time. My hope for you is that understanding them can help you start to move toward acceptance. 

Where are you in the process? 

 

Source: The Diet Survivor’s Handbook (Matz & Frankel, 2006) 

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