10 Things That Can Happen When You Give Up Dieting for Good
The anti-diet movement has gained serious traction in recent years, with fad diets and restrictive eating regimens starting to give way to gentler approaches, like intuitive eating. Part of the reason for this shift might be the mounting body of evidence showing that dieting just doesn't work; a 2013 review of weight-loss studies from the last few decades concluded that while dieting might lead to short-term weight loss, almost every dieter will regain that weight (and often more) in the long term.
Pictured recipe: Linguine with Creamy Mushroom Sauce
That said, diet culture is everywhere, selling the (false) idea that eating a certain way will solve all of your problems and lead to infinite health and happiness. If you've thought about giving up dieting for good but haven't taken the plunge, know that there are so many benefits to a diet-free lifestyle that you may have yet to consider. We asked dietitians to spell out what happens when you give up dieting for good, and why it's worth it.
1. You won't have such strong cravings for foods.
It might seem counterintuitive, but giving yourself permission to eat any food you want—especially foods that are typically off-limits while you diet, like sweets, processed foods, and high-calorie foods—will likely make you want it a whole lot less. "Dieting goes against our body's natural ability to regulate our food needs," says Ashley Perrone, MPH, RD, CDN. "Any form of restricting a basic need (like food, water, sleep, etc.) puts our body into a state of deprivation, which ultimately leaves it desperately searching for whatever it is missing." When you allow yourself to eat what you crave, when you crave it, you'll probably find that those cravings get much less extreme and less frequent over time.
2. You'll think about food a lot less.
In a similar vein, eating more intuitively will lead to ultimately thinking less about food in general. "In the case of dieting, our restricted bodies are constantly seeking out more food. It's part of our biological survival mechanism," Perrone says. If you find yourself constantly googling recipes or restaurant menus, or longingly scrolling through food pictures on Instagram, it might be because you're consciously or unconsciously dieting, by placing certain foods off-limits or following strict rules about when and how much you can eat. Once you lift these restrictions and any kind of food is on the table (pun intended) at any time, it'll lose some of that forbidden fruit appeal and you'll find that you don't think about it as much outside of when you're truly hungry.
3. You'll get more in touch with your own hunger cues.
The concept of intuitive eating was officially outlined in a book by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. Intuitive eating means listening to your own hunger and fullness cues, honoring your cravings, and eating in a way that feels best for you—we were all born knowing how to do this, but years of dieting can lead to a disconnect between what your body tells you to eat and what you think you should eat. When you stop dieting, it's up to you to figure out what to eat, when, and how much. Although it might be tough at first, you'll slowly learn what works for you.
4. You won't freak out when you go to a restaurant, or when your roommate brings home cookies and ice cream.
Often when people first hear about intuitive eating, they think, 'I could never do that, I'd just eat cookies all the time.' That might happen at first, but probably not long-term. Perrone describes the concept of "food peace" that often comes along with intuitive eating, in which you're finally able to trust that you won't lose control when you're at your favorite restaurant, or when there's a bag of cookies in the cabinet. Eventually the knowledge that you can eat delicious foods whenever you want will make you far less likely to "overdo" it. That's not to say that you'll never overeat again (sometimes the occasion calls for it, or the food is just so delicious), but instead that you won't feel totally out of control every time you're around food that doesn't fit into your diet.
5. You might even start to crave vegetables.
While cravings for previously off-limits foods diminish, it's possible that cravings for more nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables will creep in. When you aren't forcing yourself to eat them, you'll give yourself the chance to realize that these foods can be delicious, and that eating them makes you physically feel good. Perrone describes the 'gentle nutrition' principle that is a part of intuitive eating, which acknowledges the role that nutritious foods can play in overall health, but encourages you not to get obsessive about prioritizing them all the time.
6. You'll be more productive.
"The biggest [benefit of quitting dieting that] thing I can think of is that it frees your mind up to think about more important things," says Anna M. Lutz, MPH, RD/LDN, CEDRD-S. Imagine: You eat a normal breakfast, but by 10 A.M. you're so hungry that you can't focus. Instead of doing the diet-y thing and waiting to eat until lunch because you think you should (unable to think about anything except food), you nonchalantly eat a snack and get back to whatever task is at hand. It might not seem like a big deal, but those hours really add up.
7. Your metabolism will be more consistent.
"There are physiological and psychological reasons that lead to weight regain in an estimated 90 to 95 percent of dieters," Lutz says. "Studies show that people's metabolisms remain significantly lowered after caloric restriction." (Learn more about what happens to your metabolism when you lose weight.) In other words, eating less likely means you're burning fewer calories, which undermines the weight-loss goal that prompted your diet in the first place. "Our bodies and minds are smart to figure out a way to use food efficiently when food is scarce," Lutz says. When you actually give your body the amount of food it needs (by listening to it, not by hitting some arbitrary calorie number every day), your body figures out that it doesn't need to hold so tight to every single calorie, and so your metabolism may slowly return to what it was before you dieted.
8. Your self-esteem will improve.
It might sound a little woo-woo, but learning to trust your body might lead you to realize just how capable and incredible you are. Perrone says that people who transition from dieting to intuitive eating often end up feeling more comfortable in their own skin, lives, because they're no longer living by someone else's rules or trying to fit some arbitrary body standard that isn't realistic. This won't happen overnight, but it should happen over time.
9. You'll feel more present, instead of always living for the future.
One of the worst side-effects of dieting is that people sometimes put their lives on hold to focus on weight loss efforts, vowing that they'll only do all the things they've always wanted to do after they successfully lose weight. Once you give up on that, you're able to "[be] more present in life, rather than only living for the future," Perrone says. Life is short, and if you're waiting to start yours until things are "perfect," you'll miss out on a lot.
10. You'll be able to invest more in relationships.
Lutz points out that letting go of the diet mentality free us up to invest in our relationships. Quitting dieting means never having to say no to an impromptu dinner out with friends, or to the stack of pancakes that your kids surprise you with on a random Saturday morning. Turning down food or avoiding certain social situations may not seem like a huge deal in the moment, but each time you do it you're missing out on a chance to connect with other people. Sharing fun and celebratory food moments with people you care about is one of the easiest ways to connect to others; doing so can do wonders for your overall sense of belonging and happiness.
Keep in mind that ditching the diet mentality takes time, and that the process is different for everyone.
If you've been dieting or strictly keeping tabs on what you eat for as long as you remember, it's unrealistic to think that you can snap out of that mindset overnight. Likewise, everyone is different, and you might find that not everything mentioned above actually happens when you successfully quit dieting. That said, the big takeaway is that letting go of dieting frees up space for more important things in life, and helps you to feel confident making your own decisions around food and other things—really, who doesn't want that?