8 steps to escape chronic dieting and live with self-compassion

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I used to be a chronic dieter. Today I haven’t been on a diet for 10 years, and I got over it with the help of two practices: mindful eating and self-compassion.

Being a tall girl I was often the biggest of the group – and I truly thought my life would be better would I lose those extra 5 kg. “Maybe I would even get a boyfriend”, I thought. Reading through my old diaries from that time feels really bad. It’s hard to understand how that diligent, kind and seemingly happy 17-year-old could be so hard on herself.

I would easily pick up new fad diets, follow the rules strictly and feel good for momentarily controlling my lifestyle. Chronic dieting is not an eating disorder as severe as anorexia or bulimia, but it definitely took up a lot headspace and made my life miserable. I was obsessively controlling and at the same time losing control of my body, eating and self-image. It makes me sad to see how many others suffer from these same detrimental mental loops.

My healing process started with getting the basics right and most importantly, shifting my mindset. I didn’t realize it then, but what I actually learned – the long and hard way – was two things researchers now swear by: mindful eating and self-compassion. I hope this list can help you too!

“I was obsessively controlling and at the same time losing control of my body, eating and self-image.”

MINDFUL EATING

1 | Eat real, wholesome food

I swapped processed non-fat foods (which at that time were considered ‘the healthy choice’) to wholesome, real foods with all the natural fats. Lovely veggies, fish, olive oil, butter, nuts, seeds and good carbs – an instant upgrade to my quality of life! Not only was the food 10x tastier, but it also enabled my body to better recognize when I was actually hungry or full.

2 | No such thing as banned food

In those days when I deprived myself of treats, it made the cravings even stronger. Not surprisingly, my willpower would run out at some point, and I would give up and eat too much of the food I had craved. Sound familiar? There’s a ton of research on this topic. My new micro-action was to not deprive myself of anything. Funnily enough, after some time this actually reduced my cravings significantly.

3 | Enjoy indulgence!

This change – a solid combination of mindful eating and self-compassion – was one of the most important ones. Whenever I felt like treating myself, I would enjoy it 100%. No more guilt trips, calorie counting, “I have/haven’t deserved this” – thinking. Just enjoying every mouthful and feeling awesome afterwards!

“This was one of the most important changes. Whenever I felt like treating myself, I would enjoy it 100%”

SELF-COMPASSION

4 | Stop using the scales

I stopped weighing myself, period. This happened way before today’s quantified self – trackers, fitbits, badass calorie counter apps etc., so my advice today is to reduce or stop tracking altogether. Any kind of compulsive tracking can easily become the master, making you the slave.

5 | Pay attention to your self-talk

We often focus on how we talk to other people but forget to focus on how we talk to ourselves. I tried to deliberately change the self-describing vocabulary from unkind, merciless words like “ugly and fat” to encouraging, self-compassionate words like “strong and beautiful”.

6 | Surround yourself with people with a healthy self-image

This is a difficult one. Our environment and the people we spend time with have a huge impact on our lives. If you know people who seem to have a good connection with their bodies and eating, try to spend more time with them! If you can, avoid the company of other chronic dieters especially when you’re getting started with your own improvement process. When you’re in a better place yourself, you can come back to these people and try to help them if you want.

“I tried to deliberately change the self-describing vocabulary from unkind, merciless words like ‘ugly and fat’ to encouraging words like ‘strong and beautiful’.”

7 | Exercise because you love your body, not because you hate it

Re-iterate your thought process around why you exercise. In those days I might have gone running because I had over-eaten or because I felt ugly. Try not to do this – it’s a losing game. The one and only reason for exercising should be that you love and respect your body, not because you hate it.

8 | Relax, you don’t have to get everything right

A relaxed mind is much more important than whether you ate that extra donut or not. A relaxed mind and a self-compassionate attitude should be your best “diet”. 

Get the basics of eating right and give your body some loving exercise – then focus on your own peace of mind. I promise, you will slowly but surely develop the winning lifestyle where you don’t have to worry or stress or panic or feel guilty anymore.

If you’re interested in practicing mindful eating or self-compassion, you can get the 2-week mindful eating action pack or the 12-action crash course in self-compassion in YOU-app on iOS!

“A relaxed mind and a self-compassionate attitude should be your best ‘diet’. “

 -Nelli, CEO & Co-Founder of YOU-app

YOU-app
Nelli Lähteenmäki

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