Ask Eliza: Should Our Son Try the “Non-Diet” Thing?

Q: Our son has been on every diet imaginable and nothing works for him. I keep hearing about this non-diet thing. Is that what he should be doing?

A: Hi Kim & Chris, thanks for a great question. 

The whole “non-diet” movement stems from a large body of research that shows that going on a diet is unsuccessful for 90%-95% of people.

However, there is a lot of controversy around the concept of non-dieting.

My take: I see dieting as a mentality more than an action.

The mentality is that food is restricted, food is either good or bad, it will either make you fat or thin, and there is a punishment or reward for staying “on the diet” or “off the diet”.

The dieting mentality also implies a starting and stopping point, a beginning and an end to the process – “on” or “off” the diet.

I believe that it is absolutely possible to make food choices that not only benefit us physically but also emotionally. Those food choices can consciously exclude certain foods without being part of a diet mentality and without being “on a diet”.

Now, I don’t want to confuse having a non-diet mentality with believing that all foods act the same way in our bodies.

That’s just simply and scientifically untrue.

Some foods trigger a physiological response similar to that of addictive substances, and in some people this response is more powerful than others.

The key here is to become mindful and intentional with our food choices. We need to become aware of the foods that make us feel energetic, strong and powerful vs. the foods that make us feel anxious, sluggish, foggy, or irritable.

It is also important for us to recognize our human tendency to turn towards food for comfort and numbing of hard-to-handle feelings.

Food can be used as a resource to numb our feelings or to make us feel better. When we use food in this way, it is much more likely that we’re eating more calories than our bodies need.

Consistently eating in excess of our caloric needs will always lead to weight gain, so being mindful of the what, when, how and why we eat is the most important thing we can do if we are looking to mange our weight. This is the foundation of our Empowered Wellness summer weight loss camp for teens, in fact.

Now, for a lot of people, using a prescriptive “diet” makes them feel like they have boundaries and structure within which to work, and this makes them feel safe.

The biggest problem with this model is if the “diet” is not sustainable, and the dieter feels consistently deprived or forced to be rigid in their food choices. This often leads to rebellion and overeating, which then leads to guilt and shame and more overeating.

If you are looking for a self-care plan that may help your son manage weight, check out my book or online course which helps guide you through the emotional process of food decisions as well as the practical process of finding strategies that might work for him or for your whole family.