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Healthy Eating or Diets in Disguise?

By Rebecca Johnson

Eat smaller meals more frequently. Avoid “bad” carbs. Keep tempting foods out of the house. Include a fruit or vegetable with every meal. Log your daily food intake and don’t eat more than X calories (or points). Does advice like that really promote health? Or does it encourage an unhealthy preoccupation with food and unsustainable behaviors that eventually lead to failure, disappointment, and guilt?

The good news in the workplace wellness arena is that many experienced health promotion practitioners today recognize that diets don’t work and never will. The bad news is that sometimes the ineffective diet advice from the past is replaced with something that sounds better, but isn’t. Old-fashioned diet advice is recycled with “new” twists, but the underlying restrictive messages remain.

Removing the Mask

masks“Healthy eating” and “lifestyle change” are often just diets in disguise that encourage restrictive eating patterns and keep people stuck in harmful eat-repent-repeat cycles. How do you know if the advice you give or receive could actually be a diet in disguise?

  1. Listen for words like: control, temptation, calories, points, skinny, good and bad, always, never, correct portion sizes, measure, weigh, or count.
  2. Read between the lines of the advice and look for concepts and ideas like: fear, in control, out of control, all or nothing, guilt, deprivation, willpower, our bodies can’t be trusted.
  3. Ask yourself:
    • Could I really stick with this advice long term, day in and day out, forever? Would I want to?
    • Could other people stick with this advice long term, day in and day out, forever?
    • Would this allow one to truly enjoy eating and live fully without becoming focused on food?

While many health professionals recognize that diets don’t work long term and that a restrictive approach to eating can even be harmful, they may not realize that there’s an alternative. And that’s where mindful eating comes in. A growing body of evidence indicates that mindful eating is a great answer to “What’s the alternative?”

In corporate settings where employees are increasingly incentivized to participate in short-term ineffective weight management programs, mindful eating fills a much needed gap. It is a rational, inspiring solution that is so desperately needed in workplace wellness.

Perhaps a participant at HCSC explained it best: “Diets have been failing me for decades but this is effective beyond anything else I have ever attempted. Restriction and rules make me want to rebel which sets me up for failure. I feel certain other people have this same type of challenge and would benefit from this program.”


About the author

Rebecca Johnson is a leader in the health promotion industry with more than 20 years of experience in diverse roles. She is a licensed Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Program Facilitator and Coach and advocates for the use of mindfulness-based and weight-neutral programs in the workplace. Rebecca also serves as a consultant for organizations ready to leverage the power of organizational development and employee wellbeing to create truly thriving cultures.

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