Managing how to diet without anxiety takes time, effort, and experience. The word “diet” is associated with starvation, suffering, restricting food, and excessive control, which inevitably leads to anxiety.
The big problem with following a diet of these characteristics is that it is not sustainable over time.
Life’s journey to healthier living and eating habits should not be a cause of anxiety or stress. Unfortunately, “diet” is often synonymous with deprivation, torment, restraint, and excessive control, which can invariably lead to anxiety. This all-too-familiar approach is unsustainable and can result in an exhausting cycle of weight loss followed by regaining even more weight.
The Problem with the Traditional Approach to Dieting
One of the main challenges with traditional dieting is its unsustainability. Despite setting off with fervor on what appears to be an infallible diet, it doesn’t take long for enthusiasm to wane as strict rules become unbearable. The result? A rapid return to old eating habits and weight gain.
Adding insult to injury, this repetitive cycle generates increased anxiety around diets due to a history of failed attempts. It’s time for a change – you need new strategies to help you embrace healthier eating habits without the associated anxiety.
Understanding Anxiety Around Diets
Often we hear statements like “Getting out of your comfort zone leads to changes!” or “All success entails suffering.” These phrases suggest that sacrifice and suffering are necessary for success, placing significant pressure on us.
Anticipating discomfort from past experiences can trigger stress responses in our bodies designed for dangerous situations or emergencies. However, these responses don’t serve us when contemplating a diet change – they sabotage our goals.
To break out of this self-destructive cycle where anxiety leads to lackluster results leading back into further anxiety – we must tackle two existential truths head-on:
- We inherently seek comfort and well-being.
- Our emotional memory of past failures makes us believe that future attempts will end similarly, causing distress even before starting.
Consequently, there are two critical questions we need answers for:
- How can we ensure our emotions don’t deter us from achieving our desired body shape?
- How can we navigate the paradoxical situation where wanting health improvements triggers diet-related anxiety?
The answer lies in having a clear guide on starting your diet differently by creating favorable conditions so your body understands that change is beneficial and rewards you accordingly.
Navigating Dietary Changes Without Anxiety
There are several strategies through which you can transition from feeling anxious about changing dietary habits to enjoying the process and seeing immediate improvements:
1. Prepare Your Body
Suppose you’re under-sleeping, consuming highly processed foods frequently, or eating multiple times daily. In that case, chances are your digestive system may be worn out, and your immune system hyperactive making any dietary changes seem daunting.
Prioritize calming your immune system down before implementing dietary changes, which could include moving towards more natural foods over processed ones or incorporating regular physical activity into your routine, amongst other measures discussed below.
2. Establish Healthier Living Patterns
Implementing simple lifestyle changes such as:
- Consuming whole foods instead processed ones
- Engaging in daily physical activity
- Spending time under sunlight
- Maintaining sleep hygiene
- Connecting with nature
- Allowing yourself downtime
…can create an environment conducive to adopting healthier eating practices without triggering anxiety.
Let me put you in context:
- You start a diet with anxiety.
- Anxiety causes the body to go into savings mode.
- In economic mode, the body does not use its fat reserves.
- And when you don’t see results, you get more anxiety because you are not losing weight.
This is a vicious cycle from which to get out.
It is essential that before starting any diet, you remember the following existential truths:
Nobody likes to suffer. In reality, we always return to what brings us well-being.
The emotional memory of all the previous failures makes you feel that it will be the same this time, and then, why so much effort?
It is clear, then, that we have to give answers to these two questions:
What must you do so your sensations do not take you away from the body you want this time?
How to get out of the paradox of “I want to improve my health, my body and my diet, but the word diet makes me anxious”?
And the answer to both is that you need a straightforward guide on starting your diet and the winning approach.
Instead of going all out and trying to overcome discomfort with the force of will, you must create the right context so that your body understands that change is the best thing to do and rewards you for it.
How to diet without anxiety?
Several strategies will take you from having anxiety to enjoying the change and seeing improvements almost immediately.
Put your body in a position to feel the energy to face the change.
Consider that if, in your current situation, you are sleeping for a few hours, consuming many processed products, and eating six times a day, it is possible that your digestive system is worn out and your immune system is alert.
The immune system is a priority for our survival, so it informs the brain that it is a lousy time to generate changes when it is active. It induces a depressive state and asks us to eat sugar (the primary fuel you are on alert).
So before facing a dietary change, especially if it generates anxiety, it is worth providing the appropriate calm so that your immune system allows you to change.
This change in context is based on premises that will allow you to move towards more demanding changes:
Start by eating food and not processed products
All those products with more than five ingredients are usually designed to confuse your brain. This leads to consuming more than you need. Only by following this premise is it likely that you will normalize your body weight. Your body will know how to identify whether it needs to eat.
Walk every day between 30 minutes and an hour
The movement has accompanied us throughout our history. We needed it to survive. That is why the body now depends on it for proper physiology. It is exciting to observe how, in the appropriate conditions, the entire metabolism is set in motion to promote physical activity. The improvement is almost immediate in terms of health and changes in figure.
For most of our history, we have spent many hours in the sun. Sun is an essential factor in being healthy. Among many other functions, sunlight regulates our circadian rhythm and vitamin D synthesis.
Live by day, sleep at night. Suppose there is something that all the animals on this planet share. We have had to adapt to living with 12 hours of sun and 12 hours of darkness. Our body expects us to be active during the day and to sleep at night. Crossing the borders of 12 hours of light significantly affects our health.
Get at least 7.5 hours of sleep a day
Few things reach more consensus among health experts than the importance of sleep and rest. Sleeping (remember at night) 7.5 hours is usually the optimal time to respect your sleep cycles and wake up refreshed and energetic. If you have trouble sleeping, I highly recommend reading this article.
Get in touch with nature
More and more authors suggest that living close to the natural environment (including gardens and farmland) has long-term health benefits. These benefits are caused, in part, by the psychological need to live in the environment in which we evolved as a species, along with factors such as exercise, sunlight, and social interactions. Humans have an evolutionarily predetermined need to expose themselves to nature. When we don’t, we feel homesick.
Enjoy doing nothing
For most of our history, we have spent part of our time doing nothing. Our activities demanded it of us. We couldn’t finish the day hunting or gathering, not even planting. Now, instead, we have become the only “busy” animals. Even when there are times when you have nothing to do, you look for new tasks, or you sign up for courses that you will never use. Life is for enjoying it.
And forget what I said. Yes, as you read. Because after applying the previous points, you can forget to control by heart how much you sleep, the hours you spend in nature, etc. Excess control can also work against you.
How do you create a mental context to overcome the anxiety of dieting?
For your brain to understand that the most beneficial thing that can happen is that you incorporate a change in diet in your life, and it rewards you for it, you have to speak to it in its language.
As you know, all needs generate a certain point of discomfort. When you have to drink, you are thirsty, and this is not the most pleasant sensation, not hunger, pain, withdrawal, or sleep.
So first of all, imagine the worst fantasy of your future, something that causes you discomfort. Imagine yourself emaciated, sick, in pain, without autonomy, depressed, and dying too soon. Exaggerate everything you can because you will fall short.
In today’s world of environmental aggressions, toxins, stress, and junk food, what you imagine will happen to you and more if you don’t move.
When you visualize yourself like this, you already have the image you are fighting against. That image must be powerful enough to defeat the ancient mechanism of not moving if necessary.
This will set off alarms, like when you have an exam.
You know that when there is a lot left to do, you intend to study, but you don’t. A few days before the exam, you study all day. You will probably do it because of the fear of immediate consequences. The risk of failure is more real and defeats the laziness of studying.
The more challenging and more discomfort you link to not moving, the more effective it will be.
Now, like any need, when it is covered, it generates pleasure. Before I gave you as an example, thirst and hunger, drinking and eating generate satisfaction as a reward.
You must have another image of yourself fulfilling your objective and how good it feels.
When achieving your goal, this image of your future self should be large and attractive, do not make the mistake of setting a goal too low. Low targets generate little traction and are dropped. It must be something that you notice that, if you imagine it, it tickles your belly.
All these things that I am telling you may seem, in principle, superficial. But they are decisive. As I told you, the body’s anticipation of a bad experience generates anxiety; when the tension is of well-being, it produces a hormone called Dopamine that will allow you to enjoy the change process.
Now that you have generated the appropriate context to get your body to understand the benefits of a change and have a body willing to invest energy. If the nutritional approach is consistent with your physiology, your body will thank you because the change has come from the inside out and not outside. This way, you manage to diet without anxiety.
In conclusion, managing your diet without succumbing to anxiety is a process that includes nurturing a healthy relationship with food. This involves understanding that food isn’t just about physical nourishment but also about pleasure and connecting with others. It’s important to remember that no single meal can make you unhealthy, just like one workout won’t make you fit. Therefore, instead of focusing on strict rules and restrictions, which often lead to stress and anxiety, aim for balance, variety, and moderation in your eating habits.
Cultivating mindfulness is also key – learn how to listen to your body’s hunger and fullness signals rather than being guided solely by external factors. This approach reduces stress and helps create a more relaxed relationship with food. Don’t forget the importance of physical activity – not for burning calories but because it makes you feel good and contributes to overall wellness.
Finally, remember that self-compassion is crucial in this journey. Don’t beat yourself up after indulging or straying from your typical pattern – instead, view it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Treat every new day as a fresh start towards balanced eating habits free from unnecessary anxiety!
Alex is a fitness aficionado, empowers others towards healthier, active lives through small, sustainable changes for lasting results. Visit Gearuptofit.com for insightful tips and resources to enrich a balanced lifestyle.