Intuitive eating is a self-care nutrition framework that helps you make peace with food and your body. If you’re not familiar with intuitive eating and PCOS, I have an entire blog post about it here and I have a free workbook for intuitive eating and PCOS here.
I wanted to spend some time going through each principle more in-depth, starting with the first principle: “Reject the Diet Mentality”.
Let’s chat about what the diet mentality is, how it’s harmful, and go over some tips for letting go of it when you have PCOS!
What is the Diet Mentality?
The diet mentality means that your focus is on weight when it comes to food choices. It’s extremely common in the PCOS space, and can present in different ways.
The diet mentality can present itself as…..
- Focusing on weight loss in your eating habits for PCOS: You might follow a particular diet to achieve a certain weight – not to nourish your body. You might also think that adding a variety of foods to your diet is a bad thing.
If you’ve been told to lose weight to help your PCOS symptoms, you’ve probably chosen to restrict foods to shed some weight. This is completely understandable! However, there are other ways to manage PCOS.
- Feeling like you have to follow a set of food rules: This comes up in the PCOS space as rules like “cut out all sugar”, “skip breakfast”, or “cut out gluten”. If you’re not following any food rules, then you’re being ‘bad’ or not doing as well as those who do follow food rules.
- Having fears about not dieting: You might think, “If I stop dieting, I’ll just eat cake all day”. Right?
This fear is completely valid because it’s exactly what diet culture teaches us. But this rarely happens. After you heal your relationship with food (which takes time), you’ll probably find yourself enjoying a variety of all foods!
- “Sneaky” dieting, even if you’re not following a specific diet.
Maybe you realize that cutting out all sugar or gluten isn’t realistic for managing your PCOS. But do you still count calories? Skip meals and drink coffee instead? Stop eating at 6 PM – even if you’re hungry after? Those are all sneaky dieting behaviors.
The diet mentality shows up all the time in our society and in the PCOS space. The diet mentality isn’t just ineffective, it is harmful.
How is the Diet Mentality Harmful?
The diet mentality is harmful for most people, and those with PCOS are no exception.
- Diets have a high fail rate – about 95%. That’s right, it’s that high. This means that ~95% of people who lose weight on a diet will gain that weight back within ~5 years. At least half will end up at a higher weight than before. People often cycle through these periods of weight loss and weight gain from dieting, which is called “weight cycling”.
- Weight cycling makes insulin resistance and inflammation worse. These are already common PCOS symptoms. Losing weight and gaining it back only makes them worse.
- Dieting makes you more likely to binge. Binge eating is already common with PCOS. When you diet, it usually involves some sort of restriction. Restricting food causes hunger and cravings, which can set you up for binge eating. I talk more about binge eating in this blog post.
- Affects Mental Health. I come across this too often with my clients. They receive so much pressure to lose weight, which becomes stressful and plays a role in things like anxiety and depression.
Tips for PCOS and Intuitive Eating: Letting Go of the Diet Mentality
Now that you know how harmful the diet mentality is with PCOS, you might think “Now what?” and “How can I care for my PCOS without dieting?”. Here are some tips to get you started.
- Ditch the tools that you might use for dieting
- Do you use any tools to control how much you eat?
Maybe you use a food scale or measuring cups to control your portions.
I’m not suggesting that you get rid of these items completely. Sometimes they’re important in certain recipes, especially for baking. I am referring to using these items as a way to strictly control your portions instead of relying on your body’s hunger and fullness cues.
- Do you use any tools to tell you if your body is too large or too small?
Maybe you regularly hop on the scale to check your weight. Or you use a measuring tape to see how many inches you’ve lost or gained.
Again, these tools could be necessary at times. For example, your doctor may monitor your weight if you have a lot of swelling. Or you might use the measuring tape to see what size you are when online shopping. But if you’re using these to determine how you feel about your body, it may be time to let them go.
- Be kind to yourself
Don’t feel guilty about old weight loss attempts. You were just doing what society – and maybe your healthcare team – told you to do. Especially with PCOS, you’re constantly told that you need to lose weight to manage the condition. This is not your fault, AND you deserve to know about other ways to improve your PCOS symptoms.
Letting go of the diet mentality also does not happen overnight. Approaching PCOS and Intuitive Eating will take time, and it may require support.
- Focus on your health, but with a different mindset
- Choose to move your body because it feels helps improve insulin levels for PCOS – not to punish yourself for eating
- Eat foods that you enjoy and make you feel good physically – not the lowest calorie foods
- Focus on your labs or ability to listen to hunger cues as measures of success – not number on the scale
Final thoughts about PCOS and Intuitive Eating
PCOS and intuitive eating can seem difficult when most PCOS advice is about losing weight or dieting. The diet mentality is ingrained in society and PCOS care, which makes it even more challenging. However, there are plenty of ways to care for your PCOS without dieting. It will take time, but you CAN get to a place where the diet mentality isn’t taking over your thoughts.