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Is Your Diet Your Religion?

by Elise Museles

is your diet your religion?Is eating bread a sin?

Will consuming a piece of chicken buy you a ticket to purgatory?

A box of chocolate truffles. Uh oh. Straight to hell.

Sure, these are extreme examples. But, let’s examine the common patterns of thought that people can fall into when they follow popular diets. Oftentimes, they treat the way they eat almost like a religion.

In the Atkins glory days, it was the low-carb lover glaring at anyone who dared to serve them a bun (or a side of carrots) with their burger.

Maybe, it’s a vegan with a long explanation about the merits of going dairy free, and why they won’t eat the cheese at the cocktail party.

Or, a “raw foodist” who preaches about the reasons why you must never cook your food above 118 degrees. Ever.

Other times, a “Paleo” swears up and down that you need to eat like our ancestors, the cavemen, and consume mostly meats, berries, nuts and leafy greens…never a grain.

No matter what your dietary choices, I bet you have a passionate plea you can’t wait to deliver at the dinner table.

And, while I’m all about speaking up for what you believe in and making food choices aligned with your values & goals – partaking in dietary dogma can be a dangerous practice for your health. Here’s why:

When you spend most of your time justifying your food choices (“I’m forbidden from eating that,” “No, that’s cheating”), you put your nutritional plan at the center of everything you do (and think.) In extreme cases, you become fanatical. A true food zealot.

Trying to religiously follow whatever’s set down by your expert or diet of the moment creates a whole heap of negative emotions: guilt, anxiety, shame… and even fear of listening to what your body really wants.

You feel terrible when you slip-up, as if you’ve displeased the almighty creator of the principles your diet was founded on. If you reach for something not included on the prescribed menu, you feel like you should be heading straight for confessional.

Can you relate?

I can, too.

Once upon a time, I was a food zealot myself {sheepish grin.}

I read every single diet book out there, and gave almost every diet a whirl, too. (Of course, there are nuggets of wisdom in all the different nutritional theories.)

To me, each one became gospel.

The problem: even if I was eating in a way that was good for me, I put a massive amount of pressure on myself to stick to the “plan” exactly – no matter what my body was saying to me.

I didn’t allow myself any room for deviation, because the rules made me feel protected and safe. They helped me feel in “control.” After all, I believed the experts knew better than I did.

The truth is that because I silenced my intuition in favor of someone else’s formula, I lost touch with my natural ability to feed myself.

But, that method of ardently following a dietary theory to a tee just set me up for constant disappointment and a lot of negative self-talk when I couldn’t abide by those rules every second of every day.

This was my story… until I threw away the rulebook and began listening to my body and what it really needed.

Did guilt try to knock at my door? Yep. But in the end, the benefits of giving my body the love and nourishment it was asking for won out.

I kept reminding myself: as long as I was eating whole, real foods, I wasn’t betraying my body. I was serving it. .

Get out of your head by listening to your body

In the long run, food zealotry causes more harm than that piece of sourdough bread or those few strips of bacon. Anxiety and shame around food releases the whole cascade of stress hormones that interfere with the way you metabolize (and enjoy) a meal.

Playing around with different nutritional theories with a curious mind and figuring out what works for your unique system is an essential part of learning to be your own nutritionist. But you don’t have to become religious about whatever “plan” you’re exploring.

When you let go of dietary dogma and focus on eating the foods that nourish you instead, you release the all-or-nothing attitude around what you put in your body.

Let’s say you try a vegan diet and realize you love a lot of the colorful dishes filled with deeply pigmented fruits & veggies. Great, include more plant-based foods! But if you end up eating the slice of cheese every now and then, know that it’s likely not the end of the world.

If you want to give a Paleo diet a spin, and realize that you feel better without the excess grains, cut them down… but you don’t have to ban brown rice for the rest of your life.

Allowing ourselves space to relax and enjoy our food feels a lot better than demonizing entire food groups (tweet this!), and freaking out about what Dr. Atkins would have said, or what the caveman might have argued regarding that occasional serving of pasta.

Now, the spotlight’s on you…

Do you treat your diet as if it’s your religion? Instead of following everything to a “tee”, list one way you plan to gently deviate and release your all-or-nothing attitude. I’ll start:

While I follow a mostly sugar free eating style, I allow myself to enjoy my favorite rich & decadent chocolate dessert on those occasions when I feel like indulging.

Your turn! Share your ideas in the comments below.

11 Responses to Is Your Diet Your Religion?

  1. Lana Shlafer February 6, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

    Love this post Elisa and totally agree to ditching dietary dogma and embracing loving yourself and the food you eat. I have a mantra that I use: “I love what I eat and what I eat loves me.” I recently began training with a personal trainer and she wanted to give me a “lifestyle” diet – it felt so empowering to tell her that I already love my live-it (not diet!) and my body and I am only hiring her to make sure I take time out to do some movement on days when I tend to get so busy and inspired when I run my MasterMinds and see clients!

    • Teree Lay February 6, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

      I love this post! I am totally stressed and confused at the moment as I seem to always get caught up in “Dietary Dogma” and so want to embrace loving myself along with my food choices! I used to trust my instincts…which at this moment seem like a foreign concept. Thank you Lana for sharing your mantra…it totally resonated with my sole this morning and I plan to incorporate it into my daily affirmations! I’m excited at the prospect of reconnecting to my inner pilot light and and trusting myself again! Thanks to you Elise for bring this subject to Light~

      • Elise February 6, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

        Teree, I am excited for you about the energy and enthusiasm you have towards reconnecting with your inner pilot light and trusting yourself again. Thank you for sharing your story here. There are a lot of us who can relate to your words. xo

    • Elise February 6, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

      Lana! I love your mantra… and, of course, your live-it (non diet). Thanks for always sharing your thoughtful insights:).

  2. Melissa Burkheimer February 7, 2014 at 3:26 am #

    Instead of pinching calories, I’m going to eat healthy food that makes me feel so good! Thanks for the inspiration Elise!

    • Elise February 7, 2014 at 3:31 am #

      Melissa, great decision to nourish your body!

  3. Lorna February 7, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

    Oh my gosh Elise–you described me to a “tee”. I lived with dietary dogma for so many years. I, like you, finally saw the harm it was doing me. That somehow I had attached my sense of self to whether I could follow a particular eating program–that if I could I was “good” and if not I was “bad”. Thank heavens all that is behind me. I do eat gluten free, but that is for health reasons. Other than that I allow myself to eat whatever my body craves. And luckily that is mostly good, whole foods (but not always!).

    • Elise February 8, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

      Hi Lorna,
      I so relate to that “good” and “bad” mentality, and like you, it feels good not to label myself (and my food) that way anymore. I intentionally did not include gluten free in this conversation because for many people, they either don’t have a choice or for others they have found that they feel better removing gluten. (This post was not written for people who chose their diet/lifestyle for moral medical reasons.) Thanks for sharing your story here:).

  4. Silvia February 7, 2014 at 5:06 pm #

    Elise, I’ve never followed a diet dogma but it’s so pervasive that I at times feel GUILTY and lazy and wrong that I don’t! So glad you wrote this!! It’s truly amazing how heated discussions can get over what someone decides to eat or not eat. i just don’t get it. Why does anyone care what I decide to put into my mouth? Sure we can guide and encourage people but as long as junk food isn’t their diet (which we all know will do harm) what they eat is a personal choice. Everyone’s needs are different and only they truly know what that is. But to open the pathway to this information (like everything else) it takes clearing away the junk so we can hear and feel our body’s wisdom. Great job Elise…as always.

    • Elise February 8, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

      Silvia, so well said! Thank you for always sharing your wisdom with all of us. xoxo

  5. Desiree East February 8, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

    Gosh, if there is one think I loathe, it’s going on ‘diets’. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever gone on any type of diet at all…too much work. LOL.

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