WTH is a “diet mentality”?

The first principle of Intuitive Eating (IE) is to reject, or ditch, the diet mentality. But WTH does that mean? What is a diet mentality? And how do you ditch it?

Intuitive Eating Principle 1, with Sumner Brooks—Listen to the RD Real Talk episode!

What is a diet mentality?

This is something I find myself explaining often! Because for the most part, there’s no question about what a DIET is. (Well, I argue there’s some misunderstanding about what a diet does for you, but we’ll get there.) A diet is a meal plan, a set of rules, something that dictates what, when, how, and why you eat. It holds the reigns; it’s the puppet master of everything from your pantry to your plate. It gives you “structure”, a false sense of security and control.

A diet mentality isn’t so different, but it’s a little bit harder to recognize. You may filter all of your food choices through a diet mentality, largely without realizing it. This may be because you want to eat “healthy” as often as possible, or have done so many diets that certain rules linger on, or because you don’t want to “diet”, but you want your body to look and feel a certain way.

A diet mentality definition

With a diet mentality, the inner monologue around food choices may read a little something like this:

  • I can’t have ___ for breakfast; it’s not healthy. 
  • It’s past 7pm, so I shouldn’t eat.
  • I’m having ___ for lunch, because I know dinner will be carb-heavy (or insert whatever else dinner might be). 
  • I only eat carbs before a run.  
  • I eat a big breakfast and light dinner. 
  • I don’t eat added sugars, they’re no good for you. 
  • I never have fast food! 
  • I don’t eat red meat because of the saturated fats. 
  • I only eat ___ calories at meals. 
  • I shouldn’t have a snack yet, because I just had breakfast an hour ago. 

When you feel hungry, a diet mentality may ask things like:

  • When was the last time I ate? 
  • Why didn’t ____ meal fill me up?
  • How many calories is ____?
  • What healthy snacks do I have available?

Or it may try to convince you to skip a snack (or meal) altogether.

Some of those statements and questions might seem more diet-y than others, but the truth is they ALL fit under a diet mentality. And this list is just a few off the top of my head—things I’ve heard clients say, or that have popped up during this section of our Fit Fueling course.

A diet mentality is one that decides your food choices for you, without taking hunger, fullness, cravings, daily life fluctuations or circumstances, or personal food preferences into account. It prioritizes “health” (we think) and weight management (i.e. body manipulation).

A diet mentality allows for very little wiggle room—even when you think you’re being flexible, you’re contemplating how to “balance things out” at the next meal, or with your next workout.

A diet mentality is ever-present, battering you with a set of questions (i.e. food filters) before you can decide what to eat.

A diet mentality clouds, or completely blocks, your ability to tune into what your body needs, and what it’s telling you every day. In other words: Under the thumb of a diet mentality, you cannot eat intuitively.

Start ditching your diet mentality

Step 1: Give your diet mentality a big đź™… NOPE.
Step 2: Start to recognize your food filters. Make a list, tell a friend, talk to a dietitian. Whatever may help!
Step 3: Pick ONE diet/food rule at a time to work through, and go from there.

As you work to eat more intuitively, you develop a sense of self trust. If you trust a diet more than you trust what your body is trying to tell you, you’ll never be able to tap into your intuition.

This principle has to be first; it’s essential to understand that diets are not to be trusted, nor is the diet mentality.

— — — — — —

Listen to my chat with Sumner Brooks to learn more about this Intuitive Eating principle, and why we start with ditching a diet mentality before diving into everything else.

Enjoying the podcast and IE series? Leave a review on iTunes! 


  1. January 10, 2018

    Fantastic post!!! Slapped me in the face!!!! Thanks, Heather!!!

  2. I really appreciate this post, Heather. As someone who’s been trying to learn intuitive eating for several years, I know giving up dieting and giving up the diet mentality are two separate things. It’s really hard to let go of those voices ingrained in my head; the “I shouldn’t snack now, it’s too soon before or after a meal” is a big one for me that I find super-hard to let go of. I also really appreciate your advice to work on one food rule at a time. It can feel really unmanageable to try to tackle it all at once.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be made public.