Abel states the diet mentality snares you into confusing “effect with cause”, that dieting to feel better about yourself is exactly backwards, as the stress and anxiety caused by the diet-mentality will never allow you to be free of worrying and stressing over these issues. When you diet to address the supposed cause of your unhappiness (your weight, your appearance), you only ever deal with effects, not causes. The causes are self perception, emotional, how you feel about yourself. It is in coming to these issues already empowered, free of these emotional attachments that a leaner you will manifest, according to Abel, or at least finding these truths once already within the diet-mentality, that feeling inspired in yourself, to look better and feel better, being connected emotionally with your body will result in long-term sustainable results. Just how to do this and how to free yourself of the diet-mentality will be discussed later. (p. 64-66)
This emotional component, of being incomplete, unsure of yourself and potentially unhappy is at the root of the diet-mentality for Abel, and is something he addresses often he talks about how it twists your self perception and emotional unity (which he couches in terms such as “spiritual self”):
Under the influence of the diet-mentality you are starving your spiritual self, as a result of rejecting your external self, while under the pursuit of some diet illusion you think will bring it all together.
It won’t! (Abel, 2015, p.87)
Shame based self-criticism, self-rejection and self-attacking stem from the diet-mentality Abel notes, and are not ways to correct undesired behavior.
From here Abel turns his attention to dieting itself, and immediately he looks to the weight loss industry, critiquing such companies as Weight Watchers stating that even the focus of the company’s name emphasizes the diet-mentality, in the term “Watchers” as if weight is something that needs to be watched, focused on, as he puts it “consciously or subconsciously”. (p. 118) He asks if watching your weight is the goal of a lifetime? No, he would say, but more than this he would say it can’t be . The reason, beyond the aforementioned, this is so is because the best diet is the one you can stick to, repeating Weight Watchers every time you put weight back on, or going low carb as it were every time you need to get in shape misses the point. Sustainability is at the heart of effective and healthy weight control, but as Abel notes Weight Watchers type diet plans fit in precisely with his diet-mentality critique:
[it reinforces] the short-term type of thinking of the diet-mentality. It confuses short-term weight-loss attempts with long-term weight control. (Abel, 2015, p.119)
What of other standard dieting practices such as weighing yourself on a scale? While maintaining a healthy weight and body fat percentage are realistic goals to have notes Abel, he wants to separate the distinction between sustainable and absolute values:
Everyone is likely to have different body-weight set point, a different level of flexibility and metabolic resilience, in terms of how much weight you can lose and maintain.
Everyone is going to have a difference scale-weight that represents “health, vitality and sustainability” FOR THEM. Therefore, aiming for “numbers” on a scale or a percent bodyfat not only confuses the issues, but can cause many of them as well.
The best way to become overweight, proven in study after study (…) is to become a serial dieter.
This fundamental truth is not in dispute among real experts. (Abel, 2015, p.119-120)
Abel does not blame you the dieter however, he lays the fault of this issue solely at the weight-loss industries door, he states it is them (us?) that should be sued for causing weight gain, for promoting dieting system after dieting system, for reinforcing self-destructive behaviors and creating, or at least promoting the diet-mentality en masse.
Going further, and bringing it back to the dieter herself, Abel asks yet again what kind of effect this kind of yo-yo dieting has on the way you process these kind of results within the context of the short-term emphasis of the diet-mentality? He asks to consider the example of someone who has lost some weight on a low-carb diet:
So your diet-mentality dictates to you that you “know” eliminating carbs “works” because you lost weight during so way back when. But you are perpetually blind to the reality that weight lost this way is what caused you to gain back all your weight and even more. You can’t see it, so your diet-mentality tells you to go back to the exact thing that precipitated the weight-gain to begin with. How does this make any sense? Yet this is exactly how the diet-mentality plays out for millions of people every single day, every single year. (Abel, 2015, p.122)
But, how does this work exactly? What is the mechanism by which we lose and re-gain said weight? Abel dubs it the: “post-diet-compensation-resistance-syndrome” and it occurs usually after extreme dieting, in which you find yourself snacking and nibbling, sometimes binging, all the while with the mindset to never go back to all or nothing extremes. You find yourself in a situation where you’ve built up so much of a resistance, due to deprivation, to eating and dieting that you can’t adhere to healthy and normal eating habits. But, Abel notes this is a common self-protecting mechanism (or “emotional reaction compensation”, p. 123) and it can last for years, which can be strengthened by even entertaining another diet strategy. In an attempt to avoid the diet-mentality through avoidance of dieting you actually sabotage even “health ‘diet’ efforts (eating right without dieting).” p. 123 This cycle Abel notes will continue until you brace the self-compassionate mind.
This might be enough for now, we’ll take a closer look at other negative causes associated with the diet-mentality in Part: 1C.
Abel, S. (2015). The Anti-Diet Approach to Weight Loss and Weight Control. Scott Abel.