By Katie, 1:54 pm

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you probably already know how I feel about dieting. And if you don’t, this little graphic sums it up quite nicely.


I won’t go into why I’m so anti-dieting because I’ve written about that before – if you want to read more, you can check out the post I wrote back in February on ditching the diet mentality.

Instead I’d like to discuss a little trap I’ve fallen into in the past: pseudo-dieting.

Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch discuss the idea of pseudo-dieting in their classic book Intuitive Eating. They explain that pseudo-dieting is when we say we’ve given up on dieting, and yet still continue to hold on to certain dieting thoughts – which then usually sneak back into our lives in the form of dieting behaviors. Basically, pseudo-dieting means that what we say doesn’t always match up with what we think or what we do.

The authors give several examples of what pseudo-dieting can look like:

  • Meticulously counting calories, fat grams, etc.
  • Eating only “safe” foods.
  • Eating only at certain times of the day (like the notorious “No Eating After 6:00 PM” rule).
  • “Compensating” for eating certain foods (such as forcing yourself to exercise more after eating a piece of cake).
  • Restricting food intake in any way.

When I first started learning to eat intuitively, I definitely fell into the pseudo-dieting trap. For me, it manifested itself in the act of leaving a bite of food on my plate. I became obsessed with making sure I never finished everything, always leaving behind a nibble of my sandwich or a bite of my chicken.

The big problem with pseudo-dieting is that it’s usually unconscious; we often don’t even realize we’re engaged in it. I definitely didn’t. I honestly believed that leaving food on my plate all the time was a sign that I was listening to my body’s signals and stopping when I was full. The truth, however, was that I wasn’t listening to my hunger/fullness cues at all; rather, I was subjecting myself to yet another dieting rule, just under the mask of intuitive eating.

At first I denied this to no end. In fact, it took a tough-love conversation from Dave to make me really see what was going on. Once I accepted that I was indeed holding onto the diet mentality, even in a subtle or unconscious way, then I could begin to challenge those thoughts. Because deep down I knew that a life of dieting – even in disguise – was never going to work.

Pseudo-dieting is definitely still something I struggle with. It can creep up even when I have the best intentions, even when on the outside it looks like I’ve got the whole intuitive eating thing under control. The key for me is continually being self-reflective, continually challenging myself and my true motivations. Doing so allows me to say, with honesty and integrity, that I truly reject the diet mentality.

What do you think about pseudo-dieting? Have you ever struggled with it? Do you agree that it can easily creep into our lives, even when we have the best intentions?

34 Responses to “Pseudo-Dieting”

  1. Candice says:

    I definitely understand what you mean and I think it’s healthy to move away from pseudo-dieting. Before I feel ready to do that, I must teach myself healthy eating as a habit. I’ve only been at my goal weight since last December. So at this point, I am still counting WeightWatchers points, but just for non-filling foods on the Simply Filling technique. Keeping a food journal helps me keep track of what I eat, but I am trying to learn to eat intuitively.

  2. I do think that it can creep back in really easily and this is something I have struggled with because of all of my food allergies. It sometimes feels hard not to get caught up in all the rules. Sometimes, I have to question myself and ask if certain thought patterns are legit or if they are psuedo dieting in disguise.

  3. i totally love this post and agree with ur view points. even when we try our best its so easy to fall into the pseudo-diet trap. i mean its around our society 24/7 that its bound to rub off on us in some form or another. but it feels good when we can get it off our minds and focus on just enjoy life and feeding our bodies, our minds, our souls.. and not putting rules or attachements to it, or what we eat. xoxo <3

  4. i think it’s all about the heart you go into the situation with. if you do it because you know that you really don’t need to eat 12 candy bars, that seems like a normal thought. there’s a difference between being aware of what you eat and dieting, but if you’re constantly eating in a way that is supposed to make you lose weight, that’s when it gets ugly.

  5. Hey! As women we forever have that horrible sense of dieting in our heads. I’ve been on a diet since I was in 6th grade.(thank you ballet) Although the last 2 years I have taken that word out of my vocabulary it’s always in the back on my mind. But I do eat healthy now! I learned it’s not about short term goals- eating is about long term change. This is what really benefits the body

  6. Tina says:

    Pseudo-dieting is VERY real. It is hard to let go of all the rules we have acquired over our lives. Even focusing on “healthy” too much and depriving yourself of something you enjoy and leaving unsatisfied is pseudo-dieting. It is such a fine line and hard to recognize like you said. Great info!

  7. Great post and something that isn’t focused on ENOUGH. I pseudo-dieted for the past year minus the last 2 months or so. I thought I was doing a good job bc I was branching out and eating things that werent considered safe to me, but inside I was still rebelling and feeling guilty and practicing dieting activities.

    Pseudo dieting is just as bad as dieting I think!

  8. What a fabulous post! I think this is really true and hits home for a lot of people! I try really hard to just allow myself what I want but every so often those psuedo diet thoughts do rear their ugly head and I have consciously “check” myself!

  9. Erica says:

    I have never heard of pseudo-dieting. Thanks for sharing this with us. After you have explained it, although I would not say I am there right now, I know that it probably has occurred and like you said I most likely did not even notice.

  10. Totally still get stuck with this mentality! We’ve discussed comparing ourselves to others while eating and that’s still a big one for me. I also have a hard time accepting a day without exercise when it’s also been an indulgent day with food. I have to constantly tell myself that one day or meal doesn’t ruin everything I’ve accomplished! But, it’s certainly not easy! Thanks for writing about it!

  11. This post really resonates with me. I gave up my restrictive eating habits a few months ago, but I still don’t feel like I have truly let go. It’s hard to draw the line though you know? I mean, if I pass up a piece of cake at a friend’s birthday, am I being healthy or am I being restrictive? It’s so hard to tell!

  12. Michelle says:

    WHAT A GREAT POST! I knew I was struggling mentally with the weight maintenance issue (I’ve only been at my goal weight for a few months now), but couldn’t really put into words what those “struggles” are. Hello Pseudo-Dieting! I feel like I’ve made some small strides….only weighing myself once a week….no longer journaling calories, although I must admit there is usually a daily tally in my head. But there are also SO many areas I need to work on in terms of relaxing my eating & excercising “peudo-dieting” rules. Thanks so much for providing me this lightbulb moment. I think I’ll go have some milk and cookies with my little girls!

  13. Jess says:

    What a great post. I know that I get caught up in it – even when I am eating “whatever I want” – it feels like the thoughts are always kindof there. Now I just accept them and if they don’t get in the way of my life then I am fine with them. I am okay with needing some structure some of the time ; )

    I agree with Chealsea though – it is hard to determine if I am just making educated healthy choices, even if I want that piece of cake, or if I am denying myself something that I should just have.

  14. Holly says:

    Gosh, this is SO eye opening to me! It’s sad, but I definitely still do a lot of those things. :-( I don’t ever “feel” like I’m on a diet because I’ll still have sweets at times, but that doesn’t mean I’ve fully let go of that diet mentality. And the ironic thing? I hate it when people go on “diets”, because I don’t think they work and they can lead to unhealthy thinking!

    Thank you for this post. I’m reading a new book and it’s REALLY been helping to open my eyes on how I need to let go of some of those rules!!

  15. I would be one to say I’ve never been on a diet. Lie. Once you consider these signs of pseudo-dieting I realize i’ve been on more than one. Restriciton and calorie counting have had their time in my life, but i’m working on the intuitive thing. It’s hard, though, with all the “advice” that’s out there.

  16. Tamara says:

    I totally pseudo-diet, but I know I’m doing it. I know I should stop counting calories, but I keep tallying it up! I know I should just eat whenever I’m hungry, and not worry about how late it is, but if it’s 11pm I just can’t bring myself to put something in my tummy. I’ve gotten a lot better about compensating, though–food and exercise are almost unrelated in my mind now.

  17. Yet another incredibly insightful post! Pseudo-dieting is something I’ve never really thought about, but I can definitely think of a few dieting habits that like to sneak in my life every once in a while. The biggest one I would say is feeling like I HAVE to eat some sort of fruit or veggie with every meal. Sure, it’s a healthy habit, but it’s not exactly intuitive eating. That’s where “eating healthy” gets so confusing for me sometimes!

  18. This was an enlightening post. Thank you!! I just ordered the book Intuitive Eating and am looking forward to what it says about “dieting” and all that icky stuff =P

  19. I think this is such an easy trap to fall into. While I’d like to proudly proclaim that I’m totally free of any sort of diet mentality, I definitely catch myself thinking this way…and honestly sometimes it’s hard not to! It can be hard to separate out doing something because you feel like you have to or because you feel/think your body needs it. But…like you said, it depends on the true intentions behind what you’re doing. And this can only be discovered by constantly reflecting, as well as being 100% honest with yourself.

  20. Run Sarah says:

    I think I pseudo-diet to some extent and try not to fall in the trap too much. It can be such a hard balance beween being healthy and being over-obsessive.

  21. I definitely am guilty of this like everyone. I think one thing I see is restricting my next meal when I thought my last was overindulgent, or having like, three different nonnutritious snacks for “dinner” instead of something filling and delicious because i wanted to have a “treat” (like eating popcorn, hot chocolate and a rusk or two for dinner). Not cool. Need to work on it.

  22. Jessie says:

    This is so true, Katie. Like you, I’m against the DIET DIET DIET mentality, but some of the things you mentioned have snuck into my own life. Like unconsciously totaling calories and “no eating after 7pm” <– still working on that one. I think it's great that you're bringing this to our attention, so that we can eat with more awareness.

  23. Jessica says:

    Just over a year ago I decided to get healthy and loose weight. I went on what I thought was a diet. I continue that diet today. I thought it was limiting food, but really, it was eating what I should have been eating all along. I don’t think you need to diet either.

  24. Elina says:

    I am definitely against diets although I do try to have some “rules” like limiting the # of treats/day (or at least being aware when I exceed that “ideal” amount) and trying to go veggie heavy at one meal (like lunch) if I know my other one will be heavier (like dinner). Is that pseudo-dieting? I’m not sure :)

  25. Yes, I have definitely fallen trap to pseudo dieting!

    I used to have this thing where I only wanted to have eaten 1,000 calories (or less) by dinner time. So my breakfast, lunches, and snacks could not go past 1,000. Weird, huh? Once in a while I still find that I tally things up, but then I just tell my brain to shut up! I don’t weigh or measure anything anymore, so I really have no clue how much I am eating (nor do I care how much it is…I care about what my body needs and wants).

    Great post!

  26. Love this post! I am definitely guilty of pseudo-dieting as well. Like you, I often leave food on my plate for the sake of showing myself (and maybe others) that I can “listen” to my body rather than eating everything in sight. However, my body is often telling me it wants more!

    It’s a challenge to overcome the diet mentality when we’re bombarded by such messages in all facets of life. However, I think our best defense is AWARENESS. If we are conscious of our vulnerability to these messages, I think it’s easier to fight back. Posts like this help tremendously! :)

  27. Nicole, RD says:

    Wow! I think most people are pseudo dieters, unfortunately! Myself included! I wonder if it’s just not possible for some to completely let go and have it be 100% all-natural to eat as we were intended to. I think our world just has it set out for us in that that’s not realistic. I just don’t know!

  28. brandi says:

    It’s so easy for these little things to creep into our lives before we even know it! They become habits so easily and then we’re doing them without even realizing it.

  29. Awesome awesome post. I love you for bringing this up. It’s so true that we unintentionally carry with us the years of diet mentality. It’s incredibly hard for me to not at least “know” the numbers of calories. Calorie counting felt like my job for a few years when I lost all of the weight, so dropping it and trying to forget about the math is really hard. And I agree with your sentiment of feeling like you needed to leave at least something behind on your plate. Like intuitive eating meant realizing you could do with less? A hard concept to really embrace, but utterly worthwhile!

    You are simply wonderful

  30. Hayley says:

    I guess this answers my question about your eating style!! I absolutely love this post and agree with you 100%. Your blog is so encouraging and inspiring! Thank you for putting it out there.. :)

    • Katie says:

      I’m so glad you’re liking the blog! :)

      I replied to your previous comment, but I don’t think you saw it because I was having some issues with the commenting function…but yes, this pretty much explains my eating style! While I do believe that measuring and calorie-counting can be helpful for some people, for me, anything that resembles a “diet” turns ugly pretty fast. The only way I’ve been able to maintain a healthy weight is by listening to my body, and by choosing mostly whole, unprocessed foods. It’s been quite liberating!

  31. I saw your reply to me on the Nest about intuitive eating and instantly dug into your blog. I have loved reading it! GREAT blog. I find intuitive eating hard and do find that I pseudo-diet more than I want to. For me it’s the guilt. Not knowing if I was “good” bc I’m not counting my points. I don’t want to diet EVER again so I need to work through this, but it sure is hard!

    • Katie says:

      I hear ya! Sometimes it still feels like dieting in some shape or form is second nature to me, so I’m constantly working to challenge that. Because I honestly was never able to maintain a healthy weight while I was dieting – it was always up and down. Intuitive eating has been the only thing that’s worked for me, but like you said, it really isn’t easy. I’m still working on it!

      So glad you’re enjoying the blog!!! :)

  32. [...] overwhelming guilt afterward. That’s because – in a way very similar to the notion of pseudo-dieting – saying nothing is off limits and actually living out that principle are two very different [...]

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