4 Ways You Can Let Go of Dieting Rules and Trust Yourself

by | Dec 13, 2021 | Blog, Self Care, Social

Seven years ago, I was ready to quit being a dietitian.

I don’t mean quit my job as a dietitian, I mean the whole field altogether! I was so tired of dishing out arbitrary food rules, and tired of feeling like my clients were scared to tell me what they ate in a day for fear of judgment. I wanted to provide a space where people could celebrate food and enjoy their meals. I wanted to provide a space for nuanced conversations about body image, instead of assuming a body needed to change or even shrink. And I wanted these things for myself, too! 

 Then I realized what I was actually tired of was diet culture. Thanks to a series of fortunate events, I discovered the intuitive eating approach to nutrition. I realized that this intuitive eating approach celebrates joy, pleasure, and satisfaction with food. This non-diet approach also celebrates all kinds of bodies. And it reminds you to trust yourself and your body’s unique cues, instead of constantly searching for the next “best” diet to tell you how to eat. 


Intuitive eating is an approach to nutrition that puts you back in your own driver’s seat. Everyone is born with this intuition—knowing your hunger and fullness cues, knowing your personal food preferences, and most importantly trusting your own body. But over time culture’s obsession with diets, food rules, and “healthy eating” sends the message that you can’t trust yourself, instead you have to trust the diets. 

I invite you to challenge these diet rules and let go of them even if just for today. It’s scary, I know. Most people have spent years looking to the next diet or the next set of rules, and even find some comfort in being told what to eat. Trying to eat more intuitively actually won’t feel intuitive right away, which, understandably, feels frustrating. 

The process of letting go of diets can take a long time; there’s no rush! But if you’re tired of dieting, and tired of following all these rules, I hope these four tips feel refreshing and maybe even exciting. 


Whether you’ve heard of intuitive eating or you’re currently on a diet (or both), I hope I can interest you in rediscovering joy with food and remembering that your body knows how to nourish itself. Consider this an introduction to intuitive eating. 

  1. Write down the rules you’re currently using to determine what you eat. Set a timer for fifteen minutes and write down everything you can think of that feels like a diet rule. I know that some of the things you come up with feel helpful. (Like “eat five fruits and vegetables each day.”) Some things will probably surface from years ago—like that one time a group fitness instructor told you to “never have white bread,” or your best friend said it’s “healthier” to eat gluten free. There is no right or wrong way to make this list, and it’s totally normal to have a lot of food rules. (Every client I’ve worked with can easily come up with a whole page of rules).. You don’t have to do anything with this list just yet (or ever). But simply being aware of how many rules you try to follow on a daily basis can be eye-opening! Look at this list and think, “What would it feel like to erase these from my mind?” (You don’t have to do that now or ever, just be curious about what it would feel like.)

  2. Write down a list of foods you LIKE. What do you like to eat? I always ask my clients  this question. Some people can answer easily and quickly. But when people have dieted for most of their life, or even most of the last few years, it can take them a few minutes to come up with an answer. Diets teach you what foods you like, instead of asking you what foods you like. Yet, what kind of diet will be sustainable if you are constantly eating things you don’t love, or even like? And to answer a common question about this exercise: YES, it’s okay to like “healthy” foods. Diets don’t get to own these foods. For example: I love a great salad. Watermelon is definitely one of my favorite foods. I love mint chocolate chip ice cream. I love really crispy French fries. And I don’t think any of those foods are different from each other. 

  3. Think about the last diet you tried. What worked and what didn’t? I find that for many people who are trying to let go of dieting, an “aha moment” comes when they realize how many diets they’ve tried, and how often they go looking for another one (or new rules to follow). The secret that the diet industry doesn’t want you to know: diets almost never work!  Clients will tell me “Well, I tried {diet} and it worked for a while.” But never has it worked indefinitely or felt sustainable for the long-term. Why is that? There are a lot of factors, but one of them is that humans crave autonomy, and aren’t wired to be so rigid with food (or food tracking). You get tired of following the rules and having to track everything!  So, think about the last diet you tried. What did you like? What didn’t you like? Why didn’t it last long-term? If you were to rewrite the story of “it worked until…” try thinking about WHY you stopped following it without any self-judgment. 

  4. Go eat something you like and unsubscribe from any food guilt about it. Yes, of course, there is a lot more to the process of un-learning diets and really letting go of the rules. I won’t tell you this is easy, because I know it’s not. So, for now, I hope you’ll take your time with steps 1-3, and when you’re ready for a meal or snack, eat something you really like! Nourish your mind and body without any guilt about what you’re eating. Just sit and enjoy it, if you can. (Personally, I’m enjoying an iced latte and scone from my favorite coffee shop as I sit and write this.)

If you’re tired of dieting, you’re not alone and there’s nothing wrong with you. I’d say that makes you human, actually! And eating more intuitively is possible, it just may take a little time to get used to a diet-free world. In the meantime, here are some resources that might help: 

 Anti-Diet, by Christy Harrison. A great read with a lot of insight into American diet culture and how harmful it is.

The 17 Best Intuitive Eating Podcasts:” if you’re a podcast person, check some of these out! 

 “Want to heal your relationship to food? Follow these 21 anti-diet experts on Instagram,” via PopSugar. 

 And keep in touch with me! I love hearing about your intuitive eating journey. You can find me @heatherdcRD on Instagram, and via my newsletter. (Or maybe sometimes we’ll SLAM together, if you’re in Colorado or DC!) 

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Heather Caplan is a registered dietitian currently living in Colorado Springs, CO with her three kiddos, husband, and their dog Banana. She has a virtual private practice that specializes in working with parents, reproductive health, and sports nutrition, all from a non-diet approach. Her work has been featured in national publications such as The Washington Post, Runner’s World, Outside Magazine, and Women’s Health.


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