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Diet Baggage


Have you ever heard this term, “diet baggage”? I don’t know if it exists or if I made it up but it’s real. I can tell within ten minutes of meeting with a new client whether he or she suffers from this “condition”.

Symptoms may include (but are not limited to):

  • Confusion about what diet to trust or choose, even AFTER choosing one

  • Thinking some food groups are always bad, even if limited

  • Thinking some food groups are always good, even unlimited

  • Frequent switching from plan to plan in the hopes of finding “the best one”

  • Reading up on diets from non reliable sources such as the internet or magazines

  • Inability to commit or stick to something long term in the hopes of finding something better

  • Inability to trust the practitioner

If you recognize yourself in 2 or more of the above, you may have diet baggage. Diet baggage comes from having been on many different diets and being so burnt out that you no longer trust or are fully willing to commit yourself to a new plan. Someone who has diet baggage also has many ideas and principles accumulated from past dieting and is unwilling to let them go, even if they weren’t working. As one of my favorite sayings goes, “The definition of insanity is doing something over and over and expecting different results”.

Here are some scenarios:

(Names have been changed)

Lizzie tells me during the initial visit that she has always eaten very healthy and has no idea why she gained 40 pounds in the last year. She exercises, drinks water, doesn’t have any junk in the house and only eats healthy foods. Upon further inquiry, I discover Lizzie has been eating a very high fat diet, all stemming from healthy fats. She adds chia seeds to her morning smoothie, a whole avocado to lunch, several spoons of olive oil to her salads and snacks on full fat peanut butter with apples daily. When I tell Lizzie we have to cut out her fats, she objects saying healthy fats are good for you.

Moshe is an all or none kind of guy. He’s either extreme dieting or completely out of control with food. He weighs 350 pounds on consult day. Most of the food planning goes well until I happen to mention that he can drink diet soda in moderation. Moshe gets all upset that I would even suggest that when this is supposed to be a healthy plan and everyone knows soda isn’t healthy.

I try to explain to Moshe that he didn’t get to be 350 pounds from drinking diet soda and that perhaps one of the reasons his other diets didn’t work out is because they were too restrictive. Maybe now with some “normal” allowances, he would actually stick to the plan and lose weight. After all, being 350 pounds is a lot more dangerous than drinking some diet soda.

While the two above scenarios were related food beliefs, some people have diet baggage about their weight capabilities. They get stuck on a number that they feel they can’t go under or even over. Did I just confuse you?

I’ll give you an example for each:

Mindy has always been a size 2. Even after all 4 babies she quickly got back to herself without much effort. Now, after baby number 5 and struggling to lose the weight for almost a year, she came to me for help. When I explain to Mindy that she will have to follow a plan, drink enough water and see slow loss since she has very little to lose, she gets frustrated. In her mind this should be as it always was: super easy and require minimal effort. She EXPECTS to be 105 pounds again and FAST, WITHOUT much effort. Lest you think Mindy is being ridiculous, she’s simply having (lack of) diet baggage in the sense that she’s expecting things to be as they always were.

Chaya has always been overweight, even as a child. At her wedding 12 years ago, after strict dieting she managed to get to a size 12 and felt amazing. 12 years and 5 kids later, she is 40 pounds heavier. When I ask Chaya her goal weight, she says “I would love to be a size 12 again but it’s probably not possible so I’ll settle for 20-25 pounds down”. I don’t argue with anyone’s personal weight goals. I put a BMI chart in their packet and they can clearly see whether it’s within range.

After six months, Chaya exceeds her goal and is almost back to her wedding weight. She tells me that there is “NO WAY” she can get even lower than her wedding weight because:

  • It’s been 12 years
  • She’s had 5 children
  • She’s older
  • Her body changed
  • She got to that size 12 with extreme dieting and now she’s eating normally

I explain to Chaya that for her height she can definitely lose more and just because she’s never been there doesn’t mean she won’t get there. So as you see from the different scenarios, diet baggage applies to weight expectations too, low OR high.

What makes diet baggage even worse these days?

The internet! “Dr. Google” tells people all kinds of things that they add to their diet baggage list.

What’s wrong with having diet baggage?

When you suffer from diet baggage, you have a hard time giving your all or committing yourself to the plan you’re on currently.

Picture being in a restaurant, ordering something delicious, having it right in front of you and even enjoying it. Meanwhile, you’re wondering if you should have ordered something else or gone to the restaurant you went to last week. Instead, you already chose this place, your delicious food is in front of you, you even have to pay for it… why not just fully be present? If you have a Halacha Shaila, you’re supposed to ask a Rav. As the Torah says, “Ase lecha rav”. It specifies Rav in singular form, not plural. You’re not supposed to go shopping around for the most convenient opinion. While I’m by no means comparing nutritionists to rabbanim, if you choose a program, stop mixing and matching. Stick to one program fully.

How to get rid of diet baggage?

While it’s ok to hold back a little in the beginning of a new plan and be afraid to fully trust it, once you see it’s working for you and makes sense long term, TRUST IT. Stop being afraid of specific foods or methods. Trust the person with whom you’re working, commit yourself to ONE plan and succeed!