How to Know if it's a Diet or a Lifestyle

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Is it a diet or a lifestyle?

Diet culture is tricky these days. When you go on a diet, the proprietor of the diet knows it’s a diet, but doesn’t want you to think it’s a diet, so they masquerade the diet behind hollow claims like “this is a lifestyle!

Maybe detoxes, keto, strict Paleo, and Ornish are lifestyles…if you’re a masochist living in Siberia.

Everyone wants a quick fix for a slow problem. And as much as we want to believe that these diets are lifestyles, the unfortunate truth is often born out in the dysfunctional behavior they cause.

In my practice, I can easily tell if a person is on a diet or living an actual lifestyle. Here’s how I discern between the two.

If you constantly have visions of “naughty foods” in your brain, you might be on a diet!

If you constantly have visions of “naughty foods” in your brain, you might be on a diet!

It’s probably just another diet if…

  • There’s a wagon, and you’re either “on it” or “off it”. There’s usually no in between.

  • You think about food. A lot.

  • You count things: calories, macros, grams, ounces, pounds, inches…

  • You eat exactly what, when, and how much the diet tells you to, with zero regard for whether or not you are actually hungry.

  • You frequently ignore physical hunger because it’s not a “diet-approved” time to eat.

  • Your “lifestyle” falls apart quickly if you break one of your “food rules”: you feel so bad about eating a single cookie that you say “F-IT!” and end up eating 37.

  • You engage in “last supper eating”: the diet tells you to clean out your cabinets…and you do so by putting all the junk food into your stomach the night before the diet starts.

  • Weekends and/or evenings are free-for-alls: you lose control of your eating late in the day, or Friday through Sunday.

  • You own a library of diet books, four digital food scales, and 67 food prep containers that have been used twice.  

  • You live for your “cheat day”: you spend copious amounts of time dreaming of what you’ll eat.

  • You yo-yo on and off diets, and your weight does the same.

  • You fear hunger and are constantly on the hunt for pills, potions, or other ways to suppress your appetite.

  • You avoid certain foods or entire food groups, despite the absence of a known food allergy or sensitivity.

  • You proselytize to family, friends, and anyone who will listen about the dangers of sugar/dairy/carbs/gluten/insert-super-scary-food-here.

  • You feel the need to do resets, detoxes, or cleanses on a regular basis to make up for the binges and falls off the wagon.

  • You hem and haw about what/when/how much to eat…as if it’s a life-or-death decision every time.

  • You avoid social situations involving food for fear of losing control.

If any of the above describe your experience with food and eating, it may be time to evaluate your “lifestyle”.

You can probably tell I’m having a little fun with this. But please understand that it’s not at your expense! Before you get mad at me, I need to let you know that all of the above statements described ME when I was deep into my dieting days. And I was calling all of my diets a “lifestyle”.

A true lifestyle is easy to maintain all the time!

A true lifestyle is easy to maintain all the time!

It’s probably actually a lifestyle if…

To be clear, let’s define lifestyle: it’s simply the way a person, or group of people, lives. It’s not something you have to put a lot of thought into. A lifestyle is something you can easily maintain for life. There’s no white-knuckling, no wagon, and no extreme amounts of motivation or willpower required. So you’re way of eating is probably a lifestyle if:

  • You’re not on or off the wagon because there is no wagon!

  • You rarely think about food, unless you actually feel hungry…

  • And when you feel hungry, you eat…without a massive amount of forethought.

  • You don’t need to count anything because you trust your hunger and fullness cues to guide your food choices and consumption.

  • You can eat a cookie – or even 8 – and not feel overwhelming guilt.

  • Meals don’t depend on a clock or a time of day…you eat when you’re hungry.

  • You rarely overeat because you know food is always available and you can eat whenever you feel hungry.

  • You know you can eat whatever you want, but you often desire to eat healthy foods because they make your body feel good.

On a diet, food takes on significant meaning. If it’s a lifestyle, food is just food.

On a diet, food takes on significant meaning. If it’s a lifestyle, food is just food.

Diet or lifestyle? It’s all in your head.

Remember, a true lifestyle is something you don’t have to think much about. It’s not something you worry or ruminate constantly over. It doesn’t require massive amounts of motivation or willpower. I’m not saying you should keep the status quo and never strive to be better. But it is important to acknowledge that good things come to those who are willing to give it time and make more gradual changes.

Ready to try something different? Give me a holler and let’s talk about mindful eating!

Visit my Food Freedom page and sign up for my online mindful eating course, or you can email me at

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Blog Author: Kelly Bailey, IIN certified holistic nutrition coach, and NPTI certified personal trainer

Learn more about the author here.