Want to know what happens when you stop dieting?
Right upfront, there’s the looming fear of gaining weight and, on top of that, feeling out of control. That’s enough to make most people run the other direction.
However, when you understand that this is normal and to be expected, it can help ease the fear. And that’s what I hope this article does for you: eases the anxiety around giving up dieting.
You’re about to get a crash course in the 5 stages of giving up dieting, and how to navigate each step with grace. Let’s start with a video made just for this.
At the end of this post, there’s also a free ebook on eating psychology that you can download. If you want it now, click here to gain instant access to it!
Video: Anticipating What Happens When You Stop Dieting
Generally, people follow 5 stages when they give up dieting.
Here’s a video that explains each stage (it’s my 3rd most-watched video):
Giving up dieting is a critical step towards taking back your life and feeling normal around food.
While the fear of gaining weight tends to linger with every thought, let’s zoom out and look at the bigger picture. Even though diets may help with weight loss short-term, dietary restriction eventually leads to binge eating, which causes weight gain.
This is based on the universal principle that, for every restriction, there is an equal and opposite binge. Dieting is the reason why we keep gaining and losing the same 10 pounds.
If you want to make real change, let’s look past the surface level of dieting and look at our psychology.
After all, this is the home of Psycho-Spiritual Wellness: a path to stop compulsive eating, based purely in psychology and spirituality. Giving up dieting is a pillar of this process.
Alright, enough background. Let’s dig into the stages of what happens when you stop dieting.
Quick Summary: Giving up dieting is scary, and anticipating these 5 stages will help mentally prepare you.
Stage 1: The “Freak Out”
Choosing to give up dieting will be a moment of both fear and hope.
While you have some faith this this idea could work, you’re mostly scared that it will make you gain weight. This might freak you out… a lot.
Maybe the fear stops you from committing completely. Perhaps you decide to keep one foot out the door.
A common sentiment (which does not lead to success) includes making yourself a deal like, “I’ll give up dieting — but I’ll still try to eat clean and avoid sugar.”
These “deals” and fears are perfectly normal, but don’t lead to success. Avoid keeping one foot out the door if you want this to work.
How to survive stage 1:
Giving yourself total, complete, unrestricted permission to eat whatever you want actually works like reverse psychology: because you can have it, you no longer want it.
At this particular moment, that might seem like wishful thinking. Perhaps you have very little trust in yourself around food. At this stage, that’s normal.
Most people are afraid that if they let themselves loose around food, they’ll eat everything in sight. This is where the experiment comes into play:
Instead of making yourself deals that involve restriction, try making this one deal instead:
For the next 6 months, you’re not going to diet, at all. No loopholes, no “everything but chocolate.” For the next 6 months, go all in.
Total commitment is necessary to rebuild self-trust.
Quick Summary: Stage 1 is about embracing the Freak Out and starting the 6 month experiment to stop dieting and just see what happens.
Stage 2: Short-term binges may occur — stay committed!
So you made the commitment, congrats! Unfortunately, the scariest part comes next: Rebellion Binges. This usually involves binges on previously-restricted “bad foods.”
This might cause your Diet Mentality to scream something like, “Ahhh!! Forget this! We don’t want binges! See?! This is exactly what we were afraid would happen!!”
To calm yourself down, know that this phase is temporary, and it’s a rite of passage that everyone goes through.
Surprisingly, allowing yourself to go through these short-term binges will help you stop binge eating long-term. As they say, the only way out is through.
How to survive stage 2:
To minimize the hiccups and binges that you may experience, stay extremely committed to allowing all foods. If you begin to restrict, even in small ways, it will ruin the effect.
Worst of all, if you decide to go back to dieting, these binges will roll into Last Supper eating, where we eat everything but the kitchen sink the night before the diet starts again.
Avoid these severe binge episodes by staying committed to allowing all foods.
Quick Summary: “Rebellion Binges” can trigger fear, but they are expected. If you stay committed to allowing all foods, they will subside.
Stage 3: Life suddenly gets worse in seemingly unrelated areas
We’re halfway through, and the light at the end of the tunnel is coming! But one last uncomfortable phase occurs when you give up dieting:
All the yucky emotions that you used to numb with food comes bubbling to the surface.
It’s often stuff that you didn’t even realize that you were numbing, so it might seem unrelated. For example, one of my Feel Normal Around Food coaching clients went through a mini crisis about her age right after she stopped dieting.
At first, she just thought it was something that every aging woman goes through. But here’s what was really happening: She stopped numbing with food, and now the aging/body image issues (that had always been there) bubbled to the surface.
How to survive this stage:
You can get through this stage by training in feeling uncomfortable. It sounds weird, but the more willing we are to be uncomfortable, the more strength we have to withstand tough times.
A great tool for this is the Stop, Drop, and Feel. It’s my #1 tool to stop binge eating by training in feeling the emotions that drive compulsive eating.
No one wants to feel uncomfortable, but it’s an essential skill, especially for learning how to feel normal around food without dieting.
Quick Summary: When it feels like life gets worse, that’s just the level of discomfort that’s always been there. You got this!!
Stage 4: You find food sanity — with some turbulence
Once you get to stage 4, you’ve developed some self-trust and you’re comfortable having your once-forbidden foods. They no longer tempt you.
Suddenly, you can buy a bag of brownies and only eat two bites. Moderation becomes easy.
You’re still developing the skill of being willing to be uncomfortable, and when things get too uncomfortable, you may overeat every now and then, but it’s nothing crazy.
You are truly making strides in your food sanity and body acceptance.
How to make the most of stage 4:
Surviving stage 4 is all about staying focused on skill-building.
During this time, it’s essential to practice the Stop, Drop, and Feel and allow all foods. These two practices are the foundation of Psycho-Spiritual Wellness.
And as these skills grow stronger, your Diet Mentality gets weaker. And eventually…
Quick Summary: When things start to feel good, don’t lose your edge. Stay focused on skill-building.
Stage 5: You become the phoenix
After remaining 100% committed to giving up dieting, you come out on the other side. It was a turbulent ride, but you did it! The work is never really over, but you’re now equipped with the skills to stop dieting for the long haul.
At stage 5, a normal relationship with food emerges. You can go to social gatherings and have any kind of food in front of you without going on binges.
Not only has your eating behavior changed, but the foods that you crave have changed too. Instead of eating those once-forbidden foods, you also eat things like salads and nutritious foods.
You have also started to find acceptance for your body. When you look in the mirror, you don’t nit-pick as much. Instead, you’re learning to love yourself more and more.
How to make stage 5 even better:
Once you reach stage 5, things probably feel pretty good. But sometimes, we forget why we gave up dieting in the first place and begin to falter. After all, Diet Mentality is breathing down our neck at every turn. (Thanks, society.)
For anyone looking to stay reminded of what matters, I recommend my book Daily Reminders on Psycho-Spiritual Wellness. It contains 50 “mini chapters” that you can read daily to stay focused on this journey.
And if you want to dig even deeper into the psychology behind compulsive eating, check out my workbook Why We Do the Things We Do. This type of inner work helps make the journey much smoother.
Quick Summary: Giving up dieting just might be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, and that deserves celebration and extra support.
The Path to Stop Dieting & Feel Normal Around Food
Hopefully, with your toolbox full of goodies, you’ll be able to stay vigilant about choosing not to diet at every turn. And even if you backslide, that’s okay. No one is perfect. It’s a process and a journey.
About one year after I gave up dieting, I backslid into intermittent fasting, and it was a huge mistake. But I learned a lot from it, and strengthened my commitment to never diet again.
I hope you’ll join me on this journey! You might feel like a turtle out of its shell, and that means you’re doing it right. ????
A great next-step to stay supported is to grab the free 13-page ebook on Psycho-Spiritual Wellness below:
Originally published June 13, 2018 // Last updated July 28, 2020
Savannah Rayne says
Hi! So when you are in stage two and experiencing binges, should we stop, drop, and feel? Or should we let the binges happen? Also, how long does this stage last?
Kari Dahlgren says
Hi Savannah! Apologies for my slow reply on this one! YES. You should always be Stop-Drop-and-Feeling. Always. Especially during stage 2. If you follow the tool to a “T” it will become very clear how to get past those rebellion binges. Let me know how you’re doing!! x