“It’s Not You, It’s Me:” 3 Signs You Need to Break Up With Your Diet

A look at how diets can be like unhealthy relationships, and when to say enough is enough.

A while ago I was talking to a friend about a diet she was trying. She was going on week five, and though she had seen some results in the beginning, her progress was starting to slow and she was pretty much miserable.

As she talked to me about her diet, I could see the spark that had been there just five weeks before was now gone. “I guess I’ll just stick it out,” she said deploringly. As she gazed at my hefty breakfast with a deep longing, I suddenly felt like a couples’ counselor. This woman was clearly in a bad relationship. What had begun as an exciting summer fling had rapidly devolved into mindless, meaningless, lonely tedium. It was time for her to move on. But of course, when I suggested that, she quickly jumped to her diet’s defense.

Dieting has a huge effect on our mental state, just as it does our physical health. And sometimes it can be hard to escape the “I have to do this because I committed to it” trap. The problem with this kind of perfectionism is that it usually has one of two outcomes: either it ends in guilt and shame, or it ends in miserable stick-to-itiveness that doesn’t yield any happiness, much less pleasure.

There are valid reasons to break up with your diet. If you find yourself in any of these scenarios, give yourself permission to let go and move on.

1. “It’s Not You, and It’s Not Me – It’s Just Not the Right Time.”

So you’ve committed to the latest diet fad, and it involves an enormous time commitment. You try it for a week and your success rate is low, not because the plan is bad, but because it’s not a good fit for your life. It’s just like the potential partner who would be great to date, except that he or she lives a few hours away and doesn’t have good phone habits. The timing isn’t right.

Instead of sticking to this diet, think about how you can make healthy eating fit your life as it is now. Is your sugar consumption high? Consider cutting out one sweet treat per day, then adding another next week until you get it in check. Stick to small, consistent changes. You need a plan that will be sustainable in the long term, which means no extreme measures.

2. “It’s Not You, It’s Me.”

This is the classic, heart-wrenching breakup when everything about the other person is perfect, and all your life circumstances are just right. She wants everything you want, she has a great sense of humor, she gets along with your family, and you guys even work in the same building, so dating would be convenient. And yet that magical “something” just isn’t there.

This is the diet that looks great on paper. It’s not too strict, although there are some guidelines that make it slightly inconvenient. Other than that, it seems completely manageable, and there’s no real “reason” it shouldn’t work – except that it doesn’t. You’re not necessarily miserable, but after weeks on this diet plan your results and your initial excitement are wearing thin.

Maybe now isn’t the right time to be on a strict diet, period. Maybe it’s a good time to focus on other aspects of your life, like sleep, a new training plan, or stress management. When the time feels right, you’ll find the plan that clicks with you and your personal needs – and you might even find you enjoy it.

3. “It’s Not You…Well, Actually Yeah It Is.”

You’ve held on for a long time. You’re not happy, you’re not seeing results, and you don’t enjoy food any more. You’re only following this diet because it’s what you’ve been doing, and you don’t want to change things up. Plus, all the books and bloggers say this diet is the only way to health and happiness.

It’s time to let go. Dieting should not make you hate food, just like dating should not make you hate men or women. Break the cycle now, before you find yourself backtracking – physically and emotionally.

Stop Playing the Diet Game

Someone once said, “Never love anybody who treats you like you’re ordinary.” We can think of food in the same way. Never follow a diet plan or a nutrition guru that assumes you’re just like everyone else. The points above are a bit tongue-in-cheek, but don’t underestimate the power eating and food can have over your mental well-being. You don’t have to be miserable to eat well and see results. Breaking up is hard to do, but it’s usually worth the pain.