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How to improve your health with self care instead of dieting

How to use self care to improve your health


When you decide to give up dieting, the difference between non-dieting behaviours and diets sneaking back in can feel confusing and nuanced, especially when we are looking to make behaviour changes.

This self care/ self control activity allows you to curiously explore new behaviours you are thinking of starting and also to reflect on current behaviours. In this activity we are evaluating whether a behaviour or activity is coming from a place of self care or self control.


Self care or self control activity

Step 1. Your weight loss focused behaviours

Consider a time you have had weight loss goal. Think about the types of behaviours you have done to try achieve that goal. What lifestyle changes or behaviours do you make when you are trying to lose weight?

Write a list of some different ways you showed up for a weight loss goal with the heading "weight loss".


Step 2. Your self care behaviours

When you have that list, start a new column with the heading self care. Brainstorm and write down some behaviours that feel caring for your body, both mentally and physically.

Remember here, weight loss is not a behaviour. What does caring for your body feel like?


Step 3. Compare your lists

Let’s now look at your lists, or consider the lists you made in your head. What types of activities are on each list? When I ask these questions with my clients, the types of activities in each column generally look quite different. 


Evaluating your lists

Weight loss column

When I explore the behaviours my clients make from a place of weight loss, the behaviours seem to be focused on control. And even the initial goal is about control - control over weight (and where we believe our weight should be based on cultural ideals). 

Self control behaviours can look like:

  • Skipping meals or snacks to cut calories
  • Restricting foods you enjoy eating or not allowing food pleasure
  • Trying to control your body’s weight or shape
  • Beating yourself up for uncomfortable sensations or feelings
  • Weighing yourself to measure your progress or your self-worth


Do you have anything similar on your list? Do your weight loss oriented behaviours resemble self control? 


When we focus on health through self control, we tend to start behaviours with a disconnect to our internal messages, feelings and emotions.

When we focus on healthy eating through self control, we end up physically or mentally restricting foods which leads to a stronger drive toward food and increases food stress (which is not great for our health).

It’s just not sustainable long term and why healthy living and healthy eating can feel so hard. 


Self care column

Now let’s consider the behaviours on your self care list. When I ask my clients to read out what is on their self care list, they tend to focus on providing physical and emotional care to their body in it’s here-and-now or in-the-moment rather than having expectations or trying to control.

From this self care perspective, we open up space to care for our body in it’s here and now rather than aiming for an appearance or other cultural ideal.


Self care behaviours can look like:

  • Allowing and prioritising regular food throughout the day
  • Focusing on adding in foods that make your body feel good
  • Allowing your body to find its most comfortable weight and shape
  • Curiously exploring uncomfortable sensations and feelings
  • Measuring health by how you feel and how connected you feel to your body (not a number on the scale)


From a self care perspective we can focus on the wider benefits of food and health such as the nutritional benefits a range of food can provide but also the pleasure, comfort, social and cultural connection.

We give ourselves space to focus on what will truly make a difference to our health and wellbeing.



So look at both of your lists, how do they differ? Which behaviours feel more caring and beneficial for your body?


Although most often we begin a weight loss diet with the intention of caring for our body, we can end up unintentionally neglecting our body’s basic needs which is not so good for our long term health.


Self care is when we work with our body.

Self control is when we fight against our body.

Moving forward

As you move forward, this activity can be helpful to evaluate your behaviours because we all know how sneaky diet culture messaging can be.

Each week or month, write down all your current behaviours or changes you are making and then decide for each one - is it coming from a place of self care or self control?

Now curiously explore if you are able to let go of the self control behaviours and prioritise spending time on your self care behaviours.



Want more support? Emma Townsin is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor. She works with women to improve their health and wellbeing through developing a positive relationship with food and body. You can work with Emma in her Empowered Women Academy by getting in touch for a free consultation here.

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