3 questions to ask before you play.

The Diet Game: Image of chess board



If you must play, decide on three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time.

                                         Chinese proverb

Each year, 45 million Americans spend an estimated $33 billion on weight loss products, programs, and services. (And when we include mainstream products such as diet soda in this calculation, the estimate jumps to roughly $60 billion.) More striking than this incredible level of spending, however, is the realization that, for many of us, it all occurs automatically.

This fact was made obvious to me when a student taking part in a workshop I once led, on the topic of mindful eating in college, seemed at a total loss when I asked the group how they had first decided to diet.

The young woman raised her hand and politely asked, “Do you mean, How did we decide which diet to follow?”

“Oh, thanks for asking,” I clarified, “but I actually meant, How did you first decide to diet at all.”

She looked back at me, wide-eyed, and paused, then said, “To be completely honest, it never really occurred to me that I had a choice.

And she, I expect, is in very good company.

When it comes to dieting, it’s not that we lack intelligence or basic common sense; we’ve simply forgotten we have a say in the matter. We reach a point, determined by some specific factor (e.g., a number on the scale, the way our clothes fit, comparison to others’ bodies, pressure or comments from those around us) or by a vague sense that we ought to be dieting, and we propel ourselves into a universe of choices regarding which approach to dieting is best.

That is, we jump straight from feeling that we should diet, to deciding which diet is for us, and we skip the critical question of if we even want to diet entirely.

If you find yourself at such a point– you feel you should be dieting, you’ve found a diet to follow, and you’re about to take the plunge— do yourself a favor…

…and ask these 3 questions:

1. What are the rules of the game?

Most people experience a sort of high when embarking on a new way of life, be it religion, hobby, or health habit. It’s natural to get caught up in the compelling promises and ideological principles of a new venture, but before you dive headlong into a diet, take a moment to get really specific.

When you break it all down to its most basic elements, what are the rules of this diet? Is there a built-in time frame (e.g., 90-day system, 30-day challenge, 2 weeks to a leaner, meaner you)? Are there guidelines for how much you can eat, and when? Will you be adding new foods into your day? Cutting out others? Does this diet dictate the conditions under which you’ll be eating (e.g., with a certain size plate or utensils; raw or cooked only above/below a certain temperature; never after a certain hour of the day)? How does it all sound to you?

need some inspiration?

Check out my Pinterest boards on:

2. How great are the stakes?

From financial investment to personal sacrifice to the risk (in some cases) of harm, diets ask much of you. It’s only reasonable that you be allowed some demands of your own. What are the potential costs (e.g., time, money, safety, well-being) of taking part in this diet? What does this diet promise in exchange for your participation? Will this diet require you to modify your interactions with friends or coworkers? Will it ask you to change the way your family eats? Or the way you talk about food and weight in front of your children?

Consider these questions, then be honest: How do you feel about the answers?

Your involvement with any diet product, program, or service is entirely dependent upon whether you decide it’s right for you.

So get clear about what’s on the line, and then determine if the potential benefits are worth any of the risks. Be diligent in your analysis; this is not the time to settle.

3. When is it time to quit? 

If you’re at the point at which you’ve committed yourself to a diet, it’s essential that you also determine the conditions under which you will walk away from that diet. Doing so not only forces you to maintain laser-focus on what you hope to achieve; it also empowers you to set clear boundaries around your time/energy/resources/safety, and to protect yourself should those boundaries be breached.

So, decide right now:

How long will you continue this diet if you don’t see the results it promises? What (expected or unexpected) side effects of this diet are you willing to tolerate? How much energy are you willing to spend planning, prepping for, and following this diet? How much money?

These questions are helpful not only in deciding when to quit an existing diet, but also in deciding whether to begin one in the first place. In either case, the choice is ultimately yours. And there are many factors you could consider:

You could consider the fact that an overwhelming majority of weight-focused diets fail to produce lasting results. Or that the weight cycling experienced by chronic dieters poses serious risks to cardiovascular health. Or that participation in weight-focused dieting is a leading predictor of eating disorder development.

You could remind yourself that accepting your body (just as it is today, without any attempt to change it through dieting) is a totally viable and powerful option. Or that there is mounting evidence that real benefits can come from making non-weight-focused lifestyle changes to what you eat and how you move. Or that perhaps your mental, physical, and financial resources might be more usefully directed toward a cause other than weight loss.

Just a thought. But it’s a thought that, as illustrated by that bright and conscientious student, simply doesn’t occur to most of us, most of the time.

I won’t wrap this up with an impassioned plea to shun all diets forever. You’re the boss of your own life and that’s an incredible gift. (Besides, it would be more than a bit hypocritical to conclude a post about making your own informed decisions by foisting my values upon you.)

So, please, by all means: Gather up the information you need, evaluate your options, then have at it!

Just know that when it comes to health and happiness, there are countless ways to get there, countless games you could play. Dieting is one of the most appealingly packaged and well-marketed games, sure.

But it’s not the only game in town.

And even if it feels like the whole world is playing, this doesn’t mean you have to.

Your move.


I help health + wellness professionals connect with their dream clients through genuine, engaging communication. After spending over a decade studying, researching, and teaching psychology + communication principles, I started this business to empower health + wellness professionals like me to “preach what you practice”. I share practical guidance so you can get clear on your unique value, communicate it with heart, attract + serve the people you love working with most… and actually have fun along the way.

  1. Cassie @ Be Forever Healthier says:

    Great post! To me, the word diet is filled with exhausting connotations. I much prefer to try and live my life in a consistent way and eat foods that are both healthy and that I enjoy. Life is all about balance and I think there are better ways to lose weight and achieve health then following a fad diet.

    1. Michaela @ Wild & Precious says:

      You said it, Cassie: Diets are exhausting, on several levels. If we’re trying to achieve peace and wellness for a *lifetime*, then we’ll need more than a passing fad. Thanks for reading!

  2. jessica says:

    great post, slowly people are realizing it’s more about lifestyle factors and that eating well is part of that lifestyle…cheers to health!

    1. Michaela @ Wild & Precious says:

      Thanks very much, Jessica. I think a big next step for our culture is taking the word “lifestyle” back from the diet industry, which so often warps its meaning in order to sell weight loss products and services. Thank you for reading!

  3. Rose says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post! I have been on and off various diets since I was 10 years old. Finally, over the past year, I decided that was it. I am sick of spending money and time against the dieting lifestyle or game as you refer to it. I’m now just more conscious of what I eat and am trying to integrate more natural foods into my daily food intake. But I think the questions you ask people to stop and think about before taking on any diet are truly valuable. When dieting, we don’t always stop to think about things like money or health risks. Really for a serial dieter, all you care about is the end game, losing weight!

    1. Michaela @ Wild & Precious says:

      Yes, Rose! One of the most insidious features of the “diet mentality” is that the lines between healthy and harmful can become blurred. Because weight is highlighted in our culture as THE best indicator of health, those who start out with a seemingly reasonable goal can soon find themselves fixated on the number on the scale, becoming increasingly detached from other cues that they might be hurting themselves. I look forward to a shift away from such an intense focus on weight in our culture. Until then, I think we’d each be wise to pay attention to the ways our body is trying to communicate with us. Thanks for reading!

  4. Aesha shah says:

    People generally say I am on a diet and imply that they aren’t eating. However diet means to eat. What is important is that we understand which is a healthy diet for our bodies. And that varies from person to person

    1. Michaela @ Wild & Precious says:

      So true, Aesha. I once read that the original root of the word “diet” translates to “a way of life” or “a day’s journey”. A much gentler, more beautiful way to approach food, if you ask me! Thanks for reading!

  5. Margaret says:

    I really like this article. I am currently a college student, living in a sorority house so I hear the word ‘diet’ thrown around all the time. I feel a lot of the time women especially feel compelled to diet because they think it is something they HAVE to do. But like you said, they have a choice and it is their life. I think that is something that is important to remember in many different aspects of our lives. That this is our life and we have a choice about how we want to live it! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Michaela @ Wild & Precious says:

      Well said, Margaret. We’ve been socialized to discount the element of choice in so many areas of our lives. Dieting and our feeling compelled to participate in diet culture is a sort of “canary in the coal mine” for a dynamic that plays out over and over for many women. Thanks for reading! (And your comment has just sparked an idea for a post on this topic, so thank you again! 😉 )

  6. Dionna Nicole Chambers says:

    Love this article – honest, authentic, real. You clearly lay out the stakes, and considerations for going on a diet. Is it actually WORTH it??

    1. Michaela @ Wild & Precious says:

      YES, that is the ultimate question, and one we each must answer for ourselves. I believe simply recognizing that the question exists can be a powerful step. Thanks so much for reading, Dionna.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *