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What is a Non Diet Dietitian?

I get asked this question a lot! Not surprisingly, it sort of sounds like being a non cookie cookie or a non vegetable vegetable. This is a stretch but I understand the confusion.

What is a Dietitian?

The Wikipedia definition is: "human nutrition and the regulation of diet. A dietitian alters their patient's nutrition based upon their medical condition and individual needs." Dietitian has become synonymous with putting people on restrictive diets, telling them which foods to cut out, telling them how to lose weight "and keep it off" and basically, taking all the fun out of food and life.

Why Non Diet?

I use this term because I am against diets. I am anti calorie restriction, portion control, lifestyle changes and cutting out specific foods to control a body or control weight. I am in the company of a handful of other dietitians in this non diet view, other terms you may see is anti-diet dietitian or Health At Every Size® (HAES) focused/associated or HAES dietitian. Anti-diet dietitians call out diet culture regularly and do not support intentional weight loss.

There are a few reasons why I am a non diet dietitian. Research shows diet are horribly unsuccessful, dieting is harmful to our bodies and health is never and will never be a number. Your weight does not dictate if you can be healthy or not. Your behaviors may influence your health and it is important to remember that there are a number of other factors that influence our health that may be beyond our control - socioeconomic status, weight stigma, food accessibility - to name a few.

The research shows that not a single diet in the entire history of dieting has worked for the majority of people long term. Sustained weight loss has a terrible 'success' rate - 5% or fewer - of people who try to intentionally lose weight are able to maintain this weight loss long term. Yes, there is some disagreement on this exact number. The key takeaway is that diet don't successfully work long term for the majority.

A few things about this:

1. Long term with weight loss can be defined as five years or greater. Statistics show that if you are focusing on intentional weight loss (IWL), you reach your lowest weight at about six months and may maintain it for a year. After a year, weight will most likely start to creep up. 50% of people have gained the lost weight back after 2 years, 75 % are likely to gain it back at 5 years. A note about this - rarely is the weight loss considered significant. This would vary from study to study but is most likely about 10% of a person's body weight.

2. Of the 95% of people who are not able to maintain the weight loss long term - IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT. I may be yelling a tiny bit when I say this. Our bodies are masters at surviving. One of the key ways that our bodies survive, is by lowering how much energy it uses when we are dieting (like a famine phase) and then driving us to increase our energy or food intake once the diet is over (or the famine is over). One of the number one goals of our body is to keep us alive. Food is the primary thing keeping us alive. Water also, but we can't live on water alone. Dieting can lead to a restrict-binge cycle, which is also not a failure and not our fault, it is our body doing its very best to stay alive.

3. The people who are able to 'successfully' maintain weight loss, may be doing so with disordered eating habits, disordered exercise habits or a combination of both. These have the potential to have negative consequences on mental health, social health and/or emotional health. Sure, there are the occasional people who may lose weight and may keep it off without any disordered habits, but it is much more rare than diet culture has us believe it is.


So what do I do?

I help people improve their relationship with their food and body. After years of being on diets and listening to external sources telling them how much to eat or how much not to eat, I help them find ways to listen to their body again and listen to their hunger and fullness cues. I help them reconnect with their body to better support their health. This works for people with chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease as well. I support people with diabetes, heart disease, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and a host of other illnesses support their health where ever they are on their journey. I support people finding their authentic health - because it will never look identical to anyone else's and finding what your body needs can be important. This means often starting with self compassion, adding delicious foods that felt forbidden back in and exploring ways they can be comfortable taking up space in the world instead of shrinking their bodies.

Life and health does not have to be about restriction or how little people are eating - it can have delicious, pleasureable food. Does this mean everyone shrinks to the body size they've always wanted to be if they focus on hunger and fullness? No - but it does allow them to have potentially increased self-esteem, body image, less time spent thinking about food or movement, reduced stress and potentially improved cholesterol or blood sugar levels.

Health is so much more about what you eat, how much you eat and how much you move. Health has a physical component of course, but it also encompasses aspects like mental, emotional, social and quality of life. I've mentioned the HAES definition before and I love it. Read more about it here. Focusing on the behaviors that can support health have longer lasting benefits as well as wider reaching benefits than focusing on size or weight. Focusing on things like joyful movement, foods that are pleasurable, laughter, sleep, stress management have the potential to improve health and add to quality of life.

Are you wanting to support your health, stop stressing or thinking about food all the time, stop dieting and have improved body image and self-esteem? Let's talk!

Erica is in a kitchen eating a piece of bread and cheese, wearing a white shirt and blue sweater, smiling.
What food would you add back into your life first?

I'd also like to fully acknowledge that I did not create the term non diet, I am certainly not the first to discuss it and there have been many many more before me putting in hard work to try to remove weight stigma, reduce fatphobia and support health for people who are in larger bodies. I am so grateful to be able to learn from them and to be able to practice in a way that supports bodies in all shapes and sizes.

Want to read more? Check out Body Respect or Body of Truth to learn more.


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