An anti-diet dietitian is a dietitian, educated and trained, licensed and registered, but without a foundational belief that the primary goal of nutrition counseling is “successful dieting.” Our culture’s deeply held belief that thinness and dieting are “healthy” is not based in science, but instead by the profound influence of diet culture in every aspect of our lives, even, and especially, our doctors’ offices. If you are new to the concept of diet culture, well-known anti-diet dietitian Christy Harrison explains:
“[Diet culture] is Western society’s toxic system of beliefs that: Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, Demonizes certain foods while elevating others, And oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health.”
Diet culture can show up in many ways:
following food rules
not eating gluten (without having celiac disease)
not eating after a certain time of day
completely cutting out sugar
making fat people pay for two seats on an airplane
having to track down special clothing stores in order to find your size
labeling foods “guilt-free” or “sinful.”
It is literally everywhere.
Diet culture results in so many of us disconnecting from our natural biological processes around feeding ourselves and even shames us for having them!
Diet culture plays a large role in the development of eating disorders, body image issues, fatphobia, weight stigma, and size discrimination. It wants all of us to feel “less than” with the goal of enabling those invested in profiting off our insecurities.
So an anti-diet dietitian, then, is one who wants to take part in dismantling diet culture and in helping people heal from disordered eating and body image issues so that they can live their life free of the bondage of dieting and able to thrive in their bodies without having to shrink them.
In essence, an anti-diet dietitian is really an anti-diet culture dietitian. As an anti-diet dietitian, I create a healthcare space for those struggling with eating and the harms of diet culture and dieting to feel safe. The primary goal is to help our clients reconnect with their awareness of their body’s biological signals for food, move past fear of food and various eating behaviors, and cultivate nourishing, healthy behaviors around eating, movement, and well-being without a primary focus on weight. For many people, after years or decades immersed in the beliefs of diet culture, this change can be surprisingly challenging. Anti-diet dietitians are here to help!
Anti-Diet is not Anti-Health
Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and this is a beautiful, natural thing. There is a large body of research that has shown that body size is not a valid indicator of health. There is a social justice movement called Health At Every Size (HAES) that advocates that we can pursue health without a focus on weight. It’s principles include eating enough nourishing foods, respecting all bodies, moving in ways that feel good, body autonomy, and creating a life-enhancing support system.
However, often the primary goal of dieting is to change body shape, size, or composition, (often in order to improve health). But, we know that dieting does NOT improve health. In fact, it does just the opposite. Dieting causes harm. Serious harm. (Think trauma and eating disorders). And, it doesn’t even DO what it says it’s going to do—shrink bodies. Most people who diet end up regaining the majority of their weight and often even more weight. In other words, dieting is unethical, and so no healthcare practitioner should be recommending weight loss to ANYONE under ANY circumstances. It’s just wrong.
The Anti-Diet Approach (Intuitive Eating)
Moving away from diets works in the long term to create lifelong self-care nourishment. Listening to the body’s cues for what and how much to eat is better for health and well-being than following any kind of eating plan. Science consistently shows that people who eat according to their body’s own wisdom, also known as Intuitive Eating, have better health outcomes. Only you know what your body needs in any given moment; a dietitian can’t possibly know that for anyone.
But what about nutrition?
Gentle nutrition is still a part of what anti-diet dietitians help clients with; it’s just without the lens of weight loss/body manipulation/restrictive eating/dieting. This treatment can also be referred to as Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT), which is evidence-based nutrition counseling for real medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, celiac disease, GI issues, and others). It incorporates nutrition science without a weight loss approach.
MNT is different than putting someone on a diet. For example, it’s helping a client with celiac disease learn how to read nutrition labels for products that contain gluten, or helping a patient with diabetes to understand how their body metabolizes carbohydrates, or helping a client with heart disease incorporate more heart-healthy fats into their diet if they want to. Anti-diet dietitians still do provide this treatment as appropriate, but using the lens of weight-inclusive care, without diet culture’s harmful influences.
What Anti-Diet Dietitians WILL and WON’T Do
Anti- diet dietitians won’t ask their clients to get on a scale (unless a client is in eating disorder recovery and weight restoration is necessary) or count calories, or portion out/weigh their foods, or track their food intake for purposes of “staying on track.”
They will respect their clients as the experts on their own bodies, helping them to tune in (rather than out) to what their bodies are telling them, and they will provide specific nutrition education and therapy as appropriate, when the client is ready and willing to experiment with positive health behaviors.
It is a collaborative, client-centered, truly holistic approach that does not require body manipulation or shrinkage.
You already know that eating together as a family is a good idea. Most people hope to share happy mealtimes with their children and build memories together. Research also shows that there are many benefits to eating together:
Yet, today it can feel harder than ever to get everyone around the table, phones/tablets down, at the same time. Then, mealtime can become a battle of the tastes with everyone expecting foods that they like and will eat. But, with a little creative planning, mealtime can go more smoothly for everyone, whether it’s a group of ten or two, family meal time can be enjoyable.
You might be wondering: What should I make? When can I get to the store? What should I do with all the leftovers?
To help you on your way, I have put together six straightforward strategies that you can try, no matter what size your family and how crazy your schedule might be.
Keep it simple: Do what works. This might be breakfast for dinner, peanut butter and jelly, or a store-bought rotisserie chicken. Recently, the idea of snack trays has become an easy, popular dinner idea. Create a big tray of veggies, fruits, nuts, precooked meats, cut up cheese, and dips to create a tapas style experience. Know that it doesn’t have to be an elaborate or even a cooked meal. Smoothies and sandwiches are totally okay, too. As are eggs and toast!
For some no-brainer structure, try theme nights. Think meatless Mondays, taco Tuesdays, kids cook night (Raddish is a cooking club for kids raddishkids.com), Mediterranean, Asian, create your own/bar style options: pasta or baked potato bars, nacho bar, and even breakfast for dinner night
Something for everyone: For kids/not yet adventurous eaters, try to pair the unfamiliar with the familiar. For example, if you are making your favorite coconut curry but worry that the kids won’t touch it, serve their favorite fruit and have bread and butter on the table so they will be able to find something to fill up on, while being exposed to the other flavors. You never know when they might be ready to try it. Conversely, when serving the kids’ favorite entrée, ie. Spaghetti or chicken nuggets the adults may appreciate special flavor additions such as crushed red pepper or fun dipping sauces like zhoug, sriracha, or tahini.
Cook once eat twice. Batch cook pasta, rice, other grains when you do have more time, and freezing them for future time-limited evenings. When making entrees in the instant pot or slow cooker, double it and freeze for a delicious home cooked meal next month.
There are apps for that! Apps such as Paprika and Wanderlist (or simply the note section on your phone) can help with scheduling, making grocery lists, and keeping everything organized.
Lastly, be flexible! Even though you may have thoughtfully planned the night’s dinner, sometimes it doesn’t always work out whether there’s a traffic jam or mom is feeling sick. In these instances, it’s helpful to have a backup plan such as steam able veggies in the bag or bagged salad kits and frozen precooked brown rice or other grain. Pair these with a can of beans or canned salmon or tuna and a yummy premade sauce such as pesto or Thai peanut and it’s a meal in less than 10 minutes. Or, just order a pizza and place the fruit basket on the table and call it a day!
Here’s last weeks‘ mealplan for my family of five:
Monday: leftover frozen baked ziti, salad, fruit
Tuesday: shrimp tacos (make your own) with all the fixins + rugala (Jewish cookies)
Wednesday: grilled balsamic chicken (pre-made from store) with air fried tater tots and baby cauliflower
Thursday: leftover frozen pizza, cut up veggies with dip
Friday: date night! Kids have pizza again! Oh well, it works!
Saturday: French Onion Soup and baked potatoes, salad, and fruit
Sunday: Veggie chili cornbread muffins, salad
Katrina Seidman, MS RDN LDN
Click here to learn more about how to work with me!
When you finally decide to reject diet culture and begin nourishing your body, weight gain becomes a very real possibility, especially if you’ve been maintaining an artificially lower weight.
And, if you are living in a culture that highly values a photo-shopped, excessively thin aesthetic, it is likely that weight gain doesn’t sound like cause for celebration. I get it.
Just know that any weight gain associated with nourishing your body is totally okay and not cause for concern. But what about health, you ask? The truth is that many health concerns that are often attributed to weight, are in fact, not weight related. True story.
You are not doing anything wrong when you honor your body’s cues for food and rest.
Regardless of these truths, you may need some support and strategies to get you through the process. Afterall, when you’ve spent (maybe) years chasing an ideal that seemed to make sense, you’ve invested A LOT if yourself in the process and the dream of an artificially thin body and all of the acceptance and privilege we are promised if we just get thin enough.Most people need support if they experience body changes due to no longer dieting.
Here are some tips to make the journey a little easier.
Don’t weigh yourself, obviously. And not only that, but just get rid of the scale for good. And when you go to the doc, you have the right to refuse the scale. Weigh-ins are not mandatory; your body, your choice. Check out fat activist Ragan Chastain’s blog post on tips for surviving this encounter at your next doctor’s visit.
Fat positive your feeds. Clean it up, people. There is way too much thin ideal imagery out there. Follow body positive accounts such as Ragan Chastain, BeNourished,Taylor’s The Body Is Not An Apology, Tess Holliday, Virgie Tovar, and others for some real body examples. We can change our ideals and vision of beauty when we give ourselves a variety of different images of beautiful bodies.
Buy new clothes (if you have the resources) that fit or that are at least stretchy. Wearing clothes that you are growing out of is just plain uncomfortable, and a constant reminder that your body is changing. Also important: get rid of those items that are too small so there are no reminders of your unhealthier restrictive self. Try Poshmark or other second hand shops for deals on styles you love. You are not alone. As mentioned above, increasing body size as a result of intuitive eating is to be expected. There is no right or wrong way for your weight to go. Your body is going to do what it does, which for many means weight gain. Be kind to yourself; cut yourself some slack. Now is the time for deep self-compassion. Get a therapist; seek a weight-inclusive dietitian, and join a body positive facebook group to connect with others going through similar experiences.
Lastly, think of what else you have gained. Freedom with food? Brain power for more important thoughts? More time to do fun things? Christy Harrison, anti-diet dietitian and author, proclaims that dieting and diet culture is The Life Thief that steals our joy and purpose in the world and how we must take back our right to do what we were meant to do in this world and live or lives full of pleasure, vitality, and peace.
Remember, being happy and fabulous on your terms is it’s own kind of powerful.
Who wants to put less effort in when it comes to meal times?
Who wants to just sit and enjoy their meal and talk about their day or plans for the weekend?
Who wants to focus on connecting with their families at the table instead of fighting over food?
Well, I’m here to tell you that you can do all of these things! As long as you do your job of getting the food on the table, you can clock out and turn the shift over to the kids. Pat yourself on the back as a job well done.
Now, it’s up to them to decide how much to eat (even if that’s nothing at all) of what is on the table, no if’s, ands, or buts! This is known as the Division of Responsibility (DOR) in feeding and there is a large body of research showing that this feeding style helps kids listen to their bodies for what they are hungry for and how much they need. And as an added bonus, you get to dig in to enjoy your own meal.
Set it and forget it. When it comes to feeding kids, parents decide when and what (when mealtime is and what’s being served). Kids decide how. This means that once children can feed themselves, they are supported in choosing what they will eat from what is offered, how much, and in what combination. No more fighting over vegetables, or whether or not they will eat only bread. We really can support children in listening to their own bodies and trusting that what they want is the right thing. This takes all of the power struggle out of mealtime and puts parents and kids in control of the right things. It may feel hard at first to let them forego vegetables, but still have dessert, but, in the long run, this will help them stay in tough with their innate hunger/fullness cues.
Try saying these 6 little words: “you don’t have to eat it.” Take the pressure off of your kids to eat a certain food or number of bites to help everyone feel more relaxed and happy at the table. This also allows kids the freedom to organically try foods when they are ready. Forcing foods or bites can create a stressful environment which can easily backfire and cause some kids to resist eating anything at all, let alone to try a new food. When you model eating a variety of foods, your kids will naturally want to do the same, when they are ready.
Serve dessert with the meal. (What??!!!) yes, Serve. Dessert. With. The. Meal. Why? There are a few compelling reasons. First, When we decide we are full from dinner but then are presented with a yummy dessert, it can be tough to turn down. We are tempted to eat beyond our body’s fullness cues. Or, we might eat less dinner in an attempt to save room for dessert, only to be hungry an hour later. And lastly,, if we are rewarded with dessert when we finish our veggies, it can set up a negative association with eating vegetables and can heighten the appeal of dessert. Instead, let’s give all foods a level playing field. After all, food is food. When we are presented with a variety of foods at the same time, possibly including a moderate serving of dessert, it gives us the opportunity to decide what our body needs and wants, without the confusion. At first, children might be super excited and eat their dessert first, but give it some time and the novelty will wear off. They may even (gasp!) leave some on their plate.
Diets don’t work; if they did, we would all be our perfect ideal weight/size/shape. We wouldn’t be jumping on the next fad diet come January 1, and we wouldn’t be spending $60 billion per year on trying to shrink our bodies.
We believe that our diets don’t work, or don’t work forever, because we don’t have enough will-power, or character, or we’re too addicted, have too many emotions, or our bodies just won’t stop being hungry.
But, what if it’s not us?
What if, it’s that dieting doesn’t work?
What if our bodies don’t understand dieting as “dieting” and instead respond to “famine” and “food scarcity?”
What if our bodies actually work by trying to keep weight on us if they get the message (through dieting) that there isn’t enought food, so they send us MORE hunger signals, slow our metabolism, and otherwise do whatever they can to ensure that we EAT?
The weight loss industry has a vested interest in keeping us believing that weight loss is the holy grail of all things worth living for. What if there is a name for this and it’s “diet culture?”
But what if so much of what we are taught is just…wrong?
What if diets are actually the problem and not the solution?
But how do we actually stop dieting? What does eating and living even look like when we decide to toss aside food rules and leave diet culture behind? Is that even possible?
Yes, it’s possible. And some may say it even sounds simple. But, it’s likely not an easy or quick process, especially if you have been dieting or trying to control your eating for many years. In fact, it’s possible that the longer you have been dieting, and the younger you were when you started your first diet (yes, WW is and always has been a diet), the longer, slower, and messier the the process may be. But, the good news is, you will probably start to feel better as soon as you take even one small step. Here are 10 ways that you can start to ditch your diet and experience food freedom and better health for the long term.
Smash that scale! Or, just put it in the back of your closet and see how your day or week is not dictated by such meaningless numbers.
Delete the fitness and food tracker apps! Think about how these apps actually help you. How do you feel and what do you do when you go over your crudely calculated “calorie budget?” And how does this app know what you should Unsurprisingly, Research shows that the use of these tools can lead to restrictive, unbalanced eating and also increase risk of developing an eating disorder. Just get rid of them!
Unfollow those accounts that make you feel like your body is wrong. Take control of your own feed and selectively choose which accounts make you feel good and get rid of those that don’t. Ain’t got no time for that!
Wear clothes you like, that fit, and that make you feel good. How do you feel when you try to squeeze into too tight jeans? Be kind to yourself and get rid of any items that don’t fit or that you are saving for “when you lose weight.”
Move your body in ways that are pleasurable, whatever that is for you. Gone are the days of “no pain, no gain.” If it hurts and you don’t like it, do something else that doesn’t. This includes sex, too!
Listen to your body. Like, really listen. What is it saying? Is it hungry? Is it full? Is it tired? Then, act on what you need whether it’s a sandwich, a cookie, a nap, or maybe all three.
Break all the food rules. Or just one to start. For example, did someone once tell you that eating late at night causes weight gain? Or to eat your carbs in the morning but not at night? Sadly, many of the food rules we follow are simply unfounded. I challenge you to see what it’s like when you go against these bogus beliefs about food and body.
Give yourself unconditional permission to eat, enjoy, and get your fill of your favorite foods whenever you want them. When we lift the restrictions and relinquish our control over food, we are then able to begin the process of making peace with food.
Give up fighting against your body. Trust it! Use all of that energy and space for something truly special.
Get support-for many, ending dieting means ending a whole way of life and way of being in relationship with food, body, self, and life. Professional support is critical. An Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size focused nutritionist and therapist can help you work through the complex emotions and challenges that arise from letting go of dieting.
We need a different conversation about food and weight. We need a conversation about food and weight that is not focused on the outcome being about food and weight.
We need a conversation that recognizes and centers two critical aspects of our difficulties:
Our relationship with food is happening within the context of a larger food creation and distribution system that maximizes profits at the expense of public health, and;
Our relationship with food is not about food and weight, but about deep relational wounds that often begin in childhood and for which food, eating, and weight control or chaos are symptoms.
There is an intersection where we find ourselves starved for the core sense of love, acceptance, belonging, and security, all of which evoke embodied feelings of satiety, warmth, fullness, and calm; and the prevalence of cheap, readily accessible foods that have little nutritional value, but also evoke a temporary sense of satiety, warmth, fullness, and calm.
Yet, because these very real sensations are not love, acceptance, belonging, and security, so many people find themselves driven to return to food as the source of the sensations over and over as we attempt to regulate our nervous systems in the face of very real unmet human need for deep connection.
This is the why when diets “don’t work.” Food restriction is incompatible with our physiology AND our neurobiology. When food is the solution to the problem, removing that solution still leaves the underlying problem.
This is true for all addictive patterns.
The solution must acknowledge the deep truth that we eat within a complex, economically driven, and politically protected food system that needs the population to eat and eat and eat.
We are provided a rich abundance of highly rewarding food products that keep us coming back for more.
All the while we are starved for the love and human connection we so desperately need for physical and psychological survival.
Nourishment, which is our very first experience of warmth, love, and safety moments after we are born is deeply wired into our beings to be associated with the core experience of love.
We have to stop demanding that people somehow eat normally in a very abnormal environment.
We have to end the suffering of shame and blame and daily private wars being waged with food in the battlefield of our bodies.
We have to reframe the discussion and help individuals and communities understand the problem is not will-power. It is not self-discipline. Is not that people are lazy or gluttonous.
It is that, as human beings, we are desperate for deep connection, yet we find ourselves deeply disconnected, not only from each other, but from ourselves.
We are not bad for seeking satiety, warmth, fullness, and calm in the face of constant discomfort, fear, distress, worry, and the terrible lie that we come to believe in childhood that we are fearfully and irreparably not enough. We are not bad for reaching for the thing that evokes the same embodied sense as that for which we so deeply long that is provided in such pervasive supply.
We must frame this conversation around removing the suffering of misunderstanding and blame for the individual and shifting the focus to empowering the individual and demanding that, as a society, we recognize the incredible harm our systems are doing to us as individuals and as a collective, as well as the planet we inhabit.
We must demand that health and mental health professionals divorce themselves from the “blame the individual” narrative around eating and weight. We must demand that professionals learn the available science of interpersonal neurobiology and addiction. We must demand that helping professionals honor the dignity of every human, trusting that each is doing the best they can within the context of their experience.
We must step beyond the false duality of fat/thin, healthy/unhealthy, good/bad, all/nothing narrative about food, weight, and eating disorders and compassionately recognize the profound need for human attachment – to ourselves and each other.
We must recognize that we are not eating in a normal environment for humans. We need complex solutions that compassionately recognize the complexity of our relationship with food as a species and its inherent link to our very nature as social beings.