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What is an anti-diet dietitian?

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. 

Katrina Seidman, MS, RDN, LDN