What is the non-diet approach?
16th February 2022 | Author: Bianca Skilbeck
In this day and age, most people know that "dieting" is a dirty word (and thus use other words to disguise and sell what essentially is still intentional weight loss..... a.k.a. dieting).
So what does it really mean to strictly take a non-diet approach?
In the 70's, 80's, and 90's it was Atkins, the low-fat diet, the cabbage soup diet, and Weight Watchers ("reinventing" themselves nowdays as "WW").....just to name a few.
Today (because we know better now, right?), it's keto. It's paleo. It's intermittent fasting. It's quit sugar.
Even more insideous; it's "a lifestyle change". A "wellnes reboot". A "love yourself thin". Or whatever other nonsense people might come up with to disguise the fact that....
It's just another diet.
And what is a diet? Simple. It's anything of which the primary objective, is intentional weight loss.
Whilst it's recognised that just about any "diet" or intentional weight loss strategy may reliably (at least when you first start) induce weight loss, research tells us that the vast majority of individuals who lose weight will not sustain that weight loss in the long term.
Perhaps, if you are reading this, you have experienced this yourself? Many people who start a new diet will lose weight whilst they are on that diet. However, as soon as the diet stops, the weight returns. For between one to two thirds of individuals, the weight will return, plus some extra.
This is what we call the diet cycle, and it happens because at the heart of most diets is the premise of restriction and deprivation; a restriction that is unsustainable not just at a biological level, but often also at the mental, emotional, social, and sometimes even financial levels.
On a diet you must count calories and avoid your favourite foods. If you have a history of dieting, you already know that this sets off the ‘alarm’ in the brain; restriction and deprivation is coming!
From the onset, you are running uphill. You must ignore the very natural and normal signals that your body is giving; signals that are biologically hardwired in to your body from birth. Before long, you see that you are missing out. Your mind, body and environment will fight against this. You have to eat differently, avoid joining in socially and you must constantly deny yourself foods which are a natural part of a healthy and balanced diet. Before long, your body catches on to what you are doing and adjusts to starvation quite appropriately; by lowering your resting metabolic rate, ensuring that you will not succumb to this famine (thank you body).
On a typical weight loss diet, you are instructed to think constantly about food, so guess what happens when you ‘fall off the wagon’? You’re thinking about food more than ever. This in turn sets up a vicious cycle of shame and feeling like a failure. It is not you who failed however, IT WAS THE DIET THAT FAILED. Conscious self-denial of something will often lead to an increased desire of that very thing. There is a term for this; salience. Food starts to have a higher salience than it did before.
The important thing to understand about all of this, is that when this is the outcome for 95% of the population (TW: stigmatising language), what we are looking at here is not a failure of the individual themselves, but a systematic failure. Dieting does not work.
Research has shown that repeated episodes of weight fluctuations can be more harmful to your health than being at a stable higher to begin with. Importantly, dieting can lead to reduced self-esteem, reduced mental health, confusion and obsession about food, and even the development of an eating disorder. If you are a person who is vulnerable to disordered eating, diets are actually one of the most dangerous and counterproductive things that you can do, with dieting being one of the biggest risk factors for the development of an eating disorder.
Wow. What a mess we are in when it comes to health, self-care, and creating a healthy relationship with food and our bodies.
Thankfully, there is another way.
Whilst it is still relatively small, there is a fast growing group of heatlh practitioners worldwide, practicing under the principles of the non-diet approach, also known as "Health At Every Size® (HAES®)". These practitioners understand the harms of constantly trying to fight our bodies and our weight, and have become increasingly vocal about the importance of body respect and acceptance, as well as rejecting dieting in favour of self-care, self-compassion, good education regarding health (which often starts with mental health), as well as the socioeconomic determinants of health, and things like discrimination and stigma.
These practitioners understand that when we ask individuals to focus on or reduce their weight, that more times than not, this sets into motion the destructive cycle outlined above which in the long term, leads to worse physical and mental health outcomes.
As Melbourne dietitian, Zoe Nicholson writes,
‘Health at every size’ (HAES) aims to promote self-care through addressing health behaviours, acknowledging and tackling weight stigma, and being inclusive of human diversity. . . When people feel better within themselves, they are more likely to engage in healthy behaviours and feel motivated to take care of their bodies. Current public obesity interventions may be having the opposite effect through perpetuation of ‘weight stigma’
What is it Like to Work with a Non-Diet Pracitioner?
A non-diet practitioner will not be interested in your number on the scale; they will be interested in your relationship to that number. What is your body image like? What is that voice in your head saying to you, about you, and how does that impact your wellbeing?
A non-diet practitioner will not be interested in "what" you are eating; they will be interested in "how" you are eating. In other words.....
Is your relationship with food peaceful, relaxed, and free?
Is it curious and diverse?
Does it allow you to explore and experience your life in the way that you desire?
Does it take up an appropriate amount of space in your mind?
Is your relationship with food stressed, fraught, rigid, and fearful?
Does it take up too much space in your mind and not leave enough space for the rest of the things that matter in life?
All kinds of people might choose to see a non-diet practitioner; you do not need to have a diagnosis of an eating disorder (although you may do, and if you do, I strongly suggest seeking non-diet aligned support).
You may relate more to the term disordered eating. You may identify with having struggled with your weight and subsequent decisions around health. You may just think, geez, I'm sick of being so f*cked up about food and my body, and be looking for more out of life....and all of these reasons and more would be a wonderful and valid reasons to seek support from a non-diet practitioner!
Whichever category you fall in to, with a non-diet practitioner you will be safe. Safe to speak openly about your experiences and explore what works for you. Safe to talk about and unpack the past traumas of dieting, living in diet culture, and living in such a fat-phobic and weight-stigmatising world (see this blog post for descriptions here). Rest assured that this will be a judgement-free zone. You will not be condescended to, belittled to, told what you should and shouldn't be eating, or lectured about your body or your health choices. You will be listened to in a respectful way. Aperson-centred approach....a YOU-centred approach.
Is it time for you to reject diet culture and the thin ideal and instead learn to love the body that you are in?