From 18-year-old Dieter to Anti-Diet Dietitian

I sat across from my new college advisor, looking into an unfamiliar face while discussing details that would decide my future. I had to explain why I was there, trying to decide between pursuing architecture or switching gears to nutrition. Her attempt at a poker face tried to tell me, “Girl, let’s back it up a bit.” Because these two things don’t overlap anywhere. Not even a little bit.

My application to Penn State was specifically for their competitive architecture program. I was accepted to the school, but not the architecture program. They did invite me to participate in their small architectural summer program prior to my freshman year. I was like, “Nah, I got summer plans.” You could say I wasn’t 100 percent committed to drawing in straight lines on grid paper to convey my (lack of) abstract ideas. What did I spend my summer doing? Traveling, going to baseball games, swimming, and outlining a nutrition plan for a family friend who wanted to lose some weight.

I told this new advisor about how much I loved my private art lessons that helped me put together my application portfolio. Then I told her about this “nutrition” plan I put together, how I enjoyed helping that friend “get healthier,” and how much I knew about food because I read FITNESS magazine every month. (I’ll give you a minute here to roll your eyes. And another one.)

Did I help that family friend? Probably not much. I gave her tips based on what I did to lose weight as an 18 year old. That’s where I was in life—doing what I thought was healthy, but could quite easily be categorized as dieting. As an 18 year old. But it landed me in my first nutrition class.

The stranger-turned-advisor said to me, “You lean back in your chair and cross your arms when you talk about architecture. You leaned forward, relaxed, and even smiled a bit, when you talked about nutrition. Why don’t you give Nutrition a try? It seems like you enjoy it.”

— — — — —

So, study nutrition I did.

I aced my initial classes with ease. I soaked up everything there was to know about calories, macro and micronutrient absorption, and then eventually medical nutrition therapy. I aced organic chemistry but was REAL bad at biochemistry. I all but memorized the calorie count of every food I ate on an even semi-regular basis. I lost weight and considered myself “good” at nutrition. It was the right fit. I was going to help people be healthier, one diet—or exchange system—at a time!

I tried to help too many people diet in the first seven years of my career.

At various points, it was literally my job to do so. At others, I was simply making sure the messages were clear: Eat more vegetables and fruits, drink water instead of soda, enjoy sweets “in moderation,” etc. You know the drill.

At many points I started to wonder, “Is this actually helping?”

I wanted people to adopt sustainable habits, not follow some homogenous diet that “should work” for the average population. I wanted people to feel good about their day to day choices, not dread the fact that they “should” wake up and eat plain oatmeal with a teaspoon of chia seeds and a glass of low-fat milk. (Although, I hate the way chia seeds get stuck in my teeth, so they didn’t hear that one from me.) I wanted my clients to enjoy our conversations, not start them with, “I almost didn’t answer this call, because I haven’t been eating well.” What did eating well mean to them? I wanted to be curious about that. I wanted to stop doling out rules that I didn’t fully agree with.

I found my people, and the anti-diet approach. 

When I found dietitians who practiced an anti-diet approach, and talked about intuitive eating, I was like, HI LET’S BE FRANDS. I’ve said this many times, and will keep saying it over and over again: Dropping the diet mentality and understanding that there is a weight-neutral approach to health saved my career as a dietitian. I would NOT be here rambling about nutrition every week, meeting with clients 1:1, or podcasting with fellow dietitians if it weren’t for the anti-diet approach. Two years ago, I was tempted to let my certification lapse, or at the very least, keep it for good measure and explore an entirely new career in the meantime. Writing? Taste-testing broccoli-based guacamole or Soylent? (Anyone get that throwback?) Acquiring frequent flyer miles on Virgin America? I’m decent at all those things. I could have happily done those instead.

What is the anti-diet approach to dietetics?

I found the dietitians who aren’t afraid to say DIETS DO NOT WORK.

They kept me in the game. They’re sometimes sassy (love that), opinionated (my jam), and aren’t afraid to point out the staggering amount of science that suggests dieting is a futile effort. They educate healthcare providers, clients, and dietitians that people in larger bodies can be metabolically healthy, despite persistent stigma that suggests otherwise. They are a breath of fresh air in what was becoming, to me, a stagnant conversation about obesity. And all the fad diets. And cleanses. And DETOXES. No more. 

This anti-diet approach gives one simple answer to all of them: Avoid. At all costs. It’s a waste of your time, energy, and potentially good health.

Register: Dietitians Taking the Anti-Diet Approach, a round table discussion

If I had tried to stay in this dietetics world alone, I wouldn’t have lasted.

Instead, I sought out a variety of opinions, philosophies, and evidence-based practices. I asked for help. What does this anti-diet approach mean? How can I use it in practice? I started a podcast so I could have more conversations with dietitians about the anti-diet approach, intuitive eating, eating disorder recovery, and the ridiculous things we see in the nutrition news.

anti-diet approach tips | heathercaplan.com

Now, I want to share that with more dietitians and dietitians-to-be in an intimate way. A round table conversation with the experts. 

Dietitians Taking the Anti-Diet Approach – RD Real Talk Round Table Event

I want more of us to be at the table together, having these conversations! So, I’m setting up a 40-person table, inviting my colleagues-turned-friends to provide their expertise, and opening the door. It was most fitting to launch this event series with Dietitians Taking the Anti-Diet Approach—a Real Talk Round Table conversation happening live on Thursday, October 5.

Save your seat at the table.

Join us in this fight against the grain. Learn from experts. It might be the thing that changes your career path, like it changed mine. We’re open to your questions, thoughts, and concerns. We’re here to have a conversation, not present a lecture. We’re keeping it to 40 seats per table, so we can also offer you a 1:1 mentoring call after the conversation.

I can’t imagine ever prescribing another diet to another client. If you feel the same, you’ve found your RDN people. We’re with you. Let’s chat. 

Comments

  1. September 13, 2017

    Great post! I completely agree with you, as someone who suffered with eating disorders for years I hate ‘diets’, a healthy lifestyle is the best approach.
    http://www.libertylife.me

  2. September 14, 2017

    I’m really looking forward to the first round table event. As an RD that would like to promote a non-diet approach I have found it really challenging for a variety of reasons. Thank you for putting this together!

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