What is an Anti-Diet Dietitian?

When I started my private practice, I was beginning to learn the official principles of Intuitive Eating. I knew a little bit, but not enough to feel confident incorporating it in my nutrition counseling. I had to change that in order to be the kind of dietitian I wanted to be—an anti-diet dietitian—to practice what I think is true.

Nutrition and weight loss do not always walk hand-in-hand; diets do not work; learning to honor your body’s intuitive hunger and satiety cues will save your relationship with food. If you learn to practice Intuitive Eating, maybe you’ll lose weight, maybe you’ll gain weight, maybe your weight will stay the same. I can’t predict that. I won’t promise anything related to weight. If your focus was on weight loss, the rest of the message would be lost. 

While I’ve worked with clients 1:1 for years, that find me here on this site (as a reader or podcast listener), I needed another avenue to meet new people. My private practice needed to grow. I partnered with a gym in Arlington, and voila! A cute nutrition office, face-to-face interactions, new friends, a place to teach yoga—all the things! What I had not fully anticipated was the diet culture that comes with a gym. This is NOT specific to this gym; they worked hard to teach people health from every angle. That’s why I partnered with them in the first place. (Also, they’re good people.) But it’s there, the diet mentality is present and hard to ignore. 

We started with a nutrition open-house at the gym on a wintery Saturday morning. I met with people for 20-minute drive-by sessions, introducing them to my style and my expertise. You can’t cover much in 20 minutes! You certainly can’t cover the ten principles of Intuitive Eating, especially when that’s not what clients came to hear. To be honest, you can’t even cover them in a few one hour sessions. That’s not how it works.

Julie Dillon and I talked about this early Intuitive Eating counseling phase on episode 13 of RD Real Talk. You start on the fence, with a foot on both sides—you want to help people with their goals (which are often centered around weight loss), you want clients to continue working with you, they assume you’ll help them lose weight (as the primary goal and focus), you want to be a weight-neutral, diet-free dietitian. HOW DO THOSE THINGS MIX? It’s not as simple as putting them all in a pot and stirring it up. But stir the pot, you certainly will.

I am an anti-diet (or non-diet) dietitian.

That means I won’t put you on a diet to lose weight, or improve your health. It means I won’t assume that weight loss will result in better health for you, or even assume that you need to improve your (metabolic) health simply because you came to me. It means I won’t give you a weight loss goal, or low-calorie meal ideas, or consider your body weight a measure of your health* (or worth).

As Evelyn Tribole put it on Rebecca Scritchfield’s Body Kindness podcast, “Dieting is unethical.” The research shows that dieting doesn’t work. It increases the likelihood of weight gain. It often leads to food obsession, cravings, emotional eating, and weight gain cycles. It distracts us from our body’s true (intuitive) hunger and satiety cues, because instead of listening to those intuitive signals, we follow the diet’s rules. It can take weeks, months, and sometimes years to reverse the effects (and mindset) of chronic dieting.

*Exceptions may be found in Eating Disorder recovery cases, where weight restoration is part of the care process. 

Clients usually don’t want to hear that.

They are used to hearing the diet messages; they expect dietitians to give them rules and plans, a safety box of measurements and calorie control, the guidelines that will keep them “disciplined.” I sometimes receive a confused look when I explain why diets and food rules are not my style. But, it also took me a while to have the confidence to say, “That’s not my style.”

I have that confidence now, to say first and foremost, before the session really begins, “I am a non-diet dietitian. I am anti-dieting. Here’s why…” And, what do ya know, people listen. They’re open minded. They came to me, the dietitian, for guidance. They had an expectation (don’t we all). It wasn’t met; but that’s neither a failed experience nor a successful one. It’s different.

It’s different than the media messages we consume every day.

It’s different than the diet messages we’ve read for decades. It’s different than the diets that have “worked” in the past, but failed clients so many times over. So, in many cases, it can be both refreshing and terrifying. I get that. I’ve been there.

Anti-diet dietitians put some aspects of our formal education aside, making room for a different evidence-based approach.

I believe this approach is one that works for the long term. It’s one that involves getting back to our body’s intuition, listening to it, and honoring it. One that does incorporate nutrition science—macronutrients and micronutrients, improving health with food, activity, and stress management—just not with a one-stop-shop-weight-loss approach.

It gives us permission to eat all foods, not just the “good” ones. It encourages pleasure, mindfulness, body respect, joyful movement, and self-trust. It encourages you to experiment with food, and notice how it makes you feel. It doesn’t require good, or clean, or fat-free, or whole, or raw, or natural foods.

I can’t say for sure that all anti-diet dietitians believe in, and teach, Intuitive Eating. I’m saying that I do. Most of the RDs who have inspired me to learn more about this philosophy, and incorporate it in my work, also do. There are no rules to this approach, which may make it confusing for consumers.

If only one thing is clear after you’ve read this post, I hope it is this: Diets don’t work. An anti-diet dietitian won’t put you on a diet, and they don’t assume your weight is the sole measure of your health. If that sounds like both a refreshing and necessary shift for your mind and body, you’re in the right place.

Comments

  1. June 2, 2017

    I really enjoyed this article. As a dietitian, I find it very hard to transition to an intuitive eating, non-diet approach when: a) A “diet” for weight loss is what most clients come to us looking for and b) I don’t practice private practice so am I able to do this autonomously within an organization?

    What helped you make the transition?

    • June 5, 2017

      Hi Megan,
      As I mentioned, I struggled as well! I’ve found that the more I learn about Intuitive Eating, and the more I incorporate it (unapologetically) in my practice and writing, the more confident I am in telling clients why I take this approach. Keep in mind that many clients want one thing, but often don’t like what they hear even when you cater to that goal. Rather, your expertise is why they come to you in the first place, so education (and building that relationship with your client) is key. I hope that helps!

  2. November 19, 2017

    Muy interesante Es necesario incorporar en la práctica mas confianza en relación a la forma de comer intuitivamente. Lo que dicen es muy cierto la mayoría de los pacientes van por una dieta restrictiva no por la educación y es aquí donde se empieza una relación la cual es necesario tener la empatía suficiente para lograr construirla. Esto es uno de los aprendizajes que deben tener para lograr cumplir las metas como dietista además considero muy importante iniciarnos en las técnicas de este enfoque.

  3. November 23, 2017

    Heather you rock!!! After many years of working in this field, I’m just beginning to find a way to authentically help clients in a meaningful way without following all the rules. As a Dietitian, when we can use our formal training and combine this with our intuition and creativity, I believe we can best serve our clients.

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