Did you notice an absence of weight loss and fad diet stories during the quarantine and early pandemic days? In part, that was because our priorities changed.
Deprivation from diets was far from what we needed; we longed for comfort, including the consolation that might be found in our favorite foods. We welcomed back carbs and acquired new baking skills. We sped in and out of stores quickly with just enough time to buy long-lasting staples along with some special snacks. Yet now that we’re emerging from our homes – and perhaps wearing a few extra pounds – diet news, like a virus, is creeping back to the headlines.
Conversely, what’s also grabbing media attention is the backlash from those who speak out against restrictive plans and food rules that do more harm than good to our bodies and minds.
Pushback Against Dieting
A few of the phrases you’ll hear from those pushing back against our culture’s obsession with diet include “non-diet,” “anti-diet” and “mindful eating.” This is an effort to help people, particularly women, build a better relationship with food, ditch the stress-related punitive diet mentality, be more appreciative and accepting of their bodies, eat more healthfully, feel satisfied and maybe even shed pounds in the process, if desired.
There’s been a recent resurgence of a catch phrase called intuitive eating, but for some anti-dieters, particularly on social media, the intention of intuitive eating, which encourages body positivity and reconnecting with internal wisdom and cues related to eating, has gotten misinterpreted. Scornful comments have been posted, making the word diet seem as if it provokes harm or shames those who want to lose weight. This weight debate even exists among dietitian nutritionists.
The word diet actually means way of life, not weigh of life. Meaning, you should be able to incorporate your diet into your lifestyle, and not have to change your life to fit in your diet. Even our pets are on diets. Attaining good mental and physical health is not only about the numbers that appear on the scale, but that doesn’t mean that your body weight is something that’s unimportant or that it’s a factor that should be ignored. Your weight may or may not be an indicator of your state of health, depending on your medical history.
For some people, a reduction in body weight can evoke a sense of well-being and perhaps even bring better laboratory values, less joint pain and stable blood pressure and blood sugar values. For others who might weigh more than the recommended values stated on charts and tables, but are otherwise healthy, they may not need or choose to modify their body weight at all.
The idea behind intuitive eating is pretty simple: you listen to your body’s natural hunger cues, which means you learn to eat what you want when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, but that in itself sounds simpler than it is for many people. If you ate like an infant, it wouldn’t be unusual for you to push a spoon away when your tummy told you that you were done, based upon a physical feeling of contentment. For adults, however, satiation often relies upon our senses of taste, smell and texture or temperature, coupled with a hefty side dish of our emotions and memories.
Some of us eat beyond the sensation of fullness, since, unlike infants, we seek satisfaction in our minds, not just in our stomachs. We long for “full-fillment,” as being something adults confuse by filling themselves with food while they long for fulfillment in other areas of their lives. But this state of mind and body is not as easy to attain as it was when we were children. We crave both physical and emotional gratification.
The concept of intuitive eating has been around in nutritionist and registered dietitian communities for some time. This practice became more mainstream in 1995 when dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch published the first edition of their book called “Intuitive Eating,” currently in its fourth edition. So why is the notion of ditching diets and any weight-related conversations taking up lots of real estate on social platforms?
Non-diet dietitians are taking on other influencers, including other dietitians, by expressing concerns about giving weight-related advice to a client, even if the client desires and prioritizes a safe, healthy way to reduce body weight under the guidance of a credentialed professional. I, personally, have received calls from new clients asking me if I’d be willing to help them eat better and lose weight since other RDs refused to discuss weight loss.
And here’s where I need to weigh in. First of all, I grew up overweight with bad eating habits and a bad self-image. At the age of 17, I decided to change my diet and that, literally, changed my life. Through eating more healthfully, I lost weight and gained self-confidence, and as a bonus side effect, I also gained a career. I originally went to college with the intention of majoring in psychology and minoring in art, but my new way of eating made me want to take a deeper dive into nutrition and dietetics so I switched schools, changed majors and the rest is history.
But back then, it was the excitement of the weight loss that encouraged me to hold onto healthy habits and become more mindful. So, for some people, it doesn’t happen the other way around – so mindfulness or eating intuitively alone may not spark the change in body weight. For some people, a clear weight loss goal may be the catalyst that motivates one to create a healthier lifestyle – including their exercise and eating habits.
Although I have been counseling clients for more than 30 years to help them eat happily and healthfully – which sometimes includes the goal of losing, gaining or maintaining body weight – I never employed “allowed” and “avoid” lists. I never demonized one type of food or food group. I helped people gain confidence and lose weight (in that order), without restriction, deprivation and food policing. Self-love, self-respect and a positive attitude towards making food choices was the foundation on which I built my business. There was no need to call myself a “non-diet dietitian” or any “type” of practitioner, for that matter.
Whether someone chooses to count calories, weigh themselves or lose weight was not for me to decide. But I can say, with conviction, that the majority of my clients that lost weight felt proud of the change they created, and if they chose to use a scale, it was their choice as a tool to measure body weight, not self-worth.
At the same time, however, losing weight alone, without learning how to live a balanced lifestyle, is like putting a bandage on a broken arm: It covers the external wound without delving deeper to take care of true internal issues. And weight loss shouldn’t necessarily be the primary goal in an attempt to bolster your self-image or turn off destructive negative self-talk. The road to healthier living doesn’t have to be one way or another; people should be encouraged to carve their own personal paths.
Although I’m sure we’ll still see our share of unbalanced, unrealistic fad diets coming and going, I think conversations surrounding words like, weight loss, calories and scales will continue to evolve. In many respects, this change could be for the better – as long as there’s not a downside to this trend, fueling diet shaming or making one feel badly about wanting to lose weight or, for dietitians, talking about it.