This may sound like an oxymoron, but I am a non-diet dietitian. You may be wondering, what the heck does that even mean? Good question!
It means I provide weight-inclusive care and nutrition coaching that respects and celebrates body diversity and is focused on healthful behaviors not weight loss. The truth is our bodies all have a genetically predetermined weight set range—much like our foot size or height is encoded in our genes, our ideal body weight is too.
That range is different and unique for each of us as individuals. And although we’re told that weight is all about calories in and calories out—or that if we just ate less and exercised more—our weight would magically go where we’d like it to… it’s just not true.
Perhaps your personal experience tells you this is so?
Actual weight science is far more complex. Genetics plays a large role in our body shape and size. This is, of course, outside of our conscious control.
Additional factors such as how much sleep we get, our day-to-day stress levels, hormone levels, the unique composition of the bacterial colonies in our gut, medications we take, diseases we may have, exposure to pollutants, and social determinants of health (things like socioeconomic status, access to medical care, weight stigma, racial discrimination, and many others) also play a role in weight regulation… and thus the number we see on the scale.
Beyond that, weight does not equal health. To keep it super simple, one can be healthy in a larger body or unhealthy in a smaller body or, put another way, bodies can be healthy across a wide range of sizes. Health doesn’t have “a look” and is dynamic. For a variety of reasons which I will save for another time, the BMI scale used in many doctor’s offices is not a reliable or even terribly useful indicator of health.
The reality is that dieting itself can actually increase your weight set range over time—particularly with repeated attempts—by slowing metabolism, increasing hormones that trigger hunger and suppress fullness, and inducing the release of enzymes that initiate fat storage in the body, to name just a few mechanisms.
Our culture’s obsession with weight and dieting also causes a great many people to engage in disordered eating behaviors. In fact, disordered eating is so commonplace at this point, that we often don’t even recognize it as such. Eating disorders themselves are on the rise too, more than doubling worldwide since the year 2000. And it’s not just young girls who are affected; disordered eating is on the rise for women over 50 as well.
At a minimum, chronic dieting is not only NOT helping most people get and STAY thinner, but it also causes significant stress, frustration, guilt, and anxiety around food and health—all of which contributes to something called allostatic load. This is essentially the “wear and tear” that accumulates in our bodies over time in response to chronic stress and life events. A greater allostatic load correlates with a greater negative impact on health, and dieting can be one such stressor.
If Dieting Isn’t the Answer, Should I Just Give Up? Because That Doesn’t Feel Right…
Great news! Letting go of the intentional pursuit of weight loss does not mean you are or need to give up on yourself or your health. What I advocate instead—and what I focus on with my 1:1 nutrition coaching clients—is to shift the focus from losing weight to amplifying wellbeing by engaging in health-promoting behaviors that are enjoyable and make you feel good.
Not only can this approach help improve overall health and quality of life (there are more than 140 research studies supporting the benefits of Intuitive Eating, which is the approach to food and nutrition that I introduce to all of my clients)…but it’s far more enjoyable, sustainable, and empowering than dieting too.
Here are 3 ways you can practice implementing this effective and compassionate approach to health:
- Widen your scope. The dieting world makes us think that we’re always just one bite away from death or disease. Not only is this not true and over dramatized, but it offers a pretty narrow view of health. Remember that if your pursuit of health (or a number on the scale) is causing anxiety, frustration or stress… it’s not really all that healthful. Instead, look for ways to nurture and care for your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing—that sweet spot where these areas overlap is what I like to think of as true, authentic health.
- Practice building connection and trust with your body. I don’t know who coined this phrase, but I love the saying, “Listen to your body when it whispers so you don’t have to hear it roar.” Our bodies are innately wise, and they send us a treasure trove of signals each and every day that can help us meet our most essential needs.
Learning to connect with and tune into your body takes patience and practice, but the rewards are so very worth it. For an easy place to start, try to tune into and respond to your hunger and fullness cues. Unlike diets or meal plans that take place outside of your body and are only useful until they no longer work for you (which is usually when you get bored with the foods—or miss the ones you love—or life gets busy, stressful, or otherwise overwhelming), the ability to tune into your innate hunger and fullness signals will stick with you for a lifetime and can really most helpfully guide what, whether, when, and how much you eat.
- Focus on behaviors not outcomes. Weight is not a behavior, which means it’s not fully within your control. Some things that are within your control include how much you move your body, how many veggies, fruits or whole grains you eat, your sleep habits, stress management techniques, the quality of your self-talk, and a great many other health-promoting activities. Pour your energy into caring for and bettering those behaviors that you can and will benefit from shaping.
In a nutshell, this approach to health and wellbeing is about letting go of battling food or your weight in order to connect with your body and nurture your overall, authentic health and wellbeing. The rewards are truly life-changing!
If you’re intrigued by this approach and would like to learn more and decide whether or not it’s right for you, I’d love to chat with you and share more details! Here’s a link to set up a FREE “Diet Dropout” strategy call.
Elizabeth Harris is a registered dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating counselor. She helps women end the cycle of chronic dieting and eat what they love without stress or guilt so they can show up like an effective and energetic superstar for all the people and things in life that really matter. Elizabeth helps women shift the focus from numbers and weight to authentic mind-body health and wellbeing.
Unlike other nutrition programs that focus on what not to do or which foods to eliminate, restrict, or avoid, Elizabeth believes in highlighting all the foods and habits you can ADD to your routines to reach your goals and feel great, while making nutrition simple, satisfying, and sustainable. She helps put the pleasure and fun back into nutrition, food, and self-care… because you’ve got better things to do than count carbs and the pursuit of health and healing should be enjoyable and empowering!
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