13 Experts On Why They No Longer Recommend Diets



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Health

These experts have two goals: To help people have better
relationships with food, and to dismantle the diet-first
mindset.

Posted on January 01, 2018, 18:46 GMT

Kate Bubacz / BuzzFeed News

But there are registered dietitians whose approach to working
with clients doesn’t include dieting or weight loss at all.
In fact, some of them outright reject it as a way to help
their clients find satisfaction with their eating habits and
their bodies. Some of these professionals call themselves
weight-neutral, others anti-diet, still others practice from
a Health At
Every Size (HAES) or intuitive eating perspective,
embracing principles of body acceptance and diversity, and
pushing back against cultural norms of thinness and diet
culture.

BuzzFeed Health reached out to a bunch of these dietitians
and asked them about their practice — why they took this
approach, how it’s worked for them, and what they’ve learned
along the way.

Of course, at BuzzFeed Health we understand that everyone has
different feelings about and goals for their health and
bodies; your decision to lose weight or stop trying to lose
weight is yours alone. We’re all making food- and
body-related decisions for a zillion reasons, from health and
digestion to societal cues to what we love or hate to eat, to
what we have the energy to cook or the money to buy, to what
our doctors might suggest to us. Bottom line: It’s your call.
We’re just showing you the other side of the weight loss
coin.

“My approach to working with clients is weight-neutral,
meaning I’m concerned with their thoughts and behaviors, not
the number on the scale. To people who are curious about my
approach, I explain that weight does not dictate health, and
there is no way of predicting what someone’s healthiest
weight is. Even if we could, 95-97% of purposeful weight loss
attempts fail. Instead, I help my clients build sustainable
habits that aren’t built on restriction, and let their body
settle at whatever size it’s supposed to be.

After practicing as a very traditional, weight-focused
dietitian for a few years, it was clear to me that weight
loss approaches just do not work. I would see clients who
would make all the changes, and either lose weight and gain
it back, or the scale wouldn’t budge at all. Many would
struggle to make any changes at all. If an approach isn’t
achievable for a large percentage of people, why do we blame
them and not the approach?”

—Rachael Hartley, RD, private practice dietitian at Rachael Hartley
Nutrition, works with clients online across the US

“Dieting is a system with rules that relies upon external
constructs to guide one’s eating: a meal plan, a list of
foods to eat and others to avoid, a points system, etc.
Similarly, dieting is black and white, all or nothing. In
that paradigm, if someone is not doing ‘all,’ then the only
option they have at their disposal is ‘nothing.’

A non-diet approach involves granting oneself unconditional
permission to eat .

Given that frame of reference, when we propose a non-diet
approach to chronic dieters, their initial reaction is some
version of, ‘If you are not putting me on a diet, what are we
possibly going to do?’ Such a reaction is understandable
given their history, so we show them that another way
exists.

A non-diet approach involves granting oneself unconditional
permission to eat and developing an internal system based
upon recognizing and honoring hunger and fullness cues,
eating enjoyment, and noticing how different foods affect the
body. Instead of citing a presumed lack of willpower or a
supposed food ‘addiction,’ we ask deeper questions in a
neutral fashion to explore why someone might be eating when
they are not hungry or over-consuming certain foods. Our
approach is flexible, we have guidelines and ideas rather
than rules, and there is no wagon from which to fall.”

—Jonah Soolman, RD, Soolman
Nutrition and Wellness LLC, Wellesley, MA

“I started reading the scientific literature and going to
conferences, and the evidence for HAES and intuitive eating
was undeniable. I came to realize that practicing within this
anti-diet paradigm was the only way to help clients truly,
fully recover.

I’ve found in my work that diet culture is a really sneaky
shape-shifter, and at this point in history it often cloaks
itself as ‘wellness’ when it’s really about control and the
hope of weight loss or physical ‘perfection.’

I never recommend cutting out foods or doing elimination
diets (which for most people is just another form of
restriction — diet culture under the guise of health),
although of course if someone has a medically diagnosed food
allergy or celiac disease then I work to support them in
whatever medically necessary dietary restrictions they
need.

I’ve found in my work that diet culture is a really sneaky
shape-shifter, and at this point in history it often cloaks
itself as ‘wellness’ when it’s really about control and the
hope of weight loss or physical ‘perfection.’ As an anti-diet
professional I help root out diet culture in all its sneaky
forms and help people get to a place where they’re truly
honoring their bodies’ cues and desires — NOT following
external rules, whether those rules come from a formal diet
plan, an Instagram ‘wellness’ influencer, or a ‘lifestyle
change that’s not a diet.'”

—Christy Harrison, RD,
certified intuitive eating counselor, Food Psych Programs,
Inc., based in Brooklyn, NY, and works with clients online
worldwide

“I came to employ this approach in my work as a diet tech
(pre RD days!) in an eating disorder treatment center. I was
exposed to the way our cultural climate of weight-obsession,
food-obsession, and thin-obsession was having a negative,
even deathly impact on these clients and their families.

 I am interested in helping my clients promote health
and build positive relationships with food, movement, and
body image, without focusing on weight.

I utilize a weight-inclusive, non-diet, health at every size
approach when working with my clients. A weight-inclusive
approach rests on the assumption that everyone is capable of
achieving health and well-being independent of their weight,
given access to non-stigmatizing health care. With all of the
research we have supporting the negative physiological and
psychological effects of dieting and pursuit of weight loss,
I find it unethical to approach nutrition counseling with the
old diet/weight loss paradigm. Instead, I work with clients
to neutralize all foods, tune into their individual body
signals of hunger and fullness, build healthy emotional
coping skills, rediscover the pleasure in eating, explore
ways to joyfully move one’s body, and more without focusing
on weight. I am interested in helping my clients promote
health and build positive relationships with food, movement,
and body image, without focusing on weight.”

—Natalie Katz, RDN, Feeding Your Soul
Nutrition, Glendale, CA

Food can be a comfort, a source of nourishment, and a source
of joy. It’s a part of life, just like movement. 

“When I work with clients, I employ a weight-inclusive,
intuitive movement, all-foods-fit approach. By ‘all foods
fit,’ I mean that all foods can fit into an eating pattern
that works for that particular person. Together, we explore
what foods the client actually likes (not what they think
they ‘should’ like; as in, do you actually like the taste of
this food?), what sits well with them from a digestive
viewpoint (how’s the energy level? Any GI disturbance?), and
what ‘feeds their soul’ (can we take time out to eat? Are we
able to take time to cook a meal? Can we slow down
surrounding food and connect with others?)

Weight inclusivity embraces all sizes without judgment. I
don’t use the term ‘weight neutral’ as it ignores the fact
that, in our current society, there is weight stigma.
That’s a fact. There’s nothing “neutral” about it. It’s one
of the issues that needs to be discussed in session,
especially with clients in larger bodies, as they often come
to me on a quest to lose weight to fit into our weight
normative societal paradigm. I don’t blame them – as humans,
it’s so important to ‘fit in’ (so interesting, that
terminology…) and to do that, our society requires that we be
a certain size and at a certain level of health. I work with
clients to dismantle that for themselves and to become aware
of behaviors that are no longer working for them. Weight is
not the issue — whether or not the body loses weight is up to
the body, not up to the client or me, for that matter. Food
can be a comfort, a source of nourishment, and a source of
joy. It’s a part of life, just like movement. Movement is
about an appreciation of what your particular body can
do.”

—Lauren Anton,
MS, RD, CPT, Arrive
Nutrition, Culver City, CA

“In the first three years practicing as a dietitian, I
encouraged people (adults, teens, and children) to go on
diets believing it would help them be healthier and live
longer. During this time I also noticed people of size were
treated differently and blamed for their health conditions.
As I was mentally taking this in, I realized how incongruent
my life was with what I taught clients: I didn’t diet nor had
I ever. I didn’t think there were good or bad foods. I had
enjoyed connecting with hunger, fullness, and satiety because
of my thin privilege.

I don’t use the scale as a measure of progress because for
most people it keeps the focus off health and promotes
unhealthy attitudes toward body image and self worth.

Now my nutrition therapy is rooted in evidence-based science
as well as almost twenty years of clinical observation. I
help people move toward health using only weight inclusive
and non-diet theories and interventions. That means I don’t
use the scale as a measure of progress because for most
people it keeps the focus off health and promotes
unhealthy attitudes toward body image and self worth.”

—Julie Duffy Dillon RD, owner, Julie Dillon Consulting
+ BirdHouse
Nutrition Therapy, Greensboro, NC

“First and foremost I think of myself as someone who partners
with my clients to help them heal their relationship with
food and body. The principles that inform my counseling style
include Health At Every Size and Intuitive Eating and is
centered on the belief that we cannot control our bodies and
trying to do so is harmful and ultimately damaging to one’s
health.

This approach, while a lot of work and requires a lot of
bravery, is ultimately empowering and freeing.

Some of the things I do and don’t do in my practice: I
provide education on the harmful effects of counting
calories, points, macros, weight, steps, etc., and help them
move away from quantifying health. In the beginning I have to
debunk incorrect nutrition information and provide them with
a model of eating that is adequate and balanced. I also help
them redefine what ‘health’ is. Our culture essentially
defines health by size and appearance. So we have to re-write
all of that and think of it as much more multi-faceted.

This approach, while a lot of work and requires a lot of
bravery, is ultimately empowering and freeing. Just today a
client told me that she could not believe the growth she has
experienced over the past year. She stated that while is life
is hard and hectic and stressful, internally she feels
happier and more at ease than she has ever felt in her whole
life.”

—Marci Evans, RDN, Food
& Body Image Healer, Cambridge, MA

“Weight loss is highly predictive of weight gain, and a
typical cycle of dieting shows initial short term weight
loss, followed by weight regain, followed by emotional
distress of guilt and shame, followed by another diet. This
isn’t news to anyone, but traditional models of dieting
ignore this evidence and continue to focus on weight loss
anyway. I just refuse to put clients through that harmful
cycle any longer now that we know there are better options
out there.

Intuitive Eating counseling is much, much more than just
stopping dieting and having permission to eat all foods. That
just scrapes the surface.

After working with hundreds of clients doing traditional
weight-focused meal planning and calorie counting approaches
I continued to see the vast majority of people either drop
out of programs or adopt the ‘on again, off again’ diet cycle
so I decided there must be a better way. I was seeing lots of
clients who reported binge eating while dieting which is a
very common development from dieting. Intuitive Eating
counseling is much, much more than just stopping dieting and
having permission to eat all foods. That just scrapes the
surface. I work with clients to help them get to know their
body’s hunger and fullness cues, and they learn through
practice and repetition to check in with their body on
questions like: What do I really want to eat? How will that
feel for me? How full am I feeling? What else do I need if
it’s not food I need right now? Am I willing to give myself
what I really need? Am I willing to tolerate what I’m feeling
right now?”

—Sumner
Brooks, RDN, based in Portland, OR and works with clients
virtually across the US

“After several years working in the dominant weight paradigm,
I became disillusioned and started to feel like I was causing
more harm than good. We were all aware that dieting didn’t
work, and we really thought we were helping people make
healthy lifestyle changes. So I started to feel unethical,
and wondered why we were focusing on weight. There was plenty
of data to show that lifestyle changes can improve health
regardless of weight change, and I thought we could trust
people’s bodies to sort out the weight.

We want people to know they are not broken and that failed
attempts at weight loss are not your fault. 

After 12 years of deep listening and learning while
facilitating groups, workshops and retreats for women
struggling with body shame and disordered eating, we settled
on the phrase “Body Trust” to describe
our approach to healing.

We want people to know they are not broken and that failed
attempts at weight loss are not your fault. The diet and
cosmetic fitness industry has a 95% failure rate, and thrives
when customers blame themselves instead of their flawed
approaches. This industry’s survival depends on you coming
back for more, again and again and again.”

—Dana Sturtevant, RD, co-founder, Be Nourished, Portland,
OR

“Early in my nutrition studies, I was introduced to the HAES
concept in a really comprehensive way, and my history of
extreme weight control and my unhappiness with dieting
collided with this information spectacularly: I decided I
never wanted to go hungry again, or continue to feel bad
about my body, and that I would never emphasize weight loss
for anyone in my future career as a dietitian.

…Weight stigma is such a huge problem, and acknowledging
that it’s completely normal to want to lose weight in a
fat-phobic world is so important. 

I use HAES-compatible, non-diet eating models such as
Intuitive Eating and Eating Competence to help clients
normalize their relationships to food. I often start with
asking them to give themselves unconditional permission to
eat any and all food, as much as they want. This is an
important first step, because guilt and mental restriction
(e.g. labeling foods as “bad”) can drive binge-type
behaviors, or can further their restrictive tendencies.
Hunger and fullness awareness is also a big part of this
work, as is frequent exposure to their forbidden foods in a
safe way. When they are able to put weight outcomes to the
side, they make much better progress in becoming internally
regulated eaters.

But equally important is understanding why someone might want
to lose weight — weight stigma is such a huge problem, and
acknowledging that it’s completely normal to want to lose
weight in a fat-phobic world is so important. Body acceptance
doesn’t come naturally in this environment, so we focus a lot
on ways to do this, like exposure to positive images of fat
bodies, self-talk to halt negative body thoughts, and
techniques to distract from constant body obsession.”

—Glenys Oyston, RD, Dare to Not Diet, Los
Angeles, CA

“After years of focusing on weight loss, I’ve realized that
it is much more helpful to take a weight-neutral approach in
my nutrition counseling. I try to help clients focus on which
habits they have adopted that are healthy, and which habits
are getting in the way of their health goals. By taking the
focus away from weight, my clients find that they can finally
make peace with food and have a better understanding and
appreciation for their bodies.

When I start to talk to my clients about some of these
principles, many of them become tearful because this is the
first time they are hearing that their weight is not a sum of
their health or self worth. 

I realized that focusing on weight was resulting in way too
much anxiety for my clients. Often times, they wouldn’t be
able to reach their ‘goal weight’ without deprivation and
disordered eating. If the scale went up, people would leave
my office feeling bad about themselves and often revert back
to some of their original not-so-healthy habits. I try to use
an intuitive eating approach and help clients learn how to
focus on their internal wisdom about what to eat, how much,
and when. When I start to talk to my clients about some of
these principles, many of them become tearful because this is
the first time they are hearing that their weight is not a
sum of their health or self worth. They are also more
motivated to make healthy habit changes because the pressure
of reaching or maintaining a certain weight is off the
table.”

Jessica Jones, RD, co-founder of Food Heaven Made Easy
and co-host of the Food Heaven Podcast

“My approach to nutrition involves helping people develop a
healthy relationship to food. What does that even mean
though? Well, I promote eating foods that have high
nutritional value, help in fighting off chronic disease, and
promote good health (insert ‘plant-based foods’ here). I also
think there’s a place for the not-so-healthy stuff, if they
bring you satisfaction and pleasure (insert ‘glazed doughnuts
and onion rings’ here). My approach doesn’t involve
restriction, and focuses more so on the wide range of
plant-based foods you can eat.

Also, when it comes to weight, it’s not the focus of the
conversation. Eat nourishing foods, maintain an active
lifestyle, and live your best life. Your weight will settle
where it settles, and that may not be at your calculated
‘ideal body weight.’ And guess what? That’s okay. You don’t
have to reach this ideal body weight to live your best,
healthiest life.”

—Wendy Lopez, RD, co-founder of Food Heaven Made Easy
and co-host of the Food Heaven Podcast,
Bronx, NY

“I would describe my approach as weight inclusive private
practice with an emphasis on Intuitive Eating, Health at
Every Size. My goal is to provide a safe, nonjudgmental space
for clients to begin to heal their relationship with food and
their body.

…Nutritionally, foods are different for sure, but
emotionally, can we treat all foods as equal and not label
them good or bad. 

First of all, my goal is to help the client tune out the
nutrition noise that is going on in their head and begin to
tune into their body cues, like hunger and fullness.
Secondly, I encourage clients to make food emotionally equal.
That means, nutritionally, foods are different for sure, but
emotionally, can we treat all foods as equal and not label
them good or bad. Next, by the client learning to trust their
body, they begin to realize that they have a lot of wisdom
about how foods physically make them feel. Lastly, I think it
is important to talk about and understand the stigma
associated around weight. This allows people to really
connect to the societal pressure that we all feel around our
body size and how that disconnects us from our internal body
wisdom. Basically, I encourage my clients to approach their
food and bodies with compassion, curiosity, and empathy. I’ve
seen how doing this, clients are transforming how they
approach food and beginning to develop body trust.”

—Aaron Flores, RD,
California-based nutritionist specializing in intuitive
eating and Healthy at Every
Size (HAES), co-host of Dietitians Unplugged

Responses have been edited for length.

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