Forget weight, let’s talk about weight stigma

You may have noticed I’m passionate about non-diet approaches to health.  In fact, the whole reason why I studied mindful eating was to explore anti-diet strategies my clients could use (and news alert – mindful eating is a fantastic non-diet approach skill!)

Now if you’re new to the topics of diet culture and the non-diet approach, you might be interested in an article about weight stigma I wrote some months ago. It recently got picked up by WHIMN website. I wrote the opinion piece because this year, I made a pact with myself to speak up more on the topic of weight stigma.  Again, you might not be that familiar with the topic of weight stigma. If so, don’t worry. The article will shed a little bit of light for you. Continue reading Forget weight, let’s talk about weight stigma

What’s the non-diet approach and how to start using it

If you’ve been following my shenanigans over at SOL nutrition, you’ll know I’ve been writing about this thing called the non-diet approach for quite sometime.

If we’ve just met, maybe you’re wondering what is the non-diet approach? And why would Diet-itians be using it?

Yeah, I guess it’s kind of a puzzling phrase. So let’s learn more.

 

What’s the non-diet approach?

The non-diet approach, sometimes shortened to ‘NDA’, is a way certain health professionals, including Dietitians can support you to make health changes without a focus on weight loss.

 

Why don’t we promote weight loss?

There are four main reasons why we [many health professionals] don’t recommend weight loss programs or diets as a means for good health anymore:

1. Diets don’t work

Weight loss techniques, whether that be advice from a Dietitian, Weight Watchers or other community based programs do not work in the long term. Many folks (95%) can lose weight initially but after 2-5 years they return to their original weight.

 

2. The relationship between weight and health is poor

There is currently minimal scientific evidence that living in a larger body is “bad for our health”.

You will often read well meaning health advice that if we lose weight our particular health concerns (such as diabetes, high blood pressure and so on) will improve. Yes, this can happen. The nutrients associated with such health conditions (such as saturated fat, added sugars and salt) are often found in foods with a higher amount of energy (or calories). Therefore, when we follow a weight loss diet, our health can sometimes improve.

  • However, we don’t know the change in body weight causes the health improvements.  Any relationships between body weight and health are a correlation – not a cause/effect.
  • What we do know that impacts directly on our health is  dietary patterns (like the Mediterranean Diet and Blue Zones) and particular nutrients (like saturated fat and salt).
  • It’s also important to note, there are also emerging studies showing folks who simply focused on health (and not weight) had improved health and shock horror, this happened even if their weight didn’t go down.

“Just because someone is living in a larger body, it doesn’t mean their health is worse (or will be worse) than someone living in a smaller body.”

 

3. Weight loss diets can be harmful

There is evidence those folks who frequently follow weight-loss diets are at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder, becoming disconnected with their body, developing body dissatisfaction, depression and anxiety.

If that’s not evidence enough to ditch diets, weight cycling (which is what happens when we frequently diet) can increase inflammatory responses in our body and therefore the risk of chronic health conditions such as insulin resistance and hypertension (high blood pressure).

 

4. The issue is bigger than just health

Focusing health promotion strategies on weight, and making those folks living in larger bodies feel like there is something wrong with them (or they’re not as worthy as someone in a smaller body) is a social justice issue.

This issue runs deep, is complicated and sometimes hard to spot:

  • It’s interwoven in the savvy marketing companies use to make women feel unhappy with who they are (and buy the dress, the anti-wrinkle cream, the cellulite cream, or weight loss regimen)
  • It’s interwoven into the campaigns making men feel less than who they are (because they might not “fit the mould”).
  • It’s worsened, when folks who are already part of a disadvantaged group (whether that be due to their socio-economic status, cultural background, religion, gender or sexuality), are also living in a larger body. It’s society’s way of a double right hook.
  • It shows in how we treat the sick and vulnerable like:
    • the Body Mass Index (BMI) many still use to define a patient’s health
    • the lack of research into appropriate medication dosing for those in larger bodies
    • the way we withhold surgery for those in larger bodies (until they lose weight) and
    • my bug-bear – the way those in larger bodies with an eating disorder are viewed as less worthy of treatment or somehow healthier than someone who has Anorexia. (side note – an Eating Disorder is an Eating Disorder – irrespective of body weight).

“It’s a fundamental, human right to feel connected with our community, to feel safe and essentially loved. Dieting culture stops this.”

 

So what’s involved with the non-diet approach?

Now you may be asking, if we aren’t helping people to lose weight, what the heck are we doing?

Easy. Peasy. We get back to basics and focus on what we do know has an impact on health.  Instead we are:

  • Helping folks to take part in exercise for joy
  • Promoting the idea that ‘all bodies are good bodies’ (radical – ha!)
  • Supporting our clients to make flexible food choices based on their own internal body cues
  • Acknowledging nutrition is important for our health, but that it’s not the only path to good health

 

How can you start using a non-diet approach today?

A great way to start is with mindful eating, and practising to be “in the moment” while you eat. It will allow you to trust your body’s cues for when, how much and what to eat (without a meal plan or calorie counting).

With mindful eating there is no guilt, no “right” foods, and no “wrong” foods – and how good would that feel?

 

 

How I discovered mindful eating

“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” ~ Zen proverb

I discovered mindful eating by chance. It’s funny. It’s actually the most effective tool in my “nutritionist tool belt”. Yet, I didn’t study it in either of my university degrees. It’s also probably the most simplest nutrition strategy ever.

In case you don’t know my story, I “discovered” mindful eating 10 years after I started working in nutrition. I originally trained as a Dietitian and Nutritionist in Australia. I worked in a ton of different areas in nutrition. From hospitals to research to public health projects both in Australia and the UK. Over the years I saw A LOT of people who wanted help with losing weight. I “helped” hundreds of people (many women) lose weight and “get healthy”.

 

How I discovered mindful eating

As I went along my way in the nutrition field, one thing kept bothering me. I actually hated. No. Dreaded weighing people. From a personal viewpoint, I felt losing weight was not important. I felt like it didn’t really matter and that if we focused on health, we would be the “right weight for us”.

So slightly weird. I was a Dietitian that hated weighing people! After a number of years of working I actually stopped weighing clients. I gravitated more and more towards the psychology of eating and what is now called the Non-Diet Approach. It turns out it was much a much kinder, gentler approach to helping people change the way they eat. Surprise. Surprise. No scales or diets were required!

It was through my search for novel, non-diet strategies for my clients, I came across this fun little thing called mindful eating. Mindful eating had become a super-useful strategy for anyone struggling with over-eating, binge eating or an unhappy relationship with food. My 3 biggest influences were Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, Jean Kristeller and Jan Chozen Bays. From there I embarked on formal training in meditation & mindful eating and in fact, I’m now a proud Volunteer Ambassador* for The Mindfulness App!

 

How mindful eating works

Mindful eating is an informal way of practising mindfulness. It’s as simple as other everyday activities like brushing our teeth, drinking tea or going for a walk. It allows us to really hone in on the eating process.

Mindful eating works best alongside cultivating a formal mindfulness practice like meditation and yoga. The formal mindfulness practice allows us to manage all those crazy little life happenings that keep us feeling a little anxious or a bit reactive. Therefore we can come to meal times with a calm mindset.

Being calm when we eat is the first step of mindful eating. If we are calm, we are more likely to notice our hunger, fullness and how we satisfied with feel from eating. It also helps us to notice our emotional and environmental triggers to eating and we can start to change things (if we need or want to).

 

Want to try mindful eating for yourself?

We have a fun, free 5 day mindful eating challenge. To access just head here.

A bit hesitant? Start here with a short meditation. Becoming less reactive to our everyday stress is an awesome way to start…

“Remember, it’s not often about the food”