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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.

The approach has stemmed from the decades of work many health professionals and community members have advocated for through the fat positive, body positive and health at every size ® communities.


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?

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