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"Anti-Diet Dietitian"... what does it really mean?


What is an anti-diet dietitian?


Many of you might have read the article recently published titled “Big Food and Dietitians Pushing ‘Anti-Diet’ Advice.” Personally, I was left feeling a little discouraged about the message the article was sending to readers. As a proud anti-diet and Health at Every Size (HAES) dietitian, I think the article minimized the important work dietitians are doing to help clients in our society heal from toxic culture around food. As a proud advocate for anti-diet framework and “all foods fit” nutrition philosophies, I wanted to clear up what I feel like it means to be an anti-diet dietitian.


Dietitians, whether they are a Health at Every Size dietitian or not, must complete rigorous training. Dietitians complete a Bachelors of Science in Dietetics, which includes many courses like organic chemistry, anatomy, biology, microbiology, and metabolic nutrition, complete an 8-12 month dietetic internship which consists of 40 hours per week of supervised practice, and then must also pass a national credentialing exam in order to become a dietitian. Dietitians are very competent in understanding how bodies work and the science behind health outcomes. As anti-diet and HAES dietitians, we are not saying, “go out and eat whatever and however much of any food and don’t worry about your health and wellbeing.” We recognize that different foods have different nutritional qualities, but we also don’t demonize or place moral value on any one type of food or food group. What we are trying to do is to change the narrative of what has been taught as blanket “healthy” based solely on weight status because we know that these messages have been extremely stigmatizing and harmful to our clients.   


For example, Body Mass Index (BMI) was created in the 1830s by Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet. He was a Belgian astronomer, mathematician, statistician, and sociologist. Yes, that is correct, he was not a medical doctor, but somehow our entire health and well-being became centered around this one number. So much of our self-worth is tied to our weight and BMI because of cultural norms, and these values increase shame and guilt about our bodies and our eating, especially when attending medical appointments. We know that scientific evidence demonstrates there are factors outside of weight that contribute to our health. As HAES professionals, we are helping clients learn this new information, and are providing them with dialogue and context they haven’t understood or been exposed to previously. Empowering them in this way allows them to take control of their health and well being without guilt or shame around body size. Weight stigma is real. How powerful would it be to attend a medical visits without feeling devalued because of a number on the scale? How much more enjoyable would it be to go to a family event without having to worry about weight being the sole focus? 


We live in a world where there are many extremes, and food is not spared from this list.  From an early age, we are taught that there are healthy foods and not so healthy foods, “good” foods and “bad” foods.  The problem with these labels is that it promotes “all or nothing” thinking, and attaches morality to food, which is not reasonable or attainable and harms those individuals who may have to make food choices for reasons other than nutritional quality.   


“Dieting” has been around since the 19th century and has taken many different forms over the years, but has never been shown to be helpful long term for our overall health. We know evidence supports this, so as anti-diet dietitians, we are simply trying to offer an alternative way to think about food, weight, and nutrition. Instead of thinking of specific foods as harmful, we believe that all foods can fit into a balanced lifestyle. This does not discount the importance of moderation and working to incorporate all the different nutrients that bodies need for optimal health and function, but if we don’t feel as guilty about having dessert after a balanced meal that includes protein/carbs/veggies, we might have more compassion for ourselves and be able to listen to our bodies’ cravings and hunger/fullness cues more accurately. We will also be less likely to feel the negative impacts that food guilt can cause, and stop the cycle of stress and shame around our eating habits.


Sincerely,

Your Proud Anti-Diet Dietitian


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