Dietitians & Therapists Share Why They Embrace a Non-Diet, Weight Neutral Approach
When I set out to become a dietitian, it was based in a sincere desire and passion for helping others with their health, using food as a foundation. After having the privilege of working with hundreds of individuals one-on-one the past few years as a nutrition educator and counselor in the outpatient setting, my perspectives on health and nutrition have changed immensely. I quickly began to see that the conventional approaches and weight focused paradigm I was taught to employ to "help" was doing much more harm than good. Instead of helping, I felt like I was climbing uphill, trying to put out a forest fire with a garden hose. I found myself asking: How could food and our bodies, both created to be honored, loved, and celebrated, become so complicated, distressing, painful, and confusing? How could I help others in a way that is ethical, compassionate, and serves their health the best?
Early on, I also discovered that weight bias and weight stigma are extremely prevalent within the healthcare system and they have serious health implications all on their own. I’ve lost count of how many individuals I've counseled that have had medical issues overlooked or dismissed simply because of their weight status. Many of my patients in larger bodies have had sweeping assumptions made about their behaviors based on their weight alone. I made up my mind that I could no longer stand for approaches that were not weight inclusive and that focused on weight as the end-all, be-all to achieving "health." I no longer feel comfortable with recommending something to one person what would be considered completely disordered in another person. And I can no longer perpetuate the disordered eating habits and body shame that I have seen so many of my patients struggle with.
Luckily, I stumbled upon Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size a few years ago, as I began to question what I was taught and look for better, more effective ways to help people heal their relationships with food and their bodies. My world has been completely rocked ever since, with many “YES!” and “A-ha!” moments, as I continue to dive into the research and science behind these evidence-based approaches. When I began to apply the IE/HAES principles in my practice, I discovered a much more rewarding way to work that truly aligns with my values, both personally and professionally. I also began to see my patients and clients lives transformed in positive ways that I never saw with the conventional approaches I started out practicing with.
Fortunately, there is indeed a big shift happening in the dietetics profession, and I am not alone in seeing the benefits of practicing from a non-diet, weight neutral approach. A growing number of dietitians have realized that putting people on medically unnecessary, restrictive, calorie counting, portion tracking, weight micromanaging "diets plans" are not sustainable long-term and often cause significant psychological and physical harm. I’m grateful for this wonderful community of practitioners, of which a small sample has joined me in this post, to share why they too left the weight focused paradigm to embrace a non-diet approach that helps individuals find joy in eating, in nourishing, and in respecting their body.
I hope you enjoy reading the powerful stories below! A HUGE shout out and thank you to all who contributed! If you are looking for more non-diet inspiration and education, be sure to follow these awesome, rock-star dietitians (and one RD2be!) + therapists in the links provided with their quotes.
“I practice nutrition therapy from a non-diet and weight neutral approach because it is the most sustainable, humanizing, and ethical way I have found to support my patients of all different bodies, backgrounds, and walks of life to live a healthier life - which includes coming to a place of peace with food and acceptance of their bodies in a way that does not place physical health on a pedestal of superior importance above all other aspects of health (emotional, relational, spiritual, psychological).”
-Tiffany Haug, MS, RDN, EDOC Instagram:@freedomwithnutrition; Web: https://tiffanyhaugrd.wixsite.com/freedomwithnutrition; Facebook: https://t.co/lJ6O2hRQ2s
"I practice nutrition therapy from a non-diet and weight neutral approach because I am fiercely passionate about helping others create flexible, joyful eating habits and cultivate a peaceful relationship with their body. By embracing a weight neutral paradigm, I am able to practice in a way that is inclusive and respectful of all bodies, and that is ethical and evidence based." - Haley Goodrich RD, LDN; Instagram: @hgoodrichrd; Web: www.inspirdnutrition.com
"I practice from a weight-neutral approach because every single human deserves quality care. We know that people in larger bodies are typically discriminated against, and that weight becomes the scapegoat for most health problems instead of practitioners diving deep to find better answers. By practicing from this standpoint, each and every client that works with a HAES practitioner gets the care that they are entitled to, and it creates a more open and supportive environment for healing." -Amy Hanneke, RDN, LD; Instagram: @satisfy.nutrition; Web: satisfy-nutrition.com
“I practice nutrition therapy from a non-diet and weight neutral approach because working with bariatric surgery patients has allowed me to see first-hand that weight loss does not lead to health and happiness, and the harmful attitudes that our society and health care system have toward larger people. I want to be an ally and advocate for a kinder, compassionate way towards health that allows the individual to be seen and heard.” - Vincci Tsui, RD; Instagram: @vinccird; Web: www.vinccitsui.com
“A weight-neutral approach allows my clients to feel respected and worthy. Because compassion and integrity are core values for me, I always want to serve my clients in this light. Some of the weight loss tips given to people in larger bodies would be considered disordered behaviors among those in smaller bodies - this seemed unethical. The science truly supports a practice focused on nurturing habits and behaviors, and once I learned how the traditional paradigm is deeply rooted in bias, I better understood why it didn't sit well with me. I am passionate about helping people feel their best, and a clinician must be inclusive and understanding to do so effectively.” – Kathleen Meehan, MS, RDN, LDN; Instagram: @therdnutritionist
“When I first became a dietitian, I practiced with a very traditional, weight focus, but it became clear to me very quickly that weight loss approaches simply do not work. Clients would lose weight then quickly regain, or make changes and not lose any weight at all, then give up out of frustration. I knew there had to be a better way. Since discovering Intuitive Eating and HAES, and incorporating these principles into my practice, I am able to create an environment that respects all bodies and supports my clients happiest and healthiest lives.” – Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE; Web: www.rachaelhartleynutrition.com
"I first paused to reflect the implications of weight-centric nutrition counselling when my clients posed these questions to me. My adolescent clients battling eating disorders asked me how come everyone else can diet and restrict calories but they can't. They were referring to their parents, grandparents and other adults in their lives. I wrestled with these questions and realized I do not have a good answer. Because there is not a good answer. We cannot reconcile that the same weight control behaviors are acceptable and safe for some and unacceptable for others. If we aspire to parent and lead our future generations to be comfortable in their own body and skin, we must lead by example. We need to call out the harm of the diet culture in our adult world so we can give our children a better chance to grow into their life potential." – Grace Wong RD, MSc, CEDRD-S; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gracewongrd/
"I practice from an intuitive eating/weight neutral approach because I am a strong believer in living a life of balance and full of purpose. I am passionate about helping others cultivate a healthy food relationship, discover their healthiest self, and most importantly, embrace their worth. The only way this can truly be manifested is through a life in which we honor ourselves." - Marissa Campanella, RDN, LDN; Instagram: @thrivenutritioncounseling; Web: www.thrivenutrition.org
"I practice from a non-diet, weight neutral approach because our body's wisdom is the most important information in nutrition therapy. When we focus on external information, like rules and scales, we leave this wisdom out of the picture. I specialize in eating disorders and pediatric nutrition and it became clear early in my career that weight focused nutrition advice causes people harm. We don't have to be at odds with our bodies. We can align with them and live a life that is full -- full of other things besides focusing on food and weight." – Anna Lutz, MPH, RD, CEDRD-S
Instagram:annalutzrd; Facebook:www.facebook.com/lutzandalexander; Web: www.lutzandalexander.com
“Because of my own recovery ago 20 years, I recognized in my undergrad that what we are traditionally taught amounts to collusion with eating disordered symptoms and diet mentality. It was a deal breaker for me; I couldn’t tell people to do things with food and weight from a place of fear when I was learning to be inner directed myself. It was HAES or a new career. “ – Tracy Brown, RD,LD/NWeb: Www.tracybronwrd.com; Facebook: Www.facebook.com/tracybrownrd
“Going back to school for a second time to become a dietitian, I had the passion and drive, knowing the critical role of health and nutrition. However, during my own health journey as well as my journey through my dietetics program, something was always missing. Something there was discouraging. Knowing I wanted so badly to help others to live a healthier happier life, I knew I was lacking some valuable information that would help me make that possible for them. I wanted my clients to come away with the feeling of empowerment and freedom and with all these diets and rules, I didn't think I could give them that. When I found Health at Every Size, Body Positivity, and Intuitive Eating, this is when things changed for me. The passion and drive to help others now was paired with the knowledge and confidence to share what I have always been looking for and now have found. I finally felt like I found the answer to help so many. I realized that the missing piece was that there really is no answer and this mentality actually brings you further from health and happiness. With diet culture, we are taught that to be heathy, there needs to be rules, guidelines, and discipline, and that our bodies aren't good enough. I never wanted to promote this and new that it was always the opposite of health. Discovering HAES and IE was life-changing and drove my passion to help others to new heights and I couldn't be more excited.” – Jamie Magdic, Dietetic Intern, Class of 2018, Anti-diet dietitian to be; Web: https://perfectlyimperfectwisdom.wordpress.com
“I actually came to Intuitive Eating as a result of my own struggles with an eating disorder and then disordered eating. Reading intuitive eating provided that "aha" moment for why I felt so crazy around food. Being able to understand why I was doing what I was doing around food was so incredibly freeing for me. Reading the research behind why permanent weight loss doesn't happen helped me to stop trying to control my body through food and exercise. From there, I began to learn more about HAES. I don't know how I could really believe IE and its principles without then latching onto HAES. I'm so grateful for learning about intuitive eating because it completely changed my life and now changes the lives of my clients!!” – Ashley Smith, RDN, LD; Web: donuteatingdietitian.com; Instagram: @DonutEatingDietitian
"I started dieting at the young age of 15. I fought the vicious, weight-focused mentality for 8 years. I skipped social events, dreaded holidays and exercised obsessively, not to feel good, but for the size 4 pants. Although I appeared physically fit, I was drowning in a sea of negativity, food obsession and hunger. Three years ago, I hit dieting bottom and decided to embark on a journey to discover food freedom. Not only did I find food freedom, but also self-respect, compassion and happiness. I was finally free. I personally understand the emotional danger of dieting and it's neither productive nor satisfying. EVERY BODY deserves to be happy, respected and fed, regardless of pant size or the number on the scale." – Victoria Eaton RD; Web: http://eatonwellness.com/; Instagram: @victoriaeatonrd
“I became a Registered Dietitian to help people using evidence-based approaches. It soon became apparent to me that there is not a shred of evidence for dietary approaches that center on weight loss and size, and it may even cause harm. I now only practice a non-diet, weight-neutral method to health that is, I believe, more respectful and ethical toward my clients.” – Tamar Rothenberg, MS, RDN
Facebook & Instagram: @nutritionnomnom; Web: tamarrothenbergRD.com
"I practice from a non-diet, weight neutral approach because it allows me to counsel people from a truly holistic and judgement-free perspective, regardless of body size. We know from the research that attempting to control weight through dieting and restriction are not effective and even harmful. This approach also allows me to help others discover that their worth isn’t found in physical appearances, giving them the freedom to accept and appreciate their bodies just as they are." - Hannah Griffith, RDN; Instagram: @allingood_health; Web: www.allingood-health.com
“I didn’t know it but I was heading in this direction even in my training. It never resonated with me that I would know better what someone else needed to eat. Perhaps particular foods for specific nutrients, but not what they enjoyed, the quantity they would need or when and how often they would need to eat. It didn’t make sense that someone needed to be told how to eat, we don’t need breathing or toilet in advice. I didn’t realize thin privilege or diet culture or weight stigma or even weight set point was a thing and I just thought I wasn’t a very good dietitian. Clients would tell me powerful stories of hurt and pain and I couldn’t reconcile advising ‘a palm sized piece of meat and 5 serves of veg’ in the face of such vulnerability. So I ran away from dietetics. My first child was a bit of a selective eater and in my panic/frustration I was guided to read Child of Mine by Ellen Satter and the rest is history. I wasn’t a bad dietitian. I just wasn’t a dietitian I was trained to be. Next in the book list was ‘if not dieting then what?’ by Rick Kausman, ‘Diet No More’ ‘Intuitive Eating’ and ‘Health at Every Size’. More important than my peace with the work I do is the freedom, confidence, empowerment and competence my clients feel. That is priceless. “ – Susan Williams APD; Web: www.zestnutrition.com.au
Facebook: @zestnutrition; Instagram: @thiszestylife
“I came across intuitive eating/HAES after starting in private practice. I hated meal plans, diets and focusing on weight changes. I just never felt right to me! After listening to a podcast on IE I found myself immersed in every book and podcast on the topic and everything just clicked and finally felt right! I haven't looked back since and continue to learn and grow focusing more on intuitive eating and HAES and really feel like I am helping people.” – Lauren Sharifi, RDN; Web: http://www.biteofhealthnutrition.com/
"I was someone who constantly tried different diets in order to control my body size, and was entrenched in diet culture. This lead me into a spiral of disordered eating and exercise, with cycles of restricting and binging. I was approaching the end of my dietetic internship feeling confused and uncomfortable. I started to question my intention with this career path and how helpful it really was to focus on controlling food intake and weight loss. I picked up intuitive eating (for the second time, mind you) and it hit me hard. I began delving into the concepts which lead me to understanding the harm in dieting, issues going on such as oppression and weight stigma, and how health can't be determined by looking at someone's body size. Once you discover Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size, there's no going back. I love empowering myself and my clients with this approach" -Hannah Turnbull, RDN, LD; Instagram: @healthyhanny; Web: www.healthyhanny.com
“Several things have influenced me in taking a non-diet and weight neutral approach to nutrition and wellness, including growing up in a feminist environment (I didn't appreciate it as a kid, but I do now) and having several people close to me suffer from eating disorders. When I discovered Intuitive Eating and the non-diet approach, it was like a light went off; it felt so good and so right. I practice from a non-diet and weight neutral approach because it is evidenced-based and compassionate. I believe a healthful relationship to food and body leads to better relationship with self and can help us lead our best life.” – Andrea Paul, RD, LD, Instagram: @kale.quinoa.cookies; Web: http://kqc-rd.com
“As a dietitian who learned about Mindful and Intuitive Eating during her own inpatient eating disorder treatment, I knew that it was the right approach to take with my clients. Learning and understanding that I could allow my body to desire and eat all foods taught me to truly experience total food freedom and let go of all food fears. Putting clients into structured meal plans or restrictions only creates a stressful relationship with food, which is something I want all of my clients to break free from. When we put food restrictions, we are allowing food to control us and not us control food. I am on a mission to help women everywhere break up with diets and learn to love food again.” – Gisela Belén Bouvier, MBA, RDN, LDN; Web:www.bnutritionandwellness.com; Instagram: @bnutritionandwellness.
“1) I didn't want to be responsible for increasing the incidence of disordered eating and clinical eating disorders, so I started using intuitive eating concepts within sessions (but still practiced from a weight-centric paradigm). 2) I noticed folks who adopted intuitive eating habits reported healing in their relationship with food, which motivated me to continue sharing the message and reading up on the literature. 3) I read the literature supporting that a non-diet approach could improve physical and psychological health, which directed me towards a weight-inclusive approach. 4) I was exposed to the literature demonstrating the incidence of weight stigma and the negative health outcomes associated.” – Dawn Clifford, PhD, RD; Dawn.firstname.lastname@example.org
“I work with Trauma survivors, Eating Disorder survivors, individuals with Disabilities and/or chronic illness, and Trans folk. Body alienation is my jam, partly because of my own experiences around weight loss and chronic illness/Disability (my weight loss surgery may have triggered the emergence of my MS). So, I’m interested in working with my clients to enjoy their bodies where they can while also understanding that bodies just suck sometimes- they aren’t what you need or want them to be. That means releasing shame and self-loathing, but still being okay with trying to move towards your most authentic self, while accepting that that might not ever look how you expect it to.” – Sandra Seaman, MA, LMHCA
“I wanted to help people stop feeling so anxious around food and to help dispel myths like the need to "detox," which only feeds anxiety. I started with IE, but originally thought that it would likely lead to weight loss. When I discovered HAES, the top 3 things I learned that changed how I practice are: 1) the lack of evidence for weight causing poor health; 2) weight set-point; and especially 3) weight stigma, particularly in the medical community. It really crystallized for me when I was training to facilitate a program for compulsive eating. This program touted that it would help people heal shame - but I saw that it would create far more shame than it would ever help heal. I quit.” - Barb Spanjers, Therapist and Wellness Coach; Web: http://barbaraspanjers.com
“My own disordered eating started in my late teens with body image issues and dieting.
When I finally broke free from it, I let go of the scales, gave myself full permission to eat all foods & focused on re learning my body's hunger & fullness cues. When I went on to study nutrition first, it gave me good understanding of how food works in the body on a biochemical level, but I still felt that there's more to it than that. Eating is usually not something we do in isolation, it sits in a sociocultural context. In my earlier days I did do "weight loss without dieting", but never felt comfortable weighing people, especially since I never weigh myself, and had such a complicated relationship with the scales. When I eventually found Mindful Eating it was like coming home! I love all of it. The kind, curious, nonjudgmental approach. The spiritual aspect and the practice of learning acceptance, compassion and present moment awareness. Since I found HAES about 18 months ago, everything has deepened for me. I am now much more aware of weight stigma & weight bias, social justice issues and fat acceptance movement. My eyes are totally open to this concept & approach and I cannot go back. I can now see clearly how harmful weight loss interventions are in so many various ways. Do I want to be part of that shameful concept? No thanks! Especially since it is what messed me up in the first place. I want my work to be kind, caring & compassionate. I want to empower people to care for themselves, and to enjoy peace & freedom with food & eating. Because we are all worthy & worth it. Finally... there is a lot of talk about 'personalized eating' these days. I believe this is the path to that. Our bodies do carry the wisdom. We just need to tap back into it.” – Lina Thorstensson, NT, mNTOI, MB-EAT; Web: www.straightforwardnutrition.com
For more information about Health at Every Size (HAES) and Intuitive Eating (IE), check out some of the following resources:
- Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight
- Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works
- Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight
- Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH)
- Intuitive Eating
- What is Health at Every Size? from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)