An Alternative to Weight Loss Dieting
By Natalie Scott, Accredited Practising Dietitian
Get ready to delve into the non-diet approach; what it is and how it is far better for your mental and physical health than focusing on dieting and weight loss.
The non-diet approach is based on the Health at Every Size (HAES) ® paradigm. This is the basis of the philosophy that I use with clients at Be Mindful Nutrition.
My experience working as a dietitian has shown me the damage that dieting and focusing on weight does to people and so I utilise this approach to help clients take back control of their health and well being.
‘Overweight’ and ‘obesity’ is seen as an ‘epidemic
In today’s society, weight is seen to be a marker of health status and being ‘overweight’ and ‘obese’ is seen as a problem.
We are constantly bombarded with the message that we have an ‘obesity epidemic’ which is something that needs to be fixed for people to be healthy.
Everywhere we look there are messages about how ‘fat’ is unhealthy and wrong, and ‘thin’ is healthy and attractive.
The diet industry takes full advantage of this to sell us products to ‘help’ lose weight. They prey on the belief that being thin is equal to being healthier and happier.
Although many studies show a link between being in a larger body and some health conditions, they rarely take into account other factors that impact on disease risk.
Such factors include weight cycling (or yo-yo-ing), fitness level, nutrient intake, genetics or socioeconomic status (SES).
When studies do control for these factors, increased risk of disease in larger bodies is significantly reduced or disappears completely .
For example, for people within the same SES classification /group, there is an insignificant difference in disease risk irrespective of BMI.
And even if higher body fat levels did significantly increase the risk of certain diseases, evidence shows that weight loss dieting doesn’t work for the large majority and can be harmful.
The negative effects of dieting for weight loss
As it has become the norm in society to see weight as a problem, it is pretty understandable that many turn to a diet or ‘lifestyle’ change aiming to control body shape or weight.
Often well-meaning health professionals such as GPs and some dietitians support the pursuit of weight loss.
This is of concern given that the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has Grade A (highest level) evidence that dieting for weight loss is a waste of time and energy.
The evidence shows that people generally regain the weight lost during lifestyle interventions with most people returning to the weight they started at (or higher) within 5 years . Talk about frustrating!
In addition, the pursuit of weight loss has several negative health effects, such as:
Preoccupation with food and body
Repeated cycles of weight loss and regain (weight cycling)
Poorer mental health and body image
Development of disordered eating behaviours or an eating disorder .
So if dieting for weight loss is not the answer, then what should we be doing if we want to improve our health and well being?
How to take a non-diet approach to well-being
The non-diet approach is based on the Health at Every Size® (HAES) principles. HAES is a weight-neutral approach to improve health and well-being.
The non-diet approach supports the fact that just like hair and eye colour, body shape and size varies from person to person.
This approach can help you to come to accept and care for the body you have now. It shifts the focus from trying to change your weight and shape and instead focusing on health behaviours.
Weight loss may or may not be a side effect of behaviour change, but it is not the goal or a measure of progress.
Research also supports this approach as the most effective way of supporting people to improve their health. A study of more than 11,000 people found that health behaviours are associated with a significant decrease in illness and death regardless of baseline BMI .
So the argument that we need to shrink our bodies for health reasons does not stick!
Do you want to be the expert in your own body?
Do you want to get back in tune and trust your internal body cues?
Do you want to make food and activity choices from a place of self-care not self-control?
If you want to find a kinder and more sustainable approach to health and well-being then contact Natalie to organise an appointment.
Here’s how the non-diet approach can help you
Taking a non-diet approach helps you to approach health and health behaviours in a sustainable, non-weight focused way.
It helps you to build skills in intuitive eating, learning to notice hunger and satisfaction cues, regular eating, food variety and eating for enjoyment and satisfaction.
It includes looking at ways of incorporating joyful and sustainable movement into your life.
Don’t just take my word for it – research shows that the following health outcomes are seen when people take on a non-diet approach (instead of a weight-focused one) :
Your diet quality can radically improve!
People who use a non-diet approach learn:
That food does not hold a moral value and there is no such thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods.
They learn to choose foods based on what will satisfy and nourish their body.
They learn to give themselves permission to eat all foods without judgement.
As a result, they usually find themselves eating a wider variety of foods including more fruit and vegetables.
Your self-esteem can increase
This approach helps you to see that body weight and shape diversity is a real and beautiful thing and what makes us human.
Your dissatisfaction with your body can decrease
As a result, you learn to focus less on the number on the scales and shape of your body and instead value and take pride in your body for the amazing things it allows you to do.
Improvement in psychological well-being
The pursuit of weight loss can take a massive toll on the mind and psychological well-being.
Often people have attempted multiple times to lose weight only to regain it back again. This can be very disheartening and takes a lot of mental energy.
Letting go of the weight focus allows people to redirect their energy into activities which bring them joy and satisfaction.
It is no surprise the research shows people experience less anxiety and stress around food and exercise, as well as overall improvements in their mood.
Decreased disordered eating
Dieting is a risk factor for disordered eating behaviours and the development of an eating disorder.
Dieting usually involves some degree of restriction and/or dietary rules. This can lead to hunger, thoughts about food, desire for ‘forbidden foods’ and eventually a situation arises in which rules may be broken.
Resulting shame and guilt, possible compensation, and feelings of failure are common. The cycle repeats.
The non-diet approach aims to help break the dieting cycle by addressing restrictive eating patterns and any food-related rules and beliefs while exploring the motivation behind weight control.
Overall, those that adopt a non-diet approach experience a dramatic reduction in disordered eating behaviours.
Improved cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure
An improvement in biochemical markers (such as blood pressure) in participants adopting a non-diet approach has been supported by research.
The non-diet approach supports you to feel confident with your own food choices to meet your health needs, with consideration of any medical conditions and overall quality of life.
For example, someone with diabetes may choose to explore and understand the impact of different foods on blood sugar levels from a place of self-care.
Weight stability (at 5 yrs)
Instead of the frequent weight cycling (or yo-yo-ing) that occurs with weight loss dieting, the non-diet approach helps you to achieve and maintain a weight that is most healthy for you.
For some this will be weight loss, for some weight gain and for some, it will remain the same.
Without the disordered behaviours and thoughts that come with dieting, your body weight can settle where is most healthy and comfortable for you.
The non-diet approach is the way forward
As you can see there is overwhelming evidence showing that dieting and the pursuit of weight loss are ineffective in the long term and can be harmful to your physical and mental health.
So if you are tired of dieting and battling your body, why not try a non-diet approach to health?
You will learn the skills that help you to trust your body again and achieve freedom from food and body preoccupation.
You will feel empowered to make food and activity choices from a place of self-care leading to improved overall health, self-esteem, body acceptance, improved psychological well being, and physical health all without the negative effects of dieting.
QUIZ to find out if you may benefit from taking a non-diet approach:
1. Do you find yourself preoccupied with thoughts about food?
2. Have you experienced repeated cycles of weight loss and regain (weight cycling)?
3. Do you try and restrict/cut down on your food intake in an attempt to control your weight?
4. Do you have strict rules around which foods you are and are not allowed to eat?
5. Do you ever feel out of control around food?
If you answered yes to any/all of the above – you may benefit from taking a non-diet approach to help improve your relationship with food.
Check out the Be Mindful Nutrition website for more about the non-diet approach: www.bemindfulnutrition.com.au
You can read more about the Health at Every Size Paradigm here.
1. Campos P, Saguy A, Ernsberger P, Oliver E, Gaesser G: The epidemiology of overweight and obesity: public health crisis or moral panic?. Int J Epidemiol. 2005, 35: 55-60. 10.1093/ije/dyi254.PubMedGoogle Scholar
2. NHMRC. (2013). Summary guide for the management of overweight and obesity in primary care. National Health and Medical Research Council, 1–26. https://doi.org/ISBN 1864965932
3. Fildes, A., Charlton, J., Rudisill, C., Littlejohns, P., Prevost, A. T., & Gulliford, M. C. (2015). Probability of an obese person attaining normal body weight: Cohort study using electronic health records. American Journal of Public Health, 105(9), e54–e59. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302773
4. Bacon, L., Aphramore, L. (2011). Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Nutrition Journal 10:9. https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-10
5. Matheson, E. M., King, D. E., & Everett, C. J. (2012). Healthy Lifestyle Habits and Mortality in Overweight and Obese Individuals. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 25(1), 9–15. https://doi.org/10.3122/jabfm.2012.01.110164
6. Clifford et al 2015 Impact of non-diet approaches on attitudes, behaviours, and health outcomes: a systematic review