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The Non-Diet Approach

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.

non diet, dietitian, waffles

‘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.

non-diet, scales, weight loss

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 [1].

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 [2]. Talk about frustrating!

In addition, the pursuit of weight loss has several negative health effects, such as:

dieting, non-diet, weight loss

  • Preoccupation with food and body

  • Repeated cycles of weight loss and regain (weight cycling)

  • Poorer mental health and body image

  • Lower self-esteem

  • Development of disordered eating behaviours or an eating disorder [4].

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 [5].

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 

enjoy, eating, non-diet

  • 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) [6]:

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.food freedom, non-diet

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.

Non diet approach, mindful

Take the QUIZ

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.

Learn more

Check out the Be Mindful Nutrition website for more about the non-diet approach: www.bemindfulnutrition.com.au 

I specialise in using the non-diet approach with clients. Check out my services page to learn more or to enquire about an appointment.

You can read more about the Health at Every Size Paradigm here.

non-diet, dietitian, macarons

References

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

Intuitive Eating

By Natalie Scott, Accredited Practising Dietitian

We are all born with Intuitive eating skills! Just look at a young child who eats when they are hungry and stops eating when they are full. You don’t see a baby counting calories or “tracking their macros.”

child, intuitive eatingUnlike us adults, children are not influenced by external factors such as the ‘diet culture’ we live in constantly telling us our bodies are wrong or that our food choices are either “good” or “bad.”

So what is intuitive eating and how can it help you and your relationship with food? Let’s take a look!

What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating is a philosophy and approach to eating and health where you learn to trust your body around food and tune into your hunger and fullness signals.

This weight inclusive approach has nothing to do with dieting, restriction, calorie counting or willpower and everything to do with getting back in touch with your body’s natural internal wisdom with regards to eating and movement.

The Intuitive eating framework (including the 10 principles) was developed by two Dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995 based on research and the work they were doing at the time.

Today the benefits of intuitive eating are well documented with over 100 published scientific research studies. The studies show that intuitive eating is associated with:

      • Improved relationship with food

      • Improved body image

      • Improved cholesterol

      • Lower rates of emotional eating

      • Lower rates of disordered eating

Intuitive Eating involves a strong connection between your body and your brain. This is also known as interoceptive awareness.

eat, intuitiveDiet culture which tells us to follow external rules for eating which breaks this connection between our body and brain. This moves us away from the natural internal wisdom of knowing what, when and how much to eat for good health, enjoyment and satisfaction.

The practice of intuitive eating can help you to re-learn or re-connect with this innate wisdom and restore the body-brain connection.

It involves re-learning to tune into your body’s internal cues for eating, challenging food rules, pushing back against diet culture and respecting your body in order to meet your physical and psychological needs.

The 10 Intuitive Eating Principles

The 10 principles are the framework and the foundation of intuitive eating: As a non-diet dietitian, I can help you to apply these principles to your own situation and help support you to move away from dieting and disordered eating behaviours and move towards taking care of your body. Listed below are the 10 Intuitive Eating Principles with a brief description of each one:

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

Think back to what focusing on weight loss has done for you in the past… how did it affect your body… or your mind? If dieting has caused you nothing but pain then you’re not alone. Research shows that 95% of people who attempt to lose weight, regain it back in the long term.

So get mad at the lies that you have been sold by the diet industry that you can lose weight quickly, easily and keep if off in the long run, because we know that diets don’t work.

If you let yourself hang on to any hope that a new and better diet might be just around the corner, it will stop you from being open to rediscovering Intuitive Eating.

2. Honour Your Hunger

Our bodies are very clever and biologically designed to seek out food and eat when required. If we ignore this natural drive by not eating enough calories or carbohydrates (eg dieting or fasting) this can trigger cravings and binges potentially result in overeating.

Therefore ensuring that you are nourishing your body adequately and honouring your hunger is the first step to have you on your way to re-building trust with yourself and food.

3. Make Peace with Food

peace with food, intuitive eating, cupcakeRealising that there is no such thing as “good” and “bad” food and giving yourself permission to eat all foods is an important step in learning to eat intuitively.

Having off-limit / banned / forbidden / naughty foods can lead to feelings of deprivation which can snowball into intense cravings. This inevitably ends in “giving in” to that food which can end in bingeing/overeating followed by feelings of guilt and shame.

4. Challenge the Food Police

The food police are the thoughts in your head that monitor the crazy rules that dieting has created for you. Such thoughts might be “oh I’m so good for not eating that piece of cake” or “I need to “be good” tomorrow and exercise because I ate dessert tonight.” These thoughts evoke feelings of guilt and shame and can keep you stuck in the dieting cycle. We need to push back against these thoughts to be able to return to intuitive eating.

5. Respect Your Fullness

Our bodies are amazing! Your stomach sends signals to your brain that tell you when it is filled up and you are no longer hungry. When we are dieting or restricting we learn to clean our plates (and sometimes push past fullness) because we know that it will be some time before we are “allowed” to eat again. Intuitive eating helps you learn to observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full and stop eating (even if there’s food on your plate) knowing that you can eat again later when you feel like it.

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Pleasure and satisfaction is an extremely important part of eating – one that we often overlook or don’t see the value in when we are on a mission to lose weight.

When you eat the food that you actually want in a nice inviting environment – the pleasure that you get from that meal/snack will help you to feel satisfied.

You might even notice that it takes less food for you to reach this place and decide you don’t want to eat anymore.

7. Honour your Feelings Without Using Food

balance, peace with foodFood is often used to comfort us in difficult, stressful times. And this is completely natural and fine to do – sometimes! It becomes a problem when it is your “only” or “main” coping mechanism.

Often food will help to suppress negative emotions or feelings and make you feel better in the short term, but it is not able to sort out problems in the long term and often you may feel worse later from the discomfort of overeating.

Learn ways to nurture and comfort yourself without using food.

8. Respect Your Body

Accepting that we all come in different shapes and sizes is an important part of Intuitive Eating. It is unfair and unrealistic to expect to be able to shrink your body if you are naturally genetically meant to be in a larger body.

Just as we wouldn’t expect to be able to squish our size 7 feet into size 5 shoes! Being able to reject the diet mentality is hard enough without you being super critical/hard on your body.

9. Exercise—Feel the Difference

Do burpees make you want to hurl rather than rejoice? I can relate! Instead of punishing your body and moving it for the sake of burning calories, focus on how it makes your body feel.

movement, intuitive, exerciseFind activities that make you feel energised and amazing in your body. If the main focus of exercise is to lose weight – it is usually not enough to motivate you to do it on a regular basis! So get out there and move your body because it feels great!

10. Honour Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

There is no such thing as “the perfect diet” and you are not going to suddenly gain weight or get a nutrient deficiency from one meal or snack. It is what you eat consistently over time that matters.

Nutrition is the last principle as if it is focused on too early, it can get co-opted by diet culture and turned into ‘rules.’

Intuitive Eating does take health and nutrition into consideration and can be applied to any diet related health condition.

How Intuitive Eating can help you!

Intuitive eating can help you break free from dieting and start to care for the body that you have today. By applying the principles of intuitive eating you can:

  • Learn to care for and respect your body

  • Improve your relationship with food

  • Move from a place of food restriction to food freedom

  • Ditch dieting and diet rules

  • Stabilise your weight to where it is most healthy for your body

  • Find joy in moving your body

  • Enjoy food again without feeling guilt and anxiety

    intuitive eating, fruit

Will intuitive eating help you lose weight?

It is not unusual that some people come to intuitive eating hoping it will be the answer to help them lose weight. We do after all live in a weight focused society where being thin/losing weight is promoted at every turn.

Intuitive eating is however not a diet, in fact it is the opposite of a diet with the goal being to develop a healthy relationship with food and your body and break free from dieting and focusing on weight.

Your weight is a complex relationship between many factors including genetics, current health conditions, hormones, diet, physical activity, previous dieting history and many more.

There is no way that I (or anyone else for that matter) can predict what will happen to your weight if you undertake intuitive eating. For some of you, your weight may go down, for some, your weight may go up and for some your weight may remain the same.

What we do know with learning to eat intuitively is that your weight tends to settle where is most healthy for your body.

The key to learning intuitive eating is to put the desire for weight loss to one side. If we come to intuitive eating with the goal of weight loss – what we know is this is basically like putting yourself on another diet.

You will likely set new rules about how to eat in order to shrink your body such as only eating when hungry and stopping before getting full (also known as the hunger-fullness diet). And as mentioned earlier, we know from the research that diet’s don’t work.

So this is why it is helpful to separate weight from intuitive eating in order to be able to fully immerse yourself in learning the new skills involved to become an intuitive eater such as listening to your body and letting it guide you.

intuitive eating, diet

Learn More!

If you want to learn more about Intuitive Eating or get some help in a one-on-one setting, I am experienced in helping clients to learn to eat intuitively.

Whether you need to break free from chronic dieting, binge eating or emotional eating, I can help.

See my Services page to read more about what I offer.