Diet culture prioritizes weight loss (and being thin) over health, however. A growing movement of nutritionists aims to throw away every food rule you’ve ever learned in order to help you become the happiest, healthiest version of yourself. These are commonly known as “anti-diet dieters”.
“Diet” in the word “diet” simply means “the food that one eats.” But the word diet is often associated with a strict diet intended to help you lose weight. This is exactly what nutritionists are talking about against the diet.
Counter-diet nutritionists encourage people toInstead, they practice becoming experts on their bodies. They believe there is no need to count calories, eliminate food groups, or focus on portion sizes in order to improve health. Instead, you can have complete autonomy in deciding what to eat, based on how your body feels, your personal goals, and your circumstances.
Sound simple? It’s not that easy when you live in a culture that is so focused on health and only measured by your looks.It’s everywhere, from the grocery store to the doctor’s office, and it’s loud enough to drown out your intuition about how to heal your body, even at the expense of mental or physical health.
This is why some nutritionists now actively advocate against diets, even when it means sabotaging their training. Registered dietitian and registered dietitian Dalina Soto has carved out a niche by battling diet culture in person and on social media. Your Latina Nutrition was founded to help Latina women take control of their eating habits and eliminate feelings of guilt.
“Because I went to school for dietetics, I definitely subscribed to the idea of losing weight for health [at first]says Soto, who also runs a practice called Nutritiously Yours in Philadelphia. Once I started practicing and working in the community, I realized there was a lot more to health than I was taught in a textbook. That’s when my whole career turned to that anti-diet message.”
I spoke to Soto to learn more about why the diet is dangerous and how a no-diet approach can help you get back on track if you’re struggling with your body.
Diet culture values thinness over everything else, including health and well-being. As part of diet culture, it is common to cut out entire food groups (such as carbohydrates), reduce portion sizes, or otherwise restrict your food in order to achieve.
But the idea that being thin is the ultimate health goal is a myth. Health is so multidimensional that it cannot be reduced to a specific size or number on the scale. In fact, contrary to popular belief, you can’t tell much about a person’s health just by looking at them. And while it’s okay to lose weight if you want to (or do whatever else you want with your body), diet culture’s obsession with being skinny is risky on many levels.
Food restriction – which most diets entail – is a “slippery slope” that can lead to disordered eating or even a complete breakdown.says Soto. “There’s only so much you can restrict until you want to restrict more, you want to restrict more, you want to restrict more. And what we’re seeing is that when people have chronic dieting, they have a higher chance of an eating disorder.”
Diet culture uniquely affects people of color, too. “Unfortunately, people of color are not diagnosed with eating disorders because we don’t really fit the mold of looking frail and small,” she says. “Often, our bodies are different.”
It could be the diet too. Many people who diet end up in a “yo-yo dieting” cycle – repeatedly losing weight and then gaining it back again. This can be hard on your body, not to mention your mental state. “When you look at the data, most diets fail, about 95% of them, because people can’t live with such restrictions,” says Soto.
Benefits of an anti-diet approach
Freedom, not guilt
Rather than a diet, Soto teaches “intuitive eating,” a method that helps you develop eating habits that meet your individual needs, such as satisfaction, pleasure, and nutrition—regardless of size. Some anti-diet nutritionists also practice a “health in every size” approach, which promotes balanced, flexible eating habits without much stigma.
Soto never advises her clients to restrict food, nor does she believe in “good” or “bad” foods. You learned that all foods contain nutrition, and you should have a variety of foods in your meals (including plenty of carbohydrates!). Instead of restricting, Soto says you can always Add Nutrition, such as an extra fruit or vegetable, if it tastes good and you like it. This means no more guilt, which can be a great relief for those who are used to berating themselves for eating the “wrong” meal.
Intuitive eating can help you learn to listen to your body without being shy. “Every day you’re going to have different needs and different wants. We’re human, and we’re clearly not robots, so we’re going to expend energy differently every day,” says Soto. On days when you use up a lot of energy due to stress or excessive movement, for example, you may feel hungrier and need to eat more.
As you develop sustainable eating practices, you will find and stabilize your body’s natural weight – no more yo-yo dieting. Weight loss may or may not happen, and there is no shame in either case.
Your health on your terms
If health isn’t about weight, then what is he that about? According to anti-diet nutritionists, you have the right to decide what health means to you and how much of a priority you want it to be.
“It’s really hard to let go of fuss, so I often challenge people to really ask themselves: ‘What will health be to me when it’s not about looks and it’s not about size?'” Because you can always make it happen with no strings attached,” says Soto.
For many of her clients, she says, wellness includes feeling comfortable in their own bodies or being able to perform certain activities, such as walking up stairs without losing their breath. These goals are often difficult to achieve under the strict rules of diet culture and dietary restrictions.
It’s also important to note that there are many different dimensions of health, and only some of them are within your individual control. There are also “social determinants of health,” such as where you live and your access to health care, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
One of the tenets of the HAES approach is that health is not a moral imperative – no one is obligated to strive to be healthy, especially when health is inaccessible to many groups of people.
“Health is very individual,” says Soto. “We have to let go of this idea and the idea that everyone is going to be healthy, and to be worthy and treated with dignity by the medical system, we have to be healthy.” She adds, “There are people who are born with chronic problems, or suffer from genetic diseases, or for whatever reason who will never be ‘textbook healthy. ‘ But that doesn’t mean we have to treat them differently or that they are less valuable as a human being.”
If you have a medical condition that requires a special diet, our over the counter dietitians are qualified to help with that as well.
You can enjoy your cultural foods
Diet culture in the United States doesn’t make much room for people of non-American and non-European cultural backgrounds, whose traditional foods often don’t fit into the MyPlate model of nutrition. In fact, many cultural staples are derided as “unhealthy” by health enthusiasts, such as white rice and beans. But by trying to “healthize” traditional foods, people of color run the risk of erasing their cultures and losing the nutrition that was already packed into those diets, according to Soto.
Also, Soto says, traditional foods aren’t the real culprit behind the health disparities that plague many communities of color. “The main issue is health equity. We have to look at the big picture here and look at who has access to good healthcare and who doesn’t. Sometimes it’s out of our control which definitely affects our health.” “Health is affected by much more than just what we eat and how we move.”
“How is it that in our country, people don’t eat our food, but then they come to the United States and they are?” she asks.
How to find an anti-diet dietitian
If you want to improve your relationship with food or work on your health away from the pressures of diet culture, an anti-diet dietitian may be worth a try.
Soto is just one of a growing number of anti-diet nutritionists across the United States. To find one in your area, find a registered dietitian who practices an “intuitive eating” or “health in every size” approach. Other key terms to look for include “weight-inclusive,” “fat positive,” “body positive,” “non-dieting dietitian” and of course, “anti-diet nutritionist.” Some registered dietitians take out insurance.
Soto also stresses that finding a culturally competent dietitian who respects and understands your traditional foods can be just as important as finding an anti-diet one. “If a dietitian is willing to learn and understand what your cultural foods are, I think whether or not they are anti-diet is the first step,” she says.
By doing your research and asking questions, you can find the right dietitian for you, no matter what your health goals are. “In the age of the internet and reviews and things like that, it’s a lot easier to find someone who’s willing to listen to you and be a good fit,” says Soto.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.