This blog post was peer-reviewed by Laura Thomas (PhD, RNutr). Laura is a registered Nutritionist who specializes in non-diet nutrition and intuitive eating, she also hosts the popular ‘Don’t Salt My Game’ podcast and runs regular online courses for both health professionals and the non-professionals about intuitive eating.
There is a lot of pressure to lose weight to achieve and maintain a ‘perfect body’. This can come from well-meaning people who feel this is best for our health. But dieting can be harmful to physical and mental health (which I will explore in my next post).
The non-diet approach to nutrition is a new way of looking at health, which takes the focus away from weight and dieting.
Here are some of the main principles related to non-diet nutrition:
1. Holistic Approach
Non-diet nutrition takes a wide view of health.
This includes encouraging health promoting behaviours such as joyful movement (rather than forced exercise), as well as mental and social well-being. This echoes the concept of ‘do no harm’, as it emphasizes overall health and well-being, rather than focusing on one area at the expense of another.
2. Weight Inclusivity
This involves recognising and celebrating the fact that we all come in different shapes and sizes.
This message is championed by the ‘Health at Every Size’ (HAES) and Body Positivity movements, which highlight that you don’t have to be thin or lose weight to be healthy. Therefore clients are not weighed during non-diet consultations and weight is not used as a treatment goal, but body image is addressed.
HAES and the non-diet approach also emphasize the harmful effects of weight stigma.
This includes physical and psychological damage, as well as inequalities in terms of: education, employment and healthcare (which is often related to stereotypes of ‘laziness’).
This approach encourages each of us to identify and challenge weight bias on a personal and societal level. Therefore HAES is also a social and political movement.
3. Intuitive Eating
This is an intervention which uses clinical skills and specific tools to help clients to learn how to listen and respond to internal cues of hunger and fullness, as well as their psychological needs.
Mindful enjoyment of food is encouraged and there are no prescriptive plans used. Rather, it empowers individuals to learn how to meet their own needs, as this will vary so much from person to person, from day to day.
One of the principles of intuitive eating involves ‘gentle nutrition’. This encourages us to nourish our body with satisfying food that gives us energy and makes us feel good.
Intuitive eating teaches a neutral approach to food – where no food is labelled as ‘good or bad’.
Therefore, no moral superiority is given to any type of food, no food is off-limits and there are no food rules to follow. Intuitive eating is a skill and a continual learning process which is best approached with compassionate self-curiosity about how different food and different meals make us feel. It isn’t something that we can really ‘get right or wrong’. But it is important to have guidance and support throughout the process; especially for those with a history of disordered eating.
4. ‘Diets Don’t Work’
Another key message related to this approach, is that dieting is commonly associated with long-term weight gain and weight cycling. It also highlights the potential harm related to dieting, such as: psychological damage, an increased risk of eating disorders and metabolic disturbance (which I will explore in more detail in my next post).
The non-diet approach encourages us to avoid and challenge all forms of ‘diet culture’.
Diet culture is anything that places importance on weight and body shape, rather than overall health and wellbeing.
For information about the evidence related to this approach, check out this post- Non-Diet Nutrition: Examining the Evidence.