denver dietitian

About the 'Non-Diet' Approach & Why I Don't specialize in helping you lose weight

In case you missed it, last week I shared a short video clip from Denver7 news where I was fortunate enough to come to their studio and answer some questions about the non-diet approach (if you're new here, this is a huge part of my blog and nutrition approach in general). I wanted to do a little "behind-the-scenes" of how that whole process went down, and also share some more details on what exactly the non-diet approach means because I've had some questions since.

The last week of December is always interesting from a dietitian's perspective. There's a lot of diet talk, chatter about resolutions and cutting out {insert "evil" food of the moment here} in January. On one hand I see the value in a fresh start. I personally love the first few weeks of a New Year because it's inspiring to set fresh goals and feel all the buzz surrounding it. Of course I want to provide something of value to people at this time too, because the whole reason I chose my career is to help people live healthier/happier lives.

On the other hand, I don't want to perpetuate this on-going issue of people going on restrictive eating plans and setting un-realistic and impossible to maintain food rules only to feel hopeless or like a failure one week in. Health is so often “all or nothing”, wouldn't you agree? Because of this I just try to stay positive, give gentle reminders that restriction isn't the only option, and try to increase excitement around food and cooking in general.

I was thrilled to be invited to chat about the non-diet approach during this notoriously diet-obsessed time of year, so even though it was scary, I said yes and we shot the segment on January 2nd (it aired on January 5th). Did you miss it? Check it out below:

Don't ask me why this intro photo has a bunch of raw meat nestled next to fresh fruits and vegetables - interesting stock photo!

Overall I was really happy with how it turned out. Since this was my first time talking to a reporter, I had this weird, unfounded fear that she was going to twist my words and put some sort of diet spin on the story, but rest assured she never did. 

We had a long conversation and a small portion of the interview was actually included on the final cut. I could feel her skepticism at certain times (because hey aren't dietitians supposed to put you on a diet). She was really kind and just kept asking more questions which I was so happy to answer.

Overall I find that most people who hear about the 'non-diet' approach like the concept, but aren't really sure how it translates to real life. Here are some of the most common questions I get.

If you don't restrict certain foods or actively try to lose weight, doesn't that mean you're just giving up on your health?

I would argue that it allows you to take better care of yourself because you aren't spending so much time and energy stressing about food/body size, and instead make eating decisions from a place of self-care.

Rachael Hartley is a total BA in the world of non-diet RDNs and she had this great quote that I shared on Instagram recently: “Letting go of the number on the scale frees up the energy to focus on the things you can control, like discovering enjoyable ways to move your body or finding tasty ways to eat more produce and whole grains”.

There is also so much more that dictates our health than our eating pattern including our genes, stress levels, sleep habits, how active our lifestyle is and the quality of our relationships. It's important to find a balance between eating nutritious food with all of these other variables.

Rachael Hartley Quote.png

As a dietitian, how do you advocate for the non-diet approach while still talking about nutrition?

This is a great question! Others might answer this differently, but here’s my take.

Nutrition is important when it comes to our health, disease prevention/management along with other things like physical performance and energy levels. As a dietitian, I try to help clients maximize these areas while keeping nutrition and cooking fun and interesting instead of stressful or restrictive.

It’s not my style to give out prescriptive meal plans, but I do help clients figure out what works for them as an individual and then provide education on how to make that practical based on various lifestyle factors. This might include tips for cooking more at home, how to include more fiber or protein in the diet, nailing cravings head-on and understanding food labels.

What if I "need" to lose weight because my BMI is considered too high? 

I totally understand why this is a concern since BMI is so engrained in the healthcare system, but I don’t put much emphasis on it. Here's why:

The BMI (or the Body Mass Index) is a tool that's been used for years as a method for measuring body fat through using an equation that calculates a weight:height ratio, but it's been shown repeatedly that it's not really effective or accurate. In fact, a 2016 review found that using this tool, between 2005 and 2012 alone, nearly 75,000,000 people in the United States were misclassified as being "healthy" or "unhealthy" based on their number. This isn’t surprising to me as I’ve met many individuals in smaller bodies who don’t take great care of themselves, along with people in larger bodies who do.

Weight isn't the end-all be-all for health, we just all come in different shapes and sizes. Why does it make sense for someone who is naturally in a larger frame to try to be the same size as someone who has always been petite? 

I’ve also found in all of my years working with clients (both as a dietitian and a personal trainer) that weight goals are such a distraction to improving health. I remember feeling so proud of clients who made certain behavior changes, then feeling defeated because they would ditch said behaviors because the scale wasn't moving in the direction they wanted.  

How do you measure progress with clients if you don't focus on the number on the scale? 

My goal in working with clients is to measure progress based on what the individual ultimately wants to achieve and there are so many non weight-related options whether that be feeling more energized during the workday, sleeping better, running a 5k for the first time, finding food freedom, or incorporating more cooking into their lives. 

I understand that not everyone jives with this approach and I totally respect that. This is just an example of how my approach has evolved over the years and I love being able to share it with those who may otherwise have never even been exposed to a non-traditional option. 

Wondering if nutrition coaching is a good fit for you? Schedule your free discovery call today to learn more.


This post was originally published January 15, 2018 and updated March 13, 2019.

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