The Rise of the Anti-Diet Movement: Is it No Longer P.C. to Want to Lose Weight?

Body positivity.  Anti-diet.  No doubt, there’s a ditch-the-diet movement going on. Heck, even Weight Watchers ditched “weight,” opting for the name WW instead.


Cries of “diets don’t work” are getting louder, and increasing numbers of registered dietitians  are embracing a “nondiet” philosophy — which was recently highlighted by dietitian Cara Rosenbloom in the Washington Post  A new trend in health care: the “nondiet” dietitian. 

I liked many parts of the article, but it begs the question:  What’s the opposite of a “nondiet” dietitian, a “diet” dietitian?  So everyone else is about rules and restrictions?  Are we separating dietitians by who supports weight loss vs. those who reject it?

It seems to me there’s a growing divide among dietitians.

Even though many dietitians have built their careers on “intuitive eating” and warn about today’s “diet culture,” other dietitians are pointing out that the “anti-diet movement” may have some problems.  Or maybe there’s not even agreement on what “anti-diet” really means.

One recent rant has been widely discussed among dietitians.  Emily Kyle wrote a provocative post I am Not an Anti-Diet Dietitian — and let’s just say, it got a lot of attention.

I don’t feel that the term anti-diet dietitian aligns with my core audience with what I want to help them with. I don’t think that my core audience knows what an anti-diet dietitian is.  I feel like writing anti-diet dietitian in my Instagram bio is just what all the cool kids are doing these days.

She made some good points.

The one thing that has freaked me out the most about the Intuitive Eating community is the complete black and white way of looking at things.  I don’t know how to explain it, but in so many conversations that I have secretly read from the comfort of my Facebook screen, I have been turned off by the black and white thinking of this movement.

In contrast, Emily wrote about her approach with clients.

I will never weigh you or ask you to lose weight.  I will hear you, and I will sympathize with you when you say you want to lose weight.  I won’t tell you that you are wrong for wanting that.

Registered dietitian Jessie Shafer addressed the topic in Delicious Living Has the Anti-Diet Movement Gone Too Far?

A downside of the anti-diet movement is the rejection of any conversation about diets or weight loss for proven healing or the pursuit of wellness through food.  Those can be — and largely are — very positive messages and stories to tell.  And even if dieting or watching your weight are not parts of your path to personal wellness and markers of your own health (it’s not a main focus for me), that doesn’t mean it’s not a meaningful tool or pursuit for others.

Another RD Samantha Cassetty recently wrote about the topic for NBC News.com Is the Anti-Diet Movement Leading us Astray?

I don’t agree that the desire to lose weight is always a sign of self-loathing as some anti-diet experts would have you believe.  Perhaps for some, but for others the desire to shed some weight is an act of self-care and can be a positive experience.

This was the theme of an opinion piece in the New York Times by Kelly deVos, author of Fat Girl on a Plane, who wrote about her daughter’s desire to lose weight,  The Problem with Body Positivity

Many people in the body positivity movement — which I’d like to count myself a member of — believe that the desire to lose weight is never legitimate, because it is an expression of the psychological toll of fat shaming. So any public discussion of personal health or body size constitutes fat shaming.

In my case, I’m still trying to get it right.  But I’ve come to feel that loving yourself and desiring to change yourself are two sentiments that should be able to peacefully coexist.

Amen.  I totally agree with that.

Similarly, Amber Petty, a writer and blogger in LA, addressed the topic in Greatist, Is the Body Positivity Movement Going Too Far?

So although it sounds extreme to say that dieting and weight loss are not part of body positivity, I think there’s some truth to that statement.  That doesn’t mean you can’t lose weight or want to lose weight and still think positively of yourself.  Individuals should do whatever they want.

I’ve had mixed feelings about the body positivity movement, but I’ve become more positive for body positivity than I would have thought. To me, they’re asking that we end the cycle of obsessing over our bodies.  Sure, some proponents of this movement go too far and claim that people who lose weight are traitors.  But most advocate just appreciating yourself as you are, and than means being OK with wanting to lose weight or being OK with staying heavy.

Even the founder and CEO of Greatist weighed in on the issue (sorry, no pun intended).  Derek Flanzraich declared It’s Ok to Want to Lose Weight

…somehow saying you want to lose 10 pounds (OK, really 15) still seems like such as shameful admission.  That’s silly — most of us want that.  Most of the country probably wants to lose more weight than that.

So we should be talking about it.  Otherwise, how can we find a healthier way to succeed at it?  I also worry the body-positive movement is holding us back, not pushing us forward.

She concludes:

To tackle weight loss the right way, we need to destigmatize it.

It’s OK to want to lose weight.

And it’s important we talk about it so we can work together to accomplish it in a way that sticks.

Yes, it’s OK to want to lose weight.  Yes, you can feel good about yourself and still want to achieve a healthier weight — and there’s more than one way to do that.  I don’t believe that dietitians should be divided into “nondiet” and “diet” dietitians.  But I do think that sometimes we don’t understand — or appreciate —  another way of thinking.  I certainly don’t like it when we attack each other, which happens all too often.  Maybe there are misconceptions on both sides.

I really liked this article by registered dietitian Kara Lydon in Shape, who tried to clarify what the anti-diet movement is, and what it isn’t:  The Anti-Diet Movement is Not an Anti-Health Campaign

Some say that the anti-diet movement has been misconstrued with countless Instagram posts of burgers, pizza, and ice cream, but what about all of the accounts that post nothing but smoothie bowls and salads? Burgers and pizza aren’t any more “extreme” than a massive acai bowl or kale salad after all. My hope is that the anti-diet movement helps to normalize some of the foods that have been demonized by diet culture so that eventually, we’ll stop calling food “good” or “bad” and start looking at food as just, food.

I wholeheartedly agree. Foods should not be demonized — and we shouldn’t attach fear, guilt, regret or morality to food.  We also shouldn’t have a narrow view of what’s “good” food — from smoothie bowls and kale salads to green smoothies and keto dairy-free, gluten-free chia pudding.  Sure, there are lots of problems with today’s diet culture.  But I think we shouldn’t appear to be so anti-diet that we send the message that we’re against weight loss. 

How can dietitians help people achieve weight loss in a healthy way — in a way that reinforces new habits and lifestyle changes. Yes, there’s more to being healthy than the number on the scale, but It’s OK if you want to see a lower number when you do step on it. No one should be ashamed of that.  It’s how you work on this goal that’s important.

Just hearing that “diets don’t work” may be discouraging and defeating. Let’s switch the focus to what DOES work — whether for wellness or weight loss.

This isn’t a new topic.  I wrote about a debate between Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size (HAES), and obesity researcher John Foreyt at our annual nutrition conference back in 2011, Is the War on Obesity a Battle Worth Fighting?

Now I’m about to attend the same conference in Washington, DC, and a similar debate is scheduled for our 2018 meeting.  I’ll be sure to report back.  But I bet I’ll come to the same conclusion as 2011.  Can’t we all get along?    Can’t intuitive eating and body positivity coexist with losing weight?  Why must we line up on two sides?  Why the conflict?

Tell me what you think.

 

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5 Comments

  • Dawn Jackson Blatner

    Thanks for writing this. It’s a smart round up of what’s been happening AND…a perfect end conclusion: It doesn’t have to be one side versus the other. I know that if instead of digging in and defending views, we were to have an open mind and truly listen to one another…we’d find more similarities than differences. In the end the most powerful way to use our expertise to help people is going to be blend ideas from both “sides” of this discussion.

    • Leah McGrath

      Great comment Dawn…..I agree w/ Janet’s post… I think the bottom line should be focusing on health and how can we as dietitians help people get to a place where they are happy with their body and size and they are healthy and active. It would be so much better to come at this from a discussion of health, fitness and activity rather than spending so much time and attention focusing on the diet vs non-diet.

  • Thanks so much for your comment Dawn. I really appreciate coming from you — someone who works with clients. This is not my focus of practice, but it just seems this division is not helpful. I agree there are more similarities than differences and the blending of ideas may be just what’s needed.

  • Rebecca Scritchfield

    I’m all for civility and I hope you come to neurobiology of dieting at FNCE bright and early Tuesday with me and Sandra Aamodt. What has been the most helpful to me is this: deep dive study into weight stigma, understanding what it is, it’s harmful psychological and physical health and focusing on the systems and structures that allow weight stigma to thrive (Rebecc Puhl’s data on weight stigma in medicine and the book Doing Harm are two favorites) calling out those problems as opposed to individual bodies or people’s desires as problems. Of course people want to lose weight (I believe many people always will no matter what) Part of the reason is that there is social value earned with being thinner, even if it’s outside biology and size diversity. Weight stigma is pervasive and it shortens life and there are many ways dietitians can learn how to reduce the harm of bias and support their clients. A big problem: conflating weight as the problem vs habits — and what individuals can control (choices and habits) with the resources they have. I have had a weight inclusive counseling practice since 2009 and every day people show up with weight concerns. That’s not surprising. When I listen to stories about how higher weight people are treated that is what makes me want to do better. In the past few years fat activism has risen as a social justice issue and some RDs engage in fat activism too angle (and for many it is passionate and exhausting work — also important to change the culture). Michael Hobb’s piece did a good job at centering the experiences of fat people and while it’s long it adds a very important common humanity element — which humanity is health care. https://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/everything-you-know-about-obesity-is-wrong

  • Thanks for your comments Rebecca. I will try to attend your session, it does look like it will be good. I totally understand your points, but I struggle when I see dietitians criticize other RDs who help clients lose weight. To say they’re guilty of malpractice…that’s troubling to me.

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