The anti-diet movement is taking over and I absolutely love it – and loathe it – at the same time. Here’s why:
There’s a growing movement of registered dietitians and other health professionals being ANTI-diet. They’re spreading the message that diets are bad. Diets are evil. Diets don’t work. Diet is a four-letter word, run run run run away from diets.
It’s a message that needs to be spread, and it’s true: diets can be pretty ugly.
But they can also be life-changing and life-saving.
I’ll state it upfront and obviously: I fully support the anti-diet movement. I LOVE the concept of HAES (Health at Every Size). I absolutely agree and support the notion that you are NOT your weight; your worth has nothing to do with your plate or your fork or what does or doesn’t go into your mouth. You do not need to count calories to determine your success in life. You don’t need to measure your food or deprive yourself or associate your mental well-being with what’s in your fridge. Foods aren’t evil and foods aren’t inherently good or bad; they’re food. (And if we could all focus a little bit more on body positivity the world might just be a better place.)
But what about when foods are evil? What about when they are bad? For you. For just you; your body, your digestive system, your hormones, your health at this one exact moment in time.
Because it’s a reality. There are certain foods that do not support certain people’s health, or do not support their health at a particular point in time. I’ve experienced it in my own life and I experience it on a daily basis in my own nutrition practice. What people put in their body can make or break their health, their mood, their pain.
I’m in no way saying these foods are in fact bad, but if they’re making someone feel like crap and causing something in their body to not operate at it’s prime, it’s a problem.
Anti-diet dietitians are great – but I’m not one of them
Personally I had a really hard time accepting that concept as a truth for a long time. I used to operate on a “there are no bad foods” mentality and that there were no reasons to eliminate entire food groups except if you didn’t like them. But then my first son was born with severe food sensitivities. His quality of life drastically improved by eliminating specific foods. Because I was breastfeeding at the time, I eliminated those foods in order to ensure he wasn’t exposed to them. I couldn’t have told you at the time, but now years later I can tell you what a positive impact it made on my whole health – physical and mental – (but that’s a story for a different time).
So what was I supposed to do? Here I was a practicing dietitian agreeing that people don’t need diets, then suddenly my life, and my son’s life, revolved around a very specific diet. I felt like the biggest fraud for a really long time. I couldn’t reconcile the idea of posting a recipe that intentionally excluded certain food groups and still maintaining my integrity that all foods can fit, so I just…stopped.
But here’s the thing.:
Not all foods fit for all people all the time.
And that’s ok. Did you hear me? That’s ok.
I know I’m more prone to it because of my field, but I’m bombarded daily with messages that seem to be telling me I’m doing something wrong or I’m “less than” by supporting a specific diet. That all diets are evil and you’re a bad person if you don’t eat gluten or dairy or heck I don’t know purple vegetables.
But the thing is, some people NEED diets. I’m not talking calorie-counting, obsessive scale-watching, random diets. I’m talking specific, intentional, therapeutic diets. I consider them a prescription the same way I consider what your doctor gives you when you have strep throat a prescription.
These prescriptive tools can have a massive impact on someone’s health.
They can relieve pain, alleviate depression, reverse type 2 diabetes or thyroid problems. They can prevent surgery and improve quality of life. They can cure an infant’s reflux and let them sleep for the first time in their life (can you tell I may have experienced that last one?). They can save someone from the embarrassment of having to run to the bathroom the minute they eat or the fear of eating in the first place.
So again, I’ll be clear. I fully support anti-diet dietitians, the anti-diet and HAES movements, and believe 100% there is a time and a place for them and that the world can be a better place with those messages in it. For those that have struggled with eating disorders or disordered eating, body image, or if food in any way messes with your mental health or self-worth, these are exactly the types of professionals they need to be working with. I will happily refer clients to professionals that specialize in this and I do frequently. But I’m not one of them. I specialize in prescriptive, healing protocols that help people conquer a disease or ailment, or even simply optimizing their health, and yes, that usually means eliminating a food or foods (or even a behavior or habit) for a certain period of time. Sometimes it’s long-term, sometimes it’s a just a transition to allow for healing or rebalancing. I am not bad or “less than” because I believe in the power of specific and intentional dietary protocols.
So if you’re someone that needs a specific diet to optimize your health, don’t be knocked down by the messages implying you’re doing something wrong. You’re just doing you. Keep doing you.
And for those of you that are spreading and supporting the anti-diet movement, you keep doing you too, because the world needs both of us, but remember there are people out there that don’t thrive under the anti-diet approach.
I also want to point out and emphasize that the two seemingly-opposite approaches CAN (and should) coexist in harmony. It’s is possible to not diet (the traditionally-used verb) yet follow a diet (an intentional prescription for a specific health condition or illness). Even when my prescription for a client (or myself!) includes some form of elimination, it doesn’t label foods as good or bad; it doesn’t restrict or inhibit in an unmanageable or unhealthy way; it doesn’t wrap the amount or type of food you eat into your self-worth or success or failure. It’s just food, and it’s either making you physically feel better or function better at that specific moment, or it’s not.