Genuine alternatives to the ‘lose weight, gain more weight’ diet cycle do exist, and they have the power to restore health and reconnect us to the innate wisdom of our bodies.
Are you sick of hearing about the newest weight loss diet? I know I am!
Weight loss hysteria seems to peak after Easter, winter, and Christmas, when people are more desperate to lose any extra weight gained over the hibernation months or holidays. Perhaps you too have grown weary of the latest diet that promises tempting yet unrealistic results. At the risk of losing any readers who love number crunching and vehemently watching the scales, I feel the truth must be told!
The unhealthy result of weight cycling
Weight cycling brought on by years of yoyo or crash dieting is unhealthy. A huge amount of research shows that putting on weight, losing weight (putting on more, losing a little), over and over again, is detrimental to our physical, mental, and emotional health. And it crushes the spirit.
The kicker is that dieting almost never results in the permanent weight loss people want in the first place! In fact, the longer someone has been dieting, the heavier (and more frustrated) they tend to become. Weight loss dieting research shows that: 1/3 to 2/3 of the weight is regained within one year, and almost all is regained within five years.
The spotlight is so intently placed on weight – how much we weigh, how many kilograms we want to lose, how fast we can lose it. But clearly this approach is failing. The vast majority of people who diet regain all the weight they originally lost, often plus some.
Despite surface appearances, temporarily getting excess weight off at any cost is not the goal. When a client, family member, or dear friend tells me she has purchased the newest diet book focusing on getting her body fat under a certain percentage in four weeks or four months, I feel she is robbed of a golden opportunity – the opportunity to look past the kilograms and the kilojoules and develop a healthy relationship to food and to her body.
What is the non-diet approach?
The spotlight needs to refocus on our relationship to food and our bodies, rather than just the food or the physical body itself. In today’s quick-fix society this is not a common approach, nor an easy task. However, genuine alternatives to the endless diet cycle do exist.
Enter the non-diet approach, which puts the focus on wellness, not weight. It is based on the premise that if we eat to feel good and care for ourselves, then health will naturally follow. The non-diet approach is a fantastic alternative to traditional dieting and is balanced, realistic, and respectful to ourselves and our bodies.
I’ve been fortunate enough to learn about the non-diet approach from leaders in the field such as Dr. Rick Kausman, Linda Bacon, and dietitians Tara MacGregor, Fiona Sutherland, and Fiona Willer. Having healed my own issues around food and body image mainly through this approach and having witnessed immensely positive physical and psychological changes in my non-diet clients, I now believe that the non-diet approach is the only sensible, compassionate, and indeed effective form of weight management that exists.
“The key to successfully managing your weight is to focus on making realistic changes to your lifestyle rather than focusing on changing your body.” [Dr. Rick Kausman, If Not Dieting®]
But isn’t diet important?
Of course it is. But dieting in the sense of specific, targeted calorie or nutrient reduction can have many harmful effects. It can lead to emotional eating, yoyo dieting, bingeing, anxious exercise focused on ‘burning calories’, and constant thoughts about food and weight. All of these consequences are debilitating as they stop us from living rich and meaningful lives, and enjoying the things that are important to us.
In some cases, such as disease states like cancer or kidney failure, special diets may be necessary. But for general weight loss, I (as well as a groundswell of doctors, dietitians, and other health professionals) firmly believe that the traditional dieting approach can have detrimental effects. This traditional approach frequently leads to weight cycling and the body dissatisfaction, food shaming, guilt, restriction, and disappointment that go with it.
Focus on how, not just what you eat
No longer can we afford to solely focus on ‘what’ to eat without investigating ‘how’ we eat. As a dietitian who has studied all the ‘what’ there is to know about nutrition, I feel the ‘how’ is far more important than any diet plan or nutrition information panel. The ‘how’ of eating hinges on our personal relationship to food and to our bodies.
The past 40 years of nutritional science has provided us with plenty of evidence on healthy foods to eat, much of it conflicting. There are scientists who advocate a paleo diet, and those who swear by veganism. The only thing nearly all nutritional experts can agree on is the need for increased intake of fruits and especially vegetables in our modern diet. Most people would agree that their grandmothers told them the exact same thing without spending millions of dollars on research to prove her point.
It is now time we moved beyond the ‘what’ to eat. We need to learn and embrace ‘how’ to eat. As the mountain of conflicting scientific evidence suggest, the specifics of ‘what’ to eat will never be clear on an individual level.
A healthy approach includes being physically active and generally eating what your body needs. It includes enjoying a wide variety of foods, without feeling guilty, and paying attention to your body, which can tell you when you are physically hungry, full, or just satisfied. This is healthier than when most of your eating is triggered by psychological needs such as boredom or comfort, rather than physical hunger, or when your eating is dictated by rigid dietary rules (in the absence of medical conditions requiring such restriction).
By switching from the narrow focus of simply ‘what’ to eat to a holistic approach which embodies the ‘how’, and by moving from mechanistic feeding to conscious nourishing, I feel we not only change our diets for the better; we also learn more about ourselves, our values, and our limiting beliefs. No healthy food guides, diet plans, or portion sizes are required, just an open mind and ready heart.
Your body is wise
At its core, the non-diet approach reconnects you to the wisdom of your body. It presents you with the opportunity to reach and maintain a healthy body weight, and not just for a few days leading up to your ten-year high school reunion! The ability to develop a lifelong approach to healthy eating by encouraging positive attitudes, thoughts, and feelings towards food and eating is accessible to you. It is never too late to get off the yoyo dieting rollercoaster!
We were born to be strong, happy, energetic, and healthy. There is a weight that is most healthy and comfortable for each individual, and it may or may not be the same as the societal ‘ideal’.
“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophies.” [Friedrich Nietzsche]
The non-diet approach gently reminds us of the innate ability of our bodies to attain and maintain a healthy weight. And it doesn’t require counting calories, fat grams, carbohydrate grams, or eating more egg whites in a day than your friends and colleagues care for.
On a broader scale, the non-diet approach fits in with many other practices we can use to rekindle our body’s innate wisdom: yoga, meditation, mindful and intuitive eating, spending time connecting with the earth, learning about sustainable food systems or doing a permaculture design course. It’s about deepening our relationship to food and where it comes from, not further narrowing our scope to calories and reducing foods down to their ability to burn fat or even to boost antioxidant levels. This process requires courage and a willingness to delve deeper into the unknown.
The great thing about the non-diet approach is that the deeper you scratch, the more diet and weight myths you will dispel, and the more clarity you will gain. This is the path of the warrior, and although it requires a little more imagination and openness than your typical 30-day low-carb diet, it’s a hell of a lot more fun! And the results are lasting.
Where to start?
I’d suggest finding an accredited practising dietitian or other health professional to introduce you to the non-diet approach. Together you can work towards eating intuitively and creating a healthy relationship with food.
The non-diet approach does not mean tossing healthy eating out the window! It’s important to know about food choices that are great for long-term health. I love talking about eating for disease prevention and improving energy levels. I’m crazy about garlic and ginger, vegetables, delicious herbs and spices, healthy homemade chocolate, and good fats like nuts and avocados. But the most important thing is to first establish a healthy relationship with food, and the non-diet approach can help you achieve that.
Some reading to acquaint you with the non-diet approach:
ncludes a registry of non-diet approach health professionals, and a list of books for further reading
(1) Bodnar, Lisa M et al. “High prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency in black and white pregnant women residing in the northern United States and their neonates.” The Journal of Nutrition 137.2 (2007): 447-452.
(2) Dawodu, Adekunle, and Reginald C Tsang. “Maternal vitamin D status: effect on milk vitamin D content and vitamin D status of breastfeeding infants.” Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal 3.3 (2012): 353-361.
(3) Wei, Shu-Qin et al. “Maternal vitamin D status and adverse pregnancy outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine 26.9 (2013): 889- 899.
(4) Aghajafari, Fariba et al. “Association between maternal serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level and pregnancy and neonatal outcomes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies.”BMJ: British Medical Journal 346 (2013).
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