It’s no secret that over the last few years, dieting has seriously fallen out of fashion. There’s growing recognition of just how ineffective diets are in achieving sustainable weight loss, alongside increasing acknowledgment of the psychological harm that it inflicts.
All of this negative attention has resulted in an absolute explosion of weight loss companies, health professionals, and influencers promoting themselves as ‘non-diet’ or ‘body positive.’
The anti-diet pushback is of course utterly fabulous. But with everyone jumping on the bandwagon, it can be hard to tell who’s genuine and who’s just profiting off the buzzwords.
Sometimes it’s fairly easy to pick out a weight loss industry wolf in anti-diet clothing: think Weight Watchers, or Michelle Bridges – companies with their fingers still deep in the weight loss pie, despite feeble protestations that they’re somehow not a diet.
But at times it can be quite tricky to know if your non-diet person really is non-diet.
There’s a crucial difference between a practitioner who really, truly understands the non-diet stuff, someone who isn’t there yet (sometimes it can take a while for things to really sink in), or someone who is just taking advantage of the non-diet zeitgeist.
When we think of what the non-diet approach means, most people mention concepts like mindful or intuitive eating, joyful movement, or perhaps the term ‘body positivity’. These ideas are certainly part of how we teach people non-diet self-care skills, but there’s a central, foundational premise on which non-diet practice is based which is perhaps less readily understood. It is this:
Rejecting diet mentality means pulling out of the trap of diet-think, to see (perhaps for the first time) just how much diet culture messaging has sunk into your head, and become your own thoughts.
You see, we are all born into diet culture, by which I mean we are exposed from birth to a society which unquestioningly worships thinness and pathologises fatness. Most of us live out our lives without questioning ANYTHING diet culture tells us.
At its heart, the non-diet approach asks us to do just that: to pause, to pull out, to question. To see that these deeply unhelpful diet culture messages are echoed in our own thinking: to lift the veil.
The first step of the non-diet approach – BEFORE learning the mindful eating or joyful movement techniques – is to REJECT diet mentality. And by extension, to REJECT the idea that diet culture, with its toxic polarising of bodies, is in any way a fair, just or sensible way to treat other human beings.
It sounds fairly simple, but in practice rejecting diet mentality is a long process. It includes diving into weight science, and questioning all of those unquestioned diet culture assumptions (that fat=unhealthy and thin=healthy, that weight loss is possible, that it is safe, that it is even necessary to improve health*). It means looking at concepts like weight prejudice and weight bias and recognising how enormously these impact all of our lives. More personally, rejecting diet mentality means evaluating the impact of internalised weight bias on your life. Deconstructing your own diet-regain-repeat cycle, and entertaining the idea that perhaps the solution to all of your problems (weight loss dieting) is actually causing harm. Rejecting diet mentality is at once intellectual and emotional: it is both liberating and the source of grief.
Non-diet practitioners and influencers who truly reject diet mentality and diet culture are the ones who have lifted the veil. The ones who have critically evaluated the science, and concluded for themselves that diet culture messages about weight are largely bunk, serving an industry rather than the people who seek its services. These are the ones who have investigated their own diet mentality, unpacked it, and done their best to replace it with weight neutral self-care practices. Although non-diet practitioners vary in their involvement with advocacy and social justice work, they will recognise the harms of diet culture and make sure that their clients receive the central message – that it’s the culture, not your body, which is the source of pain.
Once we see that the heart of the non-diet approach is the rejection of diet mentality, it becomes much easier to pick out the genuinely safe practitioners from the charlatans. There are at least three non-diet types to be wary of:
- Non-Diet Straddlers: People who spruik the ‘non-diet approach’ alongside weight loss services clearly still have their feet firmly planted in diet culture. The other day I saw on Instagram a fitness instructor who claimed to be a ‘health at every size’ practitioner… she also sells weight loss cleanses. These people may genuinely think that because they offer non-diet stuff sometimes, that they get it. They do not get it. You can’t reject diet culture on a part time basis.
- Non-Diet Lite-ers: Those who offer non-diet strategies (mindful eating, body positivity) but never mention diet culture rejection are not presenting you with the full picture: they may just not understand it, or they may be wilfully ignoring it in their search for customers. Beware of non-diet health professionals who don’t seem to have an opinion on diet culture, or – even worse – try to defend it on the basis of so-called ‘health’. These people might think that the non-diet strategies are really neat, but can’t quite stomach the political, ideological, or social justice stuff. This is a form of denial which probably makes their lives simpler, but it’s not helping!
- Non-Diet Bait & Switchers: If you come across anyone who says that the non-diet approach is somehow the missing key to permanent weight loss – RUN. These are the worst kind: they’re not even interested in learning about the non-diet approach, they are simply profiteering off the cultural mood, the groundswell of rebellion against dieting which has been growing over the past 5 years. These people don’t care about your health or wellbeing. They care about profit.
I am sure there are many more nuances when it comes to people jumping on the non-diet bandwagon. In a nutshell, as a consumer interested in the non-diet approach, make sure that your non-diet health professional truly understands the ideological shift of non-diet. It’s a paradigm change, not a quirky ‘add on’ to weight management or wellness services.
HAES Australia is a place where you can access health professionals who have been thoroughly vetted for non-diet safety. Here you’ll only find people who truly practice from a weight-neutral perspective. If you are looking more internationally, the ASDAH website has a great network of people worldwide.