I consider myself a non-diet dietitian. This means that when I work with clients, I aim to take an approach to food and nutrition where we eat in response to physiological cues (hunger and fullness cues) to regulate how much we eat.
A key piece to this though is the truth that all bodies can be good bodies, and the work that must be done towards body acceptance. Taking a non-diet approach “recognizes the harm of diet culture and the risks and negative outcomes associated with dieting and dieting for the purpose of intentional weight loss” (quoted from the EDRDpro Eating Disorders Foundations course workbook)
I also follow the principles of Intuitive Eating both in my practice and in my own relationship with food. This is an approach rooted in non-diet practices, where we are again listening and responding to internal, physiological cues in order to know when and how much to eat.
A sentiment that comes up sometimes is the idea that intuitive eating is simply “eating whatever you want whenever you want”. This used to bother me for a long time, because as a Registered Dietitian I care deeply about nutrition, and this idea sort of implies that we don’t think at all about nutrition with regard to eating.
But that’s not true.
However, a lot of times we take baby steps toward that direction. Gentle nutrition is a key principle in becoming an intuitive eater, but for many people it’s one of the last principles to tackle. Gentle nutrition involves you making food choices, not based on rules or restriction, but out of thoughtful and compassionate trust with your body.
Let’s say I choose a salad for lunch. As an intuitive eater, I’m asking myself questions before I make that salad. Questions like,
“what would make this meal most satisfying for me?”
“does this meal sound good to me? is it what I really want?”
“am I going to stay full after this meal? if not, is there something I can do to add fullness?”
Prior to becoming an intuitive eater, the choice to eat a salad was often lacking any inquisitive questions and more like,
“well, you ate too much for breakfast, so you need to eat something light for lunch”
“this salad will be low carb and that’s good”
“you don’t deserve to eat a big lunch. if you’re hungry later you just need more willpower”
“a salad is healthy. end of story.”
See the difference?
Again, this isn’t a starting point on your intuitive eating journey, because in order to answer those questions about if the meal will satisfy you, you must actually work to listen and get to know your body first. That is a lot of work, especially if you’re coming off of years of dieting, which usually teaches us to suppress and ignore those internal cues.
So, I’m not dieting. But, I do think about ways I can add nutrition into my meals and snacks. I do ask myself if I’m hungry or not, and if not I can respect that in a variety of ways.
I also don’t feel guilt or shame when I don’t add more nutrition to a meal or snack. This weekend we were traveling to the lake and had a birthday party for Cal. There were a few meals where I had no vegetables or fruit, not a ton of protein, etc. I didn’t feel guilty for that. I used what I know about my body and what I ate that day as information.
“this lunch isn’t as high in protein as I usually eat, so I might feel hungry a little earlier this afternoon. I’ll plan a snack accordingly”
Shame and guilt don’t need to play a role in your food choices. But, taking note of how you feel when you eat foods, how you want to feel and what’s actually in your control is really powerful.
When I work on this with clients, we often start with being just an objective observer. What can I notice about my body, my hunger, my fullness? Free of judgement.
Not, “ugh, I’m hungry again, I have no willpower.”
But instead, “I’m feeling hungry sooner than I thought I would. I’ll eat a snack, and maybe when I eat that meal tomorrow I’ll add more ___ to help me feel full for longer”
So, just because you’re not on a diet doesn’t mean that you pay no attention to how food makes you feel or the nutrition that foods can offer. But, it does mean that your choices aren’t fueled by guilt, shame, restriction or unrealistic body standards.
It also requires you view your body as inherently worthy of respect, even if there is a moment or a day where you don’t like how it looks.
That can be tricky to do on your own. You can do it. I did it. But, it took me a lot longer to put the pieces together on my own without a sounding board or solid guidance.
If you want support putting these pieces together in your own life, I’d love to walk with you. Book a free call if you’d like to chat or know more about my services.
Individual, virtual nutrition sessions start at $124/hr. Payment plans and pay-in-full package discounts available. Insurance acceptance (hopefully) coming very soon.
I’d love to hear from you here. Has there been a time in your life where you weren’t dieting, but you struggled to eat without guilt?