In order to define what a non-diet approach is, it helps to know what it’s not. A non-diet approach to health is an alternative to the weight loss counseling approach that has become the norm today. The latter approach typically involves some sort of meal plan, portion or calorie control instructions, caloric prescription, and perhaps an exercise plan.
But let’s be very real here, if that stuff worked, you wouldn’t be here. I mean, seriously, here’s a free meal plan. Here’s a free resource on portion control. Here’s a free calorie calculator. Here’s a free exercise plan. Use any of those and let me know how well it goes and for how long. For this reason, if you’re working in a program or with a practitioner using the weight loss counseling approach, you’ll (hopefully) also get some support on behavior change, plus accountability and emotional support.
Generally speaking, the results of the weight loss counseling sort of approach will include weight loss and improved labs for 12 weeks, but weight regain is highly likely within 3-5 years. (Check in with yourself here– Has this been your experience with past diets, programs, or lifestyle changes?) Labs are also likely to return to original levels. And there are risks associated with this approach that I’d be remiss not to mention: increased risk of disordered eating development, weight cycling, increased body dissatisfaction, and an eventual increase in weight from baseline due to the metabolic changes that occur with caloric restriction. [source]
In contrast to the traditional weight loss counseling method, we practice a non-diet approach in our Nutritional Freedom programs. In practice, this looks like helping our clients first get clear on their values and the tangible goals that will help them get there. We then work together to co-create an individualized health strategy that comes from a place of self-care. This strategy will be informed by each client’s unique history, needs, desires, and life circumstances.
In our sessions, we help our clients become aware of the limiting beliefs and self-sabotaging habits that are holding them back. Once the awareness is there, we can begin to deal with and/or work through those challenges. We also teach our clients about mindful eating, how to listen to their body’s hunger and fullness cues, and a variety of other important aspects of intuitive or attuned eating.
Sounds great, right? Yeah, we think so too. One quick and very important note though. Non-diet should not be confused with non-health. Come on, y’all. I’m a dietitian. You think I’m out here getting all psyched and passionate about something unhealthy?! No! A non-diet approach is actually associated with significant improvements in physiological health measures such as blood pressure and blood lipids, health behaviors, and psychosocial factors like self-esteem and body image. [source] With this approach, we see long-term weight stability at 5 years after initial fluctuation. [source] Using this approach as a means to help clients or patients achieve better health is not only beneficial, it’s also non-harming. That’s a major win/win.
Because of our clients’ long histories studying nutrition, trying various diets, and all of those free resources I mentioned above, we tend to find that they already know what to do when it comes to their health.
Like, they know the basics of good nutrition. So the struggle here isn’t a knowledge deficit. It’s figuring out why they don’t do what they know. We get to the bottom of that question by getting a better understanding of the thoughts that motivate their healthy or unhealthy behaviors. We then help them replace those with more productive thoughts. Here’s what that this transformation might look like when it comes to various food- and fitness-related choices:
In a world dominated by diets, I know it’s scary to think about doing anything outside the norm, especially when it comes to how you approach something as important as your health. But I want you to ask yourself this: Is what you’re doing now working for you? Has your history with diets, exercise plans, or “lifestyle changes” created lasting benefits? If the answer is no, then what do you have to lose by trying something new?
Talk to you soon.