The Non-Diet Diet

Published: 24 Jun 2015

The Non-Diet Diet

Research shows that dieting is almost guaranteed to result in weight regain over an above what was originally lost. Dieting is also highly likely to result in disordered eating if not a full-blown eating disorder. So why is it so widespread that it is considered normal and healthy in western society?

Dieting is the answer if we regard weight as the problem. At this point in time weight has become synonymous with health. Many complex and multifactorial health problems are met with the recommendation “lose some weight”. It is as though we have lost sight of the fact that there is a diverse range of healthy shapes, weights and sizes.

Research shows that dieting is almost guaranteed to result in weight regain over an above what was originally lost.

We are born knowing how to feed and move our bodies. Those of you with small children in your lives will have witnessed how present they are in their body. They are unaware of their appearance and just do what feels good. I know I have watched with amazement as my children effortlessly pull off a perfect squat or yoga pose. The other thing they do is eat intuitively, watch a toddler at a birthday party choosing between cake, sausage, fruit, popcorn as if each is morally neutral. Also note that they happily leave food, any food, when they have had enough. This is intuitive eating. This is non-dieting.

Yes, sure, some children will eat lollies until they come out of their nose! However these children have learned somewhere along the line that these foods are wrong and are limited in availability and are making sure to get enough while they can. The opposite of intuitive eating and a great example of what happens after a diet ends.

The non-diet approach honours body diversity and holds the client as the expert in their lived experience. It’s the exact opposite of dieting.

The non-diet approach encourages noticing and acting on internal body cues to rebuild body trust. Non-dieting also encourages awareness and mindfulness of external eating drivers that may be problematic.

Non-dieting avoids dieting behaviours of weighing and measuring your food and your body. Other behaviours like recording detailed food diaries, intricate planning of and rigid timing of meals, fixed calorie intake, specific weight loss goals and the use of ‘diet’ foods serve to further separate you from your internal drivers to eat and are not part of the approach. Good and bad foods do not exist in non-dieting.

The big fear is that without the rules and restrictions of a diet you’ll blow out and eat ALL the banned foods. It’s as if the only two options are dieting or bingeing.  This is not what is reported in research into the non-diet approach and certainly not what I have seen in practice.

Most non-diet approach interventions have shown positive outcomes in physiological and psychological outcomes and BMI tends to remain relatively stable or decreases during and after treatment.

Non- dieting and Dieting in a nutshell

Diet Paradigm:

Inflexible, quantitative, prescriptive, rigid, perfection-seeking, good or bad foods, rules, deprivation, time-based, fear-driven, guilt-inducing, shaming, body hatred, hunger, struggle, rationalising, temptation, thought-consuming, punishing.

Non-Diet Paradigm:

Flexible, accepting, welcomes all foods, intuitive, qualitative, supporting, enjoyable, life balance, appreciating, comfort, confidence, variety, freedom, natural, calm, pleasurable, kindness, nurturing, grateful, nourishing, forgiving, satisfaction, trust-building.

Credit: Fiona Willer