Dietitians and health experts are moving away from the idea of “being on a diet,” and instead encouraging people to not diet at all.
In a recent Washington Post story about the growing popularity of the “nondiet dietitian,” author and registered dietitian Cara Rosenbloom wrote that diets do not work, and have minimal long-term success. Fad eating trends and celebrity-endorsed diets often offer misleading information, setting most people up for failure.
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Since dietitians know this, Rosenbloom said, more and more are moving away from the term “dieting” and helping clients develop realistic eating plans based on their own lifestyles.
“There’s so many variables to take into account to figure out the right way for you to eat that it’s impossible to read that in a book or online.”
Why diets don’t work
Trendy diets don’t work for most people because they aren’t sustainable and practical, said Jane Dummer, a registered dietitian and consultant. Many diets are based on food restrictions and focus on weight loss as the ultimate goal, which isn’t realistic for everyone.
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“There is an abundance of misinformation about food and nutrition in our current environment from celebrities to bloggers; it’s very easy to have a platform without substantiated information,” Dummer told Global News. “Often, people need to be educated about different dietary patterns and the tactics on how to incorporate positive actions into their lives.”
Plus, Rosenbloom said the whole concept of “going on a diet” enforces the idea that you need to temporarily “fix” your eating patterns to lose weight. When, in reality, health goals are achieved through long-term changes.
Dummer agreed that viewing healthy eating as part of an overall positive lifestyle is key to sticking to your wellness plan. If you put a timeline on your eating habits, you’re less likely to reap long-term rewards. People who yo-yo diet are at risk of regaining any weight lost from dieting, or gaining more weight once their diet is over.
“For long-term health and well-being, it’s essential to develop and maintain healthy lifestyle habits including a fitness plan, stress-reduction tactics, a restful sleep routine and a dietary pattern that works for the individual,” Dummer said. “Continually practicing healthy habits everyday will give you the behaviour to adjust to new and changing conditions in your life such as aging, travel and stress that may affect your eating habits.”
How nondiet dietitians are working to change our relationship with food
It’s time to change our understanding of the word “diet,” Rosenbloom said. While it can be interpreted in different ways, people typically think of “weight-loss” when they hear “diet,” she explained.
This is a problem because diet actually means the foods you habitually eat. “So when we say, ‘should you go on a diet?’ everybody has a diet,” Rosenbloom said. “Whether you have a vegetarian diet, or you’re on the Mediterranean diet… a diet is what you eat.”
The reason why nondiet dietitians want to reframe the concept of “a diet” is to help people develop a healthier relationship with food. By encouraging people to make healthy choices and listen to what their body needs, there will hopefully be a shift from seeing food as “good” or “bad,” which will reduce less anxiety around eating.
“What the whole nondiet dietitian philosophy does is it gets people out of the mentality of thinking that they have to eat a particular meal plan with a specified number of calories or specific foods at each meal,” Rosenbloom said. “It allows people to think more about why they’re making the food choices they’re making, and how their bodies feel when they eat certain foods.”
Dummer said that when people focus on wellness instead of weight, their relationship with their diet can change.
“It’s important to look at your health in its entirety, rather than a number on a scale or a clothing size,” she said. “I encourage people to reflect on my equation for overall health: Energy equals healthy food, plus a fitness plan, plus restful sleep.”