As a dietitian, most people that come to see me are expecting to be weighed, receive a meal plan and told to cut out their favourite food. I’m a bit different though. I work using a non-diet approach. This approach is slowly growing in popularity but it’s still new to a lot of people. So, I thought I’d give a short explanation about what it is and possibly more importantly, what it isn’t.
The non-diet approach looks at health as more than just eating lots of vegetables and exercising. It recognises that eating nutritious food and movement are important, however it also acknowledges that health and wellbeing involves having a good relationship with food and our body, and taking time for self-care and compassion.
So what is the non-diet approach not? First and foremost, it’s not another diet! It’s easy to turn some of the principles into a diet or diet rules, but it’s very important not to do this. A traditional diet will use external factors to dictate eating behaviour, for example, meal plans, calorie allowance or exact times to eat; with the goal generally being to lose weight. The non-diet approach instead focuses on internal cues to guide what and when something is eaten. We’re all born with the ability to manage how much we should eat and when we should eat. However, as we grow up we’re often taught to ignore those internal cues, for example being told to finish our dinner. These teachings are quite normal and understandable as they often stem from older generations living through difficult times with less available food and fear of food wastage. However, as the majority of us are lucky to have a huge variety of food available to us at most times, many people now find they have issues with the temptation to overeat. This is where people will often turn to diets or those external cues to control what they eat. As I mentioned though, the non-diet approach does the opposite and looks at internal cues.
Internal cues include firstly recognising hunger and fullness. It’s quite common for people to only notice when they’re overly or uncomfortably full so this approach takes it back to the basics of listening to our bodies when we’re eating. Recognising when we’re actually hungry is also important. Then we can start to eat according to that hunger when possible instead of just eating according to the clock.
Internal cues and the non-diet approach also involves listening to what food we actually feel like eating and eating it mindfully. The non-diet approach doesn’t exclude any foods and tries to take the guilt away from eating certain foods. When we take the guilt away and let ourselves eat it at any time, we often enjoy it more and eat the amount that we actually feel like eating, rather than the amount we think we should eat now because we’re never going to let ourselves eat that food again.
The non-diet approach uses a weight neutral approach, which means that reaching a certain weight is not the focus. Instead the eating behaviours that I mentioned above, are what we base goals on. Therefore, as part of letting those weight loss goals go we may also discuss body image and working on feeling comfortable in the body you have now.
One of my favourite aspects of the non-diet approach is how important self-compassion and kindness is. While we’ll teach you skills to eat intuitively and according to hunger and fullness, we also know that it’s not always possible or the best option. This is not something that needs to be mastered, or something that you can do wrong and beat yourself up about. Self-compassion and remembering that mistakes are normal are part of the process. This takes me back to one of the first points I made. It’s not another diet. It’s about learning to look at your eating behaviour with curiosity and without judgement.
This was just a short introduction into what the non-diet approach is. If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to book in and have a chat with me,