I am down to my last 2 Science classes pre-didactic program!
I made it! …one child and 2 years later.
Microbiology is by far my favorite outside of Nutrition-focused classes so far. I mean, who doesn’t love labs entirely dedicated to growing cultures, doing gram stains and observing the odd beauty of microorganisms, like E. Coli and S. Epidermidis? No? Well, it’s not everyone’s cup-of-tea. But I dig it.
As I start the didactic application process, I am faced with a very important task of exploring what type of Dietitian I want to be. I already know that Public Health is not for me. Nor is food service/corporate. I tried the corporate America thing and it wasn’t for me. I’m leaning towards private practice and teaching, both because they are better suited for parents that require a flexible schedule, and because I figure, what better way to help guide/inform the next generation of dietitians than to teach them? We’re slowly moving away from learning harmful/archaic science that supports and is fueled by diet culture, but we have a ways to go…which brings me to the topic of this article…
The black and white nature of Nutrition Science right now. It’s not so dissimilar to what we’re seeing in Politics. It’s a strange time, culturally speaking, with so many movements happening at the same time, and this is a good thing, ultimately. It was about time things got shaken up! But some fine-tuning is definitely needed. Simply put, things are changing reeeally fast to make up for many years of bullshit…and it’s an adjustment. Things are a bit messy. In the Nutrition world, we’re in a sort of iPod first generation-esque anti-diet culture movement, and I’m sitting here waiting for Gen 4 or 5.
I think anti-diet sentiments are long overdue and essential to move Nutrition Science forward. I’m on board with health at every size (or #HAES as it’s known on the IG, and it’s website namesake). I like aspects of Intuitive Eating (not all of it), and I get super fired up when some Influencer shares “fake science” (which is always based on some/half-truths that are way over-embellished or misinterpreted, or both) because it’s a great disservice to the audience they are influencing, and the people like me who go to school for many many years to learn all about the human body, how to read studies properly and relay the information to the average layperson, and you know, help people using real science.
The problem is, the field of Dietetics is so split right now. You’re either “Anti-Diet Culture, Pro: Health at Every Size, Intuitive Eating, Body Neutrality” or you’re “old school” which is anything that doesn’t fit neatly into these categories. “Old School” includes both 90’s calorie counting, low-fat pushing, etc. which is the opposite of beneficial, and quite frankly impossible to sustain (because, biology—- our bodies seek homeostasis, not weight loss, since our bodies don’t know the difference between self-inflicted restriction and legitimate lack of resources), and everyone else who doesn’t completely reject weight loss of any kind, any mentions of weight, “healthy” and “less healthy” foods, any sort of feelings about bodies that aren’t neutral…It’s basically “you’re fully on board with thinking about things THIS way or you’re part of the problem.”
I believe that nutrition is far too nuanced for such black and white statements/judgment. And it’s not going to help us progress the field, which is an uphill battle already against all the Influencers and Wellness world at large that is so steeped in diet culture that people are unable to discern real self-care from self-harm. Read this from Lee from America, which shines a high beam light on why I am so anti- Wellness/what it has become (if it wasn’t already this way; perhaps it’s just my eyes that have been opened now that I’m 2 years into Clinical education…I’m not sure). I think Lee’s story is one of many that will start to come out as the sham that is “wellness” slowly starts to crumble.
I don’t think we live in a world that will just snap out of diet culture. I don’t think fatphobia and fat-shaming will stop tomorrow, either. I don’t think it helps either cause to dictate what people can or can’t say to be truly “anti-diet/pro: health at every size.” We’re currently on floor 1. And floor 100 is reeeeally high.
According to the HAES website:
“HAES includes the following basic components:
Celebrates body diversity;
Honors differences in size, age, race, ethnicity, gender, dis/ability, sexual orientation, religion, class, and other human attributes.
Challenges scientific and cultural assumptions;
Values body knowledge and lived experiences.
Finding the joy in moving one’s body and being physically active;
Eating in a flexible and attuned manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite, while respecting the social conditions that frame eating options.”
It’s very similar to “Intuitive Eating:”
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
2. Honor Your Hunger
3. Make Peace with Food
4. Challenge the Food Police
5. Respect Your Fullness
6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food
8. Respect Your Body
9. Exercise—Feel the Difference
10. Honor Your Health (with “gentle” nutrition)
I wholeheartedly support HAES and Intuitive Eating— not verbatim; they’re not my religion. But I appreciate what they represent and what they are fighting for— much-needed change in the world of Nutrition and awareness/support around body size diversity.
I am anti-diet culture…but I’m not anti-weight loss. They aren’t mutually exclusive despite what so many podcasts I listen to, and articles I read, claim.
I believe weight loss can be healthy when…
1). …it’s the byproduct of healthy choices. Not the intention/goal. There is no guarantee that adopting a healthier lifestyle will result in weight loss— that’s the big sham of the diet industry. People live in many different body sizes/types and there’s no way you can tell by looking at someone, or measuring their weight/bmi, whether they are healthy or not. There are so many components of our health status. Vitals might be A-OK, but that doesn’t mean someone’s mental health is…it doesn’t mean they aren’t under a lot of stress, overworked, lack access to the many perks a privileged person does…the myriad of things people deal with on a daily basis that might negatively impact their “quality of life” and have nothing to do with what they eat, weigh, or what size clothing they wear. In this sense, healthy weight loss is one piece of a very big and complicated puzzle. This is essentially what anti-diet culture is fighting for: a broadened awareness of the struggles of people in different bodies; social justice, at its core. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater— weight loss isn’t the problem. Our approach to it is.
2)…. it is VERY slow. Research supports slow weight loss as being the most sustainable long term.
3). …it improves their overall quality of life. Most of the women who reach out to me on social media are not aspiring to look like supermodels. I get messages from real women with real concerns…like being in bodies that don’t allow them to play with their kids…to get up with ease from a seated position…to fit in restaurant booths or plane seats…People who want real, non-diet, sustainable tips to make their life better. Being able to play with your children…to have the energy to walk upstairs…to be around for your loved ones…that’s not diet culture. That’s real life. That’s caring about yourself. That’s caring about the people you love. I simply don’t believe “diet culture” has to be the evil behind every physical change, or the desire to feel better.
Diet culture only has as much power as we give it. The solution isn’t to replace one extreme with another. Sharing pictures of donuts and strawberries side by side on instagram with the headline “both are intuitive eating” misses the point completely. It does nothing to help empower people to take care of themselves physically and mentally. And physical health requires more than over-simplified strawberry vs donut comparisons. That’s not opinion, that’s science.
I completely support the current popular opinion that foods should not be demonized — and we shouldn’t attach fear, guilt, regret or morality to food. We also shouldn’t have a super narrow view of what’s “good” — from salads to green smoothies and keto dairy-free, gluten-free chia pudding. A bowl of oatmeal with lots of yummy toppings is also very healthy, and definitely not keto, gluten-free or paleo. There are lots of problems with today’s diet culture. But I think we shouldn’t be so anti-diet that we categorize healthy weight loss a bad thing.
How can I— in my future role of a dietitian—help people achieve weight loss in a healthy way — in a way that reinforces the development of new habits and lifestyle changes? There’s more to being healthy than the number on the scale. But I don’t think we should judge or shame people for not “being there” yet— a place where the scale doesn’t hold any significance in their life. Or, if they never reach that place. No one should be ashamed of that. It’s how you work on/towards healthy habits and more positive self-opinion beyond a number that matters.
Simply hearing that “diets don’t work. End of story” is discouraging and defeating. That’s not why I’m becoming a dietitian. My understanding is that my role—regardless of what area I work in, or what the science or my peers are saying—is to be of service to my clients; to meet them where they’re at—wherever that is, today.
And I don’t think it’s realistic to expect people to fake body positivity all the time.
I don’t think it’s realistic to say that losing a few pounds can’t have a positive effect on someone’s quality of life (assuming that it’s healthy and done with the support of a nutrition professional).
I don’t think we’ll “beat” diet culture by being so black and white.
I think we beat it by leading by example. By sharing what food freedom looks like. By holding compassion and removing judgment for people who approach things a little different than we do. I’m a little bored with the repeated narrative of every “anti-diet culture” dietitian. Can we be more free-thinking, please?
I changed my career to nutrition because I believe it is one of the most important and fascinating areas of human science. I’m excited about the possibilities of where we’ll be 5-10-15 years from now. And I like nutrition because I believe it is the epicenter of everything—energy, cognition, aging, disease risk…the list goes on. I hope that the next wave of “anti-diet” becomes a little less black and white and embraces more of the grey. That’s where most of us live.