Intuitive Eating Misconception: Does Anti-Diet Mean Anti-Health?

One-third of people are dieting—counting, measuring and potentially overthinking their food choices. But what if I told you there were other options—alternatives that didn’t require you to spend significant time each day deciding on, wrestling with and often being unsatisfied by your food choices?

Welcome to the anti-diet (or non-diet) approach. Sound too good to be true? Maybe. But so did that juice cleanse your friend tried last week.

The anti-diet approach pairs well with intuitive eating, which is a style of eating that doesn’t have unbending restrictions and rules. Instead, intuitive eating puts you back in the driver’s seat to make decisions about what, how much and how often you eat.

If it sounds overwhelming, it may be at first. But there are 10 principles that can guide you so that ultimately you’re eating satisfying, nourishing food—not too much or too little—when your body is hungry. And if you end up over- or under-eating, that’s okay too. You’re not perfect, and the great thing about intuitive eating is that it doesn’t expect you to be. Cheers to that!

If you’re still not totally sold, you’re in good company. That’s why we’ve created this blog series to address some of the misconceptions around intuitive eating and the anti-diet approach. Our first post will dive into one very fair question: If intuitive eating is anti-diet, does that mean it’s anti-health?

We chatted with Robyn Nohling, FNP-BC, RD, a family nurse practitioner and registered dietitian who does not advocate for diets. She helped explain why anti-diet is indeed pro-health.

The anti-diet approach is inclusive of all body types.

The anti-diet approach utilizes a Health at Every Size (HAES) framework, which emphasizes the idea that everyone, regardless of body size, can pursue healthy behaviors.

Robyn debunks some myths around HAES: “HAES does not promote the message that everyone is healthy at any body size. Rather, HAES advocates for taking the focus off weight and instead on health-promoting behaviors. Anyone can pursue healthy behaviors at any size and everyone should have access to adequate and ethical healthcare. These tools can increase self-efficacy, self-esteem and may lead to better physiological and psychological well-being.”

The anti-diet approach focuses on behaviors instead of weight-loss.

The anti-diet approach does not use weight loss as a measure of success. Instead it focuses on progress with the wellness-promoting habits. Robyn discusses the reason behind this approach: “We know pursuing [only] weight loss doesn't work, and weight loss doesn't always equate to better health. But health-promoting behaviors in and of themselves, regardless of weight, improve people’s health long-term. Focusing on behaviors is a more effective and ethical use of our knowledge and credentials.”

The anti-diet approach is a different package than the traditional “lose weight” recommendation often given to overweight people. Instead, the client and healthcare practitioner both establish a set of goals—like finding an enjoyable way to exercise, eating more fruits and vegetables at meals, or practicing mindful eating once per day—that focus on long-term health.

The anti-diet approach is in pursuit of better overall health.

This approach to eating acknowledges that health is based not on whether you ate kale today, but instead it considers your mental and physical health as being equally important to your long-term well-being.

Robyn stresses that research shows pursuing weight-loss through diets does not work long-term and may increase your risk for developing an eating disorder. Moreover, many can end up at a higher weight than when they started dieting. Instead, intuitive eating and the anti-diet approach pursue eating for satiety, nutrients and enjoyment.

The last principle of intuitive eating is “Honor Your Health,” which emphasizes eating nutrient-dense foods most of the time but not allowing your food choices to cause anxiety or guilt if you eat something indulgent.

The anti-diet approach can be a logical and ethical lens through which we can consider different care for all different types of people. It establishes goals that are relative and realistic for patients and removes the weight stigma that so many people feel when they try to get nutrition or medical advice.

In the end, all healthcare practitioners want better health for their clients. Pursuing healthy behaviors instead of focusing only on weight as a measure of success may help clients feel more empowered to make positive changes in their life.

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