I’m a Dietitian who works from a non-diet/intuitive eating approach to health and wellbeing based on Health at Every Size (HAES®) principles.
Often when people discover I’m a dietitian they want to share their dieting stories and weight loss troubles with me, always in the hope I can reveal the crucial element needed for long term weight loss success that’s been eluding them. They always provide a reason why the weight went back on and they always take ownership for the fact that it did.
I like to enquire why they want to lose weight. Health, ease of movement and the ability to fit into the clothing size they were wearing, however many years ago are common answers. My next response is never quite expected.
“What if you were OK in the body you have right now?”
This is the point where they try to mask the panic and disbelief surging up from the depths of their bowels….
“Did you say you are a Dietitian?”
Yes, but not your average one, and here’s why.
As a Dietitian I witness first-hand the distress experienced from those living in larger bodies. The body shame and discrimination they experience has left me utterly lost for words at times. It’s completely understandable why folk experiencing this seek a solution to their weight concerns in the hope it will free them from the misery they have endured. The thing that really gets me is, when the diet fails them, they blame themselves.
Unfortunately, our diet culture overwhelms us with the ‘thin ideal’ message. We’ve been conditioned into believing that fatness is wrong, unhealthy and needs fixing. No wonders folk’s sense of self-worth is challenged daily with the messages portrayed via the media, our healthcare providers or well-meaning family and friends. The messages are insidious and seductive and so ingrained in our psyche that it’s no wonder they are rarely questioned.
The uncomfortable truth is that, contrary to popular belief, there is no reliable evidence to show sustainable weight loss is possible for most people. Sure weight loss is possible but around 95% of us will regain that weight and often a bit more within 2-5 years. Furthermore, our size does not determine our health. But this is not what people want to hear.
The over-riding sense of shame that permeates from clients that come to me seeking help is palpable. The dictionary defines shame as ‘a state of disgrace or dishonour,’ which is often translated into our psyche as ‘I am wrong’. How can health be fostered whilst holding this belief?
This is exactly the reason why I decided to change the way I work, from the traditional weight-centric approach to the HAES® approach. HAES® challenges mainstream beliefs around weight and health and promotes the belief that all people deserve respect regardless of body shape or size. It promotes the belief that accepting your size and giving it the love and appreciation it deserves can empower positive change towards more healthful behaviours. It supports trusting our bodies to tell us what it needs by honouring hunger, fullness and appetite and finding joy in movement to become more physically active. It supports nurturing connection with others fulfilling our social, emotional and spiritual needs restoring food to its rightful place as a source of nourishment and pleasure. It comes from a place of compassion versus the restriction and self-loathing associated with the diet mentality.
In my opinion, the pursuit of weightloss, whether that be through a diet, lifestyle change, points system or any other guaranteed programme, however bonafide it might seem, just provides us with a tool box for a disordered relationship with food and our bodies affecting both physical and emotional wellbeing.
I value my integrity far too much to try and dress any of them up as anything other than that.