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My Path to Becoming a Non-Diet Dietitian

I started my education in nutrition the same way every aspiring dietitian does, in a traditional dietetics undergraduate program. My dietetic internship was very similar, with an emphasis on clinical skills and community nutrition. All of it was very weight-centric. I had never heard of a non-diet dietitian before, much less anything about Health at Every Size or Intuitive Eating.

Overall, I would say that my career has been “well-rounded”. I worked in a couple of hospitals where I honed my clinical skills. I worked closely with a bariatric surgical center to help prepare individuals seeking weight loss surgery. I even conducted my thesis research on the effects of nutrition education on weight loss and diet quality in pre-surgical weight loss patients.

After that, I branched out into other areas. I’ve worked in home health, sales for an enteral nutrition company, consulting for an inpatient/outpatient mental health facility and later, for a long-term care facility. I’ve worked in corporate wellness conducting health fairs and putting on large scale programs to help improve employee health for a large company. I also worked as a contract dietitian for the military, promoting health among active duty service members and providing outpatient nutrition counseling to the military, their families, and retirees.

Seeking connection.

I’ve had some jobs I have LOVED, as well as some that were not a good fit for me. I found my passion sparked by promoting overall wellness and counseling. I love the connection and the relationships I build with my clients that I get to see on an ongoing basis.

And when you build relationships with clients, you go way, way beyond simple nutrition education. You help them dig deep, troubleshoot barriers that come up, and find their internal motivation to change. This is the hardest, but most rewarding work and where the most change happens.

By far, the most common reason clients would come to me was for weight loss. And using my knowledge and skills from my traditional dietetic background, I would do my very best to help them. I helped clients meal plan, read a food label, track their meal intake, help to recognize their internal hunger and fullness levels, and provide a wealth of education on every topic related to their specific health concerns and needs. I never promoted any fad diets or unsustainable methods for weight loss but instead encouraged portion control and moderation. I straddled the line between “all foods fit” and “food is medicine”. I did my best with what I knew at the time.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is, dieting doesn’t work. I started to notice this first, about 2 years into my career when I was working with people who were pursuing weight loss surgery. To qualify for the surgery, they had to show a repeated history of diet failure. The nutrition assessment form would require these patients to documents which diets they had tried in the past, as well as their weight history. It was very clear (and a recent study supports this) that repeated attempts at dieting only caused their weight to INCREASE over time, not decrease.

I later saw the same trend within the military population. To pass their physical fitness assessment, active duty service members are required to meet certain standards for their waist circumference (in the branch of service I primarily worked with). Those who exceeded these standards were required to complete a weight loss program, which resulted in a referral to my clinic. Once again, when reviewing the medical records for those that struggled with this, it was clear that the repeated efforts to shrink their body size resulted in weight gain and not weight loss over time. And the more they tried to restrict their food intake, the more chaotic their eating became. For some people, this pursuit of weight loss and the thin ideal lead them down the dangerous path to an eating disorder.

The bottom line: at best, the results of dieting are not sustainable and at worst, it increases the risk of developing an eating disorder. Current research suggests that 95% of diets fail. You read that right…. 95%. And statistics go on to show that the majority of people will gain the weight back (or more) within 3-5 years. (There are biological reasons for this but I’ll save it for another blog post). You didn’t fail at the diet, the diet FAILED YOU.

There had to be a better way. This lead me to the discovery of Intuitive Eating and the Health at Every Size movement and down the path to becoming a non-diet dietitian. Both of these approaches encourage you to improve your overall health through behavior changes (like finding physical activities that you enjoy and adequately fueling your body) WITHOUT trying to change your weight or body shape. These approaches focus on ditching diet culture that tells us we need to look a certain way to be healthy. Your health is SO MUCH MORE than a number on a scale. And quite often, the pursuit of weight loss leads us not only to be physically unwell by promoting disordered eating practices but mentally unwell also, when we attach our worth to our body size.

So what does a non-diet dietitian do?

I walk alongside you in your journey to healing your relationship with food and your body. I promote YOU as the ultimate authority over your own body, not me, not your doctor, not your family, friends, or the world around you.

As a non-diet dietitian, I won’t restrict your food intake by prescribing calorie limits or macros. I won’t tell you to cut out entire food groups. I won’t shame or guilt you for your food choices. I won’t recommend you to do exercise that you hate. I will walk you through the steps that will allow you to enjoy freedom in your choices on how you want to fuel and move your body. I will work with you (and your healthcare team) to provide weight-neutral care to improve any health conditions that you may have. Learn more about me and my services here.

You have the innate ability and wisdom to feed your body in a way that promotes energy and health, and I will help you discover it. You deserve to be nourished physically, mentally, and emotionally. You deserve to live your life fulfilled.

If you’re ready to get started, then contact us to schedule an appointment today.

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