The anti-diet movement is a radical, much-needed departure from Western culture’s 100-year obsession with thinness. But where there are radical departures, there’s often also genuine confusion and deliberate obfuscation. So as one of the more vocal dietitians in the anti-diet movement, I wanted to take a moment to set the record straight about what “anti-diet” really means.
I’ve seen some people define anti-diet just to mean anti–fad diet—as in, Dr. Quacky Quackerson’s 5-Step Fat-Loss Plan, or Sally Instagram Star’s 7-Day Detox.
But that definition is too narrow.
Don’t get me wrong: Dr. Quacky Quackerson and her ilk are undeniably terrible. They’re part of the problem; they’re just not the whole problem.
The whole problem would be diet culture, Western society’s toxic system of beliefs that:
Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal;”
Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years;
Demonizes certain foods while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of your food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power;
And oppresses people who don't match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which means you experience internalized stigma and shame—and perhaps external stigma and discrimination as well—for all the ways in which you don't meet diet culture's impossible standards.
You don’t have to be following any “official” diet to be caught up in the culture of dieting, which is endemic to Western society.
Diet culture isn’t a singular diet, “eating plan,” “program,” “protocol,” or “lifestyle change,” although all of these things are part of diet culture. (So is a lot of what passes for “wellness” in this day and age.)
Diet culture isn’t just fad diets, or even the diet/“wellness” industry as a whole; it’s also all the subtle, low-level ways in which certain types of bodies and foods are held up as being “good” and others are denigrated as being “bad.”
Diet culture is the fatphobic comments casually dropped into our movies, TV shows, books, and pretty much any other art form you can imagine.
Diet culture is elementary-school nutrition classes telling kids that certain foods are “unhealthy” and should be stricken from the menu.
Diet culture is your mom’s advice that you should really consider shrinking your body if you want to find a “suitable partner.”
Diet culture is eating-disorder-treatment centers putting larger-bodied patients on restrictive diets that only worsen their disordered eating.
Diet culture is the false narrative that weight loss prevents or cures health issues.
And in one of the shadiest moves of all time, diet culture even includes people trying to sell the anti-diet movement as a weight-loss method.
So what does anti-diet really mean? Anti-diet means anti–diet culture.
It means standing against this oppressive system, in all its sneaky, shape-shifting forms.
ANTI-DIET DOES NOT MEAN ANTI-HEALTH
Being against diet culture doesn’t mean being against health.
On the contrary, I and every other anti-diet health professional I know are very much in favor of helping anyone who wants to pursue well-being (although of course health is not an obligation), using truly evidence-based, diet-culture-free interventions like the Health At Every Size® paradigm.
For example, anti-diet dietitians can offer nutrition counseling for medical conditions.
Anti-diet does NOT mean anti–medical nutrition therapy (MNT).
MNT is any evidence-based nutrition intervention that registered dietitians use to help people manage conditions like phenylketonuria, celiac disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and other legit medical diagnoses.
Many anti-diet dietitians offer MNT, and they do so without having diet culture anywhere in the mix.
Of course, some dietitians offer MNT with a side order of diet culture (e.g. moralized beliefs about health and weight, demonizing gluten or sugar or carbs, etc.), but it doesn’t have to be like that. You can be anti-diet and pro-MNT, and in my view, MNT without diet culture is a beautiful thing.
What’s the difference between MNT and a “medically necessary diet,” you might ask? Isn’t it just semantics?
Actually, no. The word “diet” has its roots in moralization about food and health (more on that in my forthcoming book), and the way it’s been used since the 20th century layers on weight stigma and healthism as well.
That’s why for anyone who’s been burned by diet culture (yours truly included), the word “diet” doesn’t feel good in any context, even when it’s ostensibly just used to mean “the foods you eat everyday.”
I’ve had clients who were years into recovery from chronic dieting tumble back into a well of diet-culture beliefs and disordered behaviors just because a doctor told them they needed a “low-fat diet” to manage their acid reflux or a “gluten-free diet” to treat their celiac disease. Living in diet culture is traumatizing, and it can have real, lasting effects.
So I avoid using the term “diet” even when discussing nutrition interventions for medical conditions, and say “MNT” (or just “nutrition therapy”) instead. If you’re a fellow anti-diet dietitian, I’d love it if you joined me in doing the same.
“Anti-diet does NOT mean anti–medical nutrition therapy.
OK, SO WHAT’S AN ANTI-DIET DIETITIAN?
An anti-diet dietitian is one who’s opposed to diet culture.
Recently some “regular” dietitians have been getting their feathers ruffled by the growing number of RDs calling ourselves “anti-diet,” claiming that the term is divisive.
Unfortunately, the title of our profession has the word “diet” in it, which can be extremely problematic for anyone who’s been scarred by their experiences in diet culture, for the reasons I just discussed.
So my colleagues and I in the anti-diet movement use the phrase “anti-diet dietitian” to help show people who are wary of dietitians and anything with “diet” in the name that they’re safe with us, and that diet culture has no home here.
If you’re a fellow dietitian—or anyone, of any occupation—who shares those views, you’re welcome to sit with me at the anti-diet table anytime <3