Why I’m an Anti-Diet Dietitian—and What That REALLY Means

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.  


Defining “Anti-Diet”

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
 

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.
— Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CDN
 

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

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The Truth About Digestion and Gut Health

This past weekend I went on a long road trip to visit my in-laws in Virginia. Normally the drive should only have taken 6 hours or so, but with the holiday traffic we spent more than 10 hours in the car each way.

That meant lots of stopping for meals and snacks.

Yesterday for lunch on the drive back home to Brooklyn, I spotted a sign for a fast-food place that shall remain McNameless, and suggested we stop there. My husband said that sounded good to him, too, so we pulled off at the next exit, sat and enjoyed our food, and then went on with our epic day of driving, feeling satisfied and happy.

It was a perfectly mundane, uneventful lunch—something that millions of people do every day—and yet to me, it was incredibly meaningful.

Because as we sat eating our burgers and fries, I thought back to a Thanksgiving road trip I’d taken to Boston with an ex more than a decade earlier that was an entirely different experience.

There was no relaxed, spontaneous decision-making about where to eat on that trip, because I was cutting out gluten and a couple of other foods at the time—a decision primarily motivated by my disordered eating, and seemingly justified by the constant digestive problems it was causing.

I didn’t (and still don’t) have celiac disease, a genuine medical condition that truly requires a gluten-free menu; instead, I was blaming gluten for my irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a nebulous constellation of digestive symptoms that only began when I started restricting my eating and overexercising in my early 20s.

I didn’t realize that my disordered eating was actually causing my digestive problems.

Instead, I got caught up in the ideas—novel at the time—that gluten and dairy and a whole host of other foods might be responsible for the discomfort I was experiencing.

I fell down a rabbit hole of cutting out different foods to see if it would help, becoming so obsessed with what I thought I “should” and “shouldn’t” eat that I couldn’t go anywhere without scouring menus or traveling with Tupperwares full of my own food.

I’d done the latter on that fateful Boston road trip—although of course I hadn’t packed enough food to truly satisfy my hunger, because again, disordered eating—and I became increasingly irritable and upset when the holiday traffic added hours to that trip, too.

Instead of being able to meet my needs to the best of my ability in that situation, I was so locked into my disordered beliefs about food that I refused to deviate from my woefully inadequate menu—and ended up a miserable, hangry mess in the process.

The trend of cutting out foods in the name of digestive health has only become more and more mainstream in the decade-plus since that uncomfortable road trip, and as a result there are millions of people out there struggling with the same things that I did.

Diet culture’s latest incarnation, The Wellness Diet, would have us believe that ANY ailment is directly caused by the food we eat—and that’s especially true when we’re experiencing digestive discomfort.

As a result, often our first reaction (and sometimes that of health professionals) is to reflexively blame what we’re eating and start cutting out different foods in an attempt to find relief.

That’s completely understandable—nobody wants to experience pain, and we’re all constantly told that food is the culprit.

What diet culture doesn’t tell us, though, is that our gut actually communicates closely with our brain, and there’s a strong link between mental-health challenges and digestive issues.

So when you're worrying about food, obsessing over what you can and can’t eat, and stressing out about your health in general, that may actually be making your gut symptoms worse.

That’s what this week’s episode of Food Psych is all about.

My guest, friend and fellow anti-diet dietitian Marci Evans, joins me to discuss the intersection of digestive disorders and eating disorders, why disordered eating causes gastrointestinal problems, and the dangers of doing elimination diets.

We also delve into the role of the gut microbiome in digestion and health, and how to care for our GI tracts in truly holistic ways. Plus, I share how I’ve learned to manage my own IBS without cutting out foods—or making myself miserable on road trips.

This episode is already becoming a fan favorite—check it out right here to hear this great conversation!

Here’s to dropping the disordered eating and finding relief,

Christy

P.S. If you’re ready to stop stressing about food, come join my intuitive eating online course. It’s designed to help you break free from The Wellness Diet's rules, so that you can feel relaxed and joyful in your relationship with food—and in your life as a whole.

If you’re not quite ready to dive into the full course yet, I also have a 5-day intuitive eating mini course to give you a taste of freedom from diet culture, so that you can start building a foundation for deeper healing.

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The Truth About Having "A Lot On Your Plate"

I now officially have less than a month until my book manuscript is due—easily the most important deadline of my professional life to date.

I’m genuinely psyched about everything I’ve written so far (and I wish I could share it all with you RIGHT NOW instead of having to wait until it hits bookstores in late 2019!), but I’m also racing to fill in the gaps and smooth out the rough edges before sending it to my editor at the end of the month, while also trying to keep up business as usual with the podcast and my online courses and social media.

It’s a lot. I’m exhausted.

Whenever I talk to friends and family about how I’m managing it all, I often hear the phrase “you’ve got a lot on your plate,” meant as a compassionate way to commiserate with my feelings of overwhelm, of having more on my to-do list than I can manage.

I always appreciate the sentiment, but I’ve been thinking about that phrase, and I’ve realized that when it comes to what’s on my literal plate—as in the food I eat—I wouldn’t even have the ability to work on these amazing projects if I didn’t have a lot.

I wouldn’t have gotten all of these opportunities if I didn’t have a lot of food on my actual plate.

I’m fortunate enough not only to be able to afford food, but also to have a peaceful relationship with food that allows me to live in abundance instead of the scarcity imposed by diet culture—and that allows me to do this work.

I’m lucky to have a lot on my plate now, because I didn’t always.

Ten or fifteen years ago, I was never fully present in my writing because of my gnawing, ever-present hunger, invasive thoughts of food, and constant trips to the kitchen.

Ten or fifteen years ago, I never could’ve led courses on making peace with food and breaking free from diet culture, because I had no idea how to do those things myself. I was drowning in disordered beliefs about food and my body.

Ten or fifteen years ago, I had a hard time even getting out the door in the morning because I felt so overwhelmed by body shame and worries about what I would eat that day. And for several of those years, my life was organized around my compulsive-exercise schedule, so that my creative energy was constantly getting cut off in favor of punishing forms of physical activity.

Back then I didn’t have enough on my actual plate, but I had way too much diet-culture nonsense on my mind and my calendar to be able to achieve my goals in other areas of life.

That’s what diet culture does to so many of us (regardless of body size, although people in larger bodies also have to deal with the added injustice of weight-based discrimination), which is why I call it The Life Thief.

Diet culture stole a decade of my life, and that’s what it did to my guest on this week’s episode of Food Psych, too.

Before she became a psychotherapist and school counselor, Christine Yoshida got caught up in the world of fitness culture and “clean eating,” and fell down a rabbit hole of trying to diagnose her digestive issues by taking more and more foods off her plate.

She shares how the pursuit of thinness and fitness detracted from her life, how she eventually broke free and made peace with food, why the diet mentality can make health problems worse, and so much more.

Check it out here, and be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Here’s to having a lot on your actual plate,

Christy

P.S. If you’re ready to reclaim your life from diet culture, check out my intuitive eating online course. It’ll help you stop getting caught up in The Life Thief’s traps so that you can start pursuing the things you really want in life.

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How to Honor Your True Hungers

We’re all born with a strong connection to and innate trust in our hunger cues, but diet culture and other experiences of trauma can disconnect us from those internal signals, to the point that we create a relationship of distrust between our brains and our bodies. 

Over time, the more we ignore our hunger (or are unable to honor it for whatever reason), the more we erode our bodies’ abilities to trust us.

That’s why eating enough is so important in recovering from deprivation—because it helps our bodies learn to trust us again.

And by the way, even if you think you eat “too much” by way of bingeing, there’s actually an underlying environment of lack, of not-enough. Binge eating is a response to deprivation, not a matter of willpower.

So when you practice responding to your hunger at even the subtlest levels, every bite you take helps you heal from the trauma of deprivation.

It shows your body that it’s safe, that you’re no longer in a famine, and that it can start to relax around food.

What if you don’t have any hunger cues to honor? That actually means your body needs even more TLC, even more consistent eating, in order to come back from the deprivation that was imposed upon it.

It means your body was so deprived that it basically stopped even trying to get its needs met, like a neglected child who knows their cries won’t be heard.

So for you, too, the solution is showing your body that it won’t be deprived anymore, and that means eating consistent meals and snacks, even if you don’t feel hunger cues.

When you recover from deprivation in this way, slowly you’ll start to rebuild trust with your body, and eventually you’ll get back to the place of being able to recognize and honor your hunger the way you were born doing.

For all of us, the key to the process of healing from deprivation is feeding ourselves, both literally and figuratively:

Literally, you need to FEED YOURSELF FOOD—enough of it in general, and a wide enough variety that you can feel full, satisfied, content, and not deprived of the things your body needs and your mind wants.

And then figuratively, you need to feed yourself anti-diet resources to unlearn diet culture’s rules and re-learn how to feel and trust your body’s innate wisdom about food and movement.

You need to stop reflexively filling your mind with “diet food” and start nourishing it with truth.

When we consistently feed ourselves in these ways, we let our bodies and our brains know that we won't be depriving them of food any longer.

Once they trust us again, they can relax, and we can reclaim the peaceful relationship with food we were born with.

That’s what this week’s episode of Food Psych is all about.

It’s a repost of my conversation with Rachel Estapa, a size-acceptance advocate, yoga teacher, and the founder of More to Love Yoga.

We discuss the connection between physical and emotional hunger, why diet culture's promise to "fix" us is so alluring, and why rediscovering our true loves and desires in life is essential to recovery from dieting.

Rachel also shares how the practice of yoga helped show her the path to body liberation, how an acute illness led to an unexpected truce with her body, and lots more.

Tune in to the episode now to hear this great conversation—and if you're celebrating Labor Day today, I’m wishing you a happy one!

Here’s to honoring ALL your hungers, 
Christy

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You AREN’T What You Eat

You actually AREN’T what you eat. You are so much more. —Christy Harrison, Food Psych Podcast, episode #155

Diet culture, especially in its new guise as The Wellness Diet, tries to convince us that our very essence is tied up in what we put on our plates, but in fact nothing could be farther from the truth.

You aren’t defined by what you eat, and neither is your health. Your food choices are just one small part of what makes up your well-being, and of what defines you as a person.

You have so many gifts to offer the world that have nothing to do with food or your body. Choosing a donut over kale doesn’t change that.

And when it comes to your well-being, having a balanced and pleasurable relationship with food that allows you to choose the donut when you want it is actually more health-promoting than always choosing the kale or the “whole” foods out of fear.

You are so much greater than some BS performance of health or dietary “perfection.”

You aren’t what you eat—you are so much more.

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