No, anti-diet doesn't mean you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want.
Photo: Ann Haritonenko/Shutterstock
Praised as the healthiest diet you could ever be on, the anti-diet movement is spurring photos of burgers as big as your face and fries piled just as high. But is the anti-diet trend losing control of its initial healthy mission or does society (and some health professionals) need to just get a grip and have a French fry?
As an anti-diet dietitian, I'm here to clear up some of these misconceptions and set the record straight once and for all: anti-diet does NOT mean anti-health.
What the Anti-Diet Movement *Is*
It's still about promoting health, fitness, and wellness.
Despite what it sounds like, the anti-diet movement is actually rooted in the pursuit of health—only it's approached from a non-traditional, weight-neutral paradigm. Rather than focusing on restricting foods or calories, forcing exercise, or monitoring the number on the scale as an indicator of health, the emphasis is on health-promoting behaviors you can actually control, like eating a variety of foods that feel good in your body, engaging in movement that feels balanced and rejuvenates you, and practicing self-care.
Anti-diet dietitians give similar health-promoting advice to all clients regardless of their weight, because the same anti-diet healthy eating behaviors can benefit everyone, whether they're trying to lose weight or not. And, yes, you can lose weight with the anti-diet. If a client loses weight as a result of eating and moving more intuitively and engaging in more self-care behaviors, that's great. (If they don't, that's fine, too.) Anti-diet means you don't go to extremes in the pursuit of weight loss.
It helps maintain a healthy relationship with food.
Most health professionals who are engaged in the anti-diet movement have been on the other side; they've worked with people who were following traditional diets and weight-loss measures and have witnessed firsthand that these don't work long-term. Research supports this: Dieting is a consistent predictor of future weight gain. Studies show that one-third to two-thirds of dieters wind up regaining more weight than they lost on a diet. Not to mention, dieting can cause some harmful side effects like weight cycling, food preoccupation, low self-esteem, poor mental health, and eating disorders, according to a report published in The Journal of Nutrition. So, at best, dieting can taint your relationship with food and tarnish your self-esteem. At worst, it can lead to a full-blown eating disorder.
What the Anti-Diet Movement *Isn't*
It's not anti-health.
The anti-diet movement doesn't dismiss health, rather it lets you view health through a wider lens. Rather than focusing narrowly on physical health in the forms of diet and exercise, it allows room to explore mental and emotional health and how your eating and exercise patterns might be impacting your overall wellness. For instance, if over-exercising in the pursuit of physical health is causing you to feel tired and anxious and is taking away from time spent with loved ones, it's no longer a health-promoting behavior.
It's not a diet free-for-all.
Anti-diet also doesn't mean that you can eat whatever the heck you want, whenever you want. Most anti-diet practitioners are practicing intuitive eating, a well-studied approach that encourages people to tune into hunger and fullness cues and what sounds satisfying at the moment to help them to determine what, when, and how much to eat. This is a harsh contrast to a guideline-driven diet with strict rules. It also encourages you to give yourself full permission to eat the foods you crave (because restriction and deprivation can lead to binge eating). So, yes, if you crave a cupcake, treat yourself to a cupcake—but notice how you might feel if you were to eat cupcakes all day long. (Probably, pretty lousy). That's why intuitive eating and the anti-diet trend aren't about eating whatever, whenever; it's a mindfulness-based practice that helps you get back in touch with your body to nourish it well.
Some say that the anti-diet movement has been misconstrued with countless Instagram posts of burgers, pizza, and ice cream, but what about all of the accounts that post nothing but smoothie bowls and salads? Burgers and pizza aren't any more "extreme" than a massive acai bowl or kale salad after all. My hope is that the anti-diet movement helps to normalize some of the foods that have been demonized by diet culture so that eventually, we'll stop calling food "good" or "bad" and start looking at food as just, food.