Team Non-Diet/Body Acceptance vs Team Clean Eating/Weight Loss

It’s no secret that I am a fan of Intuitive Eating, Mindful Eating, the HAES movement and a non-diet/less weight obsessed approach to wellness.  My intent in promoting these things I love is to help individuals find a more effective and peaceful approach to their health concerns.  We are inundated daily with nutrition and health information and many individuals find themselves confused and overwhelmed.  I feel that HAES and Intuitive/Mindful Eating discussions add more perspective to the very one-dimensional story of “eat less and move more” we have heard for so long.  

However, I am finding that for some, this additional information isn’t having the intended result.  Many who were feeling guilty for not eating less and moving more are now feeling guilty about wanting to eat healthier or lose weight.  While I can't speak for everyone, I know guilt is not what I want you to feel. We are most definitely advocating for you, and generally speaking, many would benefit from more love and acceptance for body size, less judgment about food choices and to challenge their own motivations for weight loss and the idea that you have to lose weight to be healthy.  The idea that weight loss is only a matter of will-power and self-control is causing people to go against their basic physical and psychological needs and their genetic predisposition with largely negative consequences.  But because I choose not to think all-or-nothing and encourage others to avoid the same, there seems the need for a a little bit of grey.  

It feels like we have divided into two teams, which I will call the non-diet/body acceptance team and the clean eating/lose weight team.  I suppose in some regards I can understand both sides, and while you may be able to assume which team I’m on (given I have expressed my disdain for the term “clean eating” on more than one occasion), I might kind of be arguing for some middle ground.  Or at least some clarification.

Those promoting “clean eating” likely feel well eating wholesome foods and feel to share their success with others.  I guess we can understand that.  I don’t think anyone will argue, even any nutrition professional in the Intuitive Eating/HAES arena, that eating more whole foods improves our health and well-being.  I think the problem lies in needing to label it, becoming preoccupied and obsessed with it, and believing that ALL you can eat are “clean” foods, with no room for anything else (without calling it "cheating"). This can lead to feelings of guilt or shame, or wishing to shame others for their “unclean” food choices.  Psychologically speaking, it’s easy to turn food into a moral issue, which has decidedly negative social and mental health implications.  

On the other hand, many mistakenly believe that Intuitive Eating means you HAVE to eat everything or else you are on a diet.  Intuitive Eating includes giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, so that you are in a position to make choices that are in your best interest rather than out of fear, deprivation or restriction (which can lead to disordered eating patterns).  Meeting your innate needs of hunger, fullness, pleasure and satisfaction can completely transform your relationship with food.  I often recommend clients to make “present perfect” choices, which could be anything from cupcakes to kale depending on your situation and what you feel the best choice for YOU.

And that’s just it: you need to be empowered to know what is best for you.  Making choices in regards to food and your weight should be made in confidence and self-trust.  You deserve to feel at peace with food and weight, which should be the result of whatever path you choose.  If you find yourself preoccupied or anxious, then you can know it’s not for you.  

Believing we have to pick a team can feel really rigid.  Can someone be practicing Intuitive Eating, fully support the HAES movement while wanting to lose weight themselves?  Possibly.  Can someone choose to eat more wholesome foods without getting extreme or without the purpose of weight loss (or maybe even for the intent to GAIN weight)? Absolutely.  Can someone seek weight loss without shaming other people’s choice not to – or visa versa?  Yup.  Can someone choose to avoid all labels with food, not think about their weight much at all and focus their time and energy on more important issues in their life?  Thank the heavens, yes.  

Let’s quit labeling ourselves and putting each other in boxes.  I mean, isn’t that what the body positive message is all about?  Aren't we as health professionals trying to help our clients avoid rigid, black and white thinking about food and weight?  I think it’s time to get curious and confident about our own path, while supporting and respecting that our life experiences are all very, very different.  

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD