When you think of a dietitian, your mind might jump to diets. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “So, you do meals plans?” when someone finds out what I do. Well, believe it or not, my 6 years of university and 1200+ hours of supervised practice to become a dietitian were not all about diets. Dietitians have a solid foundation in biology, chemistry and biochemistry and take classes on psychology, sociology, anthropology, food science, vitamins, minerals, public health, sports nutrition, medical nutrition therapy, counseling and more.
While some dietitians do administer therapeutic diets to ill people in clinical settings, there are many other areas of practice in the field of dietetics including corporate wellness, public relations and community nutrition and work in diverse settings such as schools, universities, supermarkets, hospitals, prisons, offices and dialysis clinics.
Does “non-diet dietitian” sound like an oxymoron to you? Today I’m sharing what I mean when I say I’m a non-diet dietitian plus insight from fellow non-diet dietitians on what it means to them!
No Diet Zone
This one might be obvious, but non-diet dietitians don’t put their clients on diets. Of course therapeutic diets have a place for specific health conditions, but typically the term “non-diet dietitian” is used to refer to someone in outpatient counseling or private practice. We often work with people who have disordered eating or a history of eating disorders.
“A non-diet dietitian takes into account the whole person, instead of just your weight, food intake and calories,” says Samina Qureshi, RDN, LD, IFNCP.
The opposite of dieting is intuitive eating, which prioritizes internal hunger and satiety cues over external factors such as calories, macronutrients, portion sizes and eating rules. I help my clients explore mindful eating and connect with how their body feels before, during and after eating.
According to Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CDN, CSCS, “Being a non-diet dietitian means being weight-neutral and food-neutral. It’s about practicing from a place of inclusiveness, helping people of all shapes and sizes find health and wellness with an emphasis on behaviors rather than weight.”
My goal as a non-diet dietitian is to empower my clients to trust their bodies to make the best decisions for their own health.
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You are the Expert of Your Body
Yes, dietitians are food and nutrition experts thanks to our degrees, training, skills and experience, but that doesn’t mean we always know what’s best for our clients. Working as a non-diet dietitian means I walk beside my clients, rather than leading them. It is my belief that health counseling is most effective when the practitioner’s knowledge is combined with the lived experience of the patient or client.
Jaren Soloff, RD, CLE, shares that being a non-diet dietitian “means listening to the stories of our clients and validating the fears that come alongside living in a fatphobic world and creating resilience and self compassion along the way. It means we fight to make the world a safer place for all bodies to exist in peace, even if it’s unpopular.”
Because body image and food issues run deep, non-diet dietitians take a holistic approach to health. We talk to our clients about their their dieting history and how their upbringing impacted the way they think about food as well as their relationship to exercise.
When you work with a non-diet dietitian, the emphasis won’t be on weight loss. We know that there is so much more to health than weight. “Focusing on the scale for a misguided sense of health and self-worth damages our potential as spouses, friends and parents,” says Yaffi Lvova, RDN.
Self-Care is Key
Non-diet dietitians talk about more than just food and nutrition. Self-compassion, body acceptance and body trust are important topics that impact our relationship with food.
Amanda Lambrechts, MS, RD, LN, shares, “One piece that I always felt was missing from my dietetics practice was the consideration of mental health. Practicing under a non-diet scope ensures that I am considering both my clients’ physical health and mental health.”
I help my clients think through their self-care habits and how they can help with their food issues. I guide them through the principles of intuitive eating, validate their feelings, help them develop strategies for rejecting diet culture and offer evidence-based advice on gentle nutrition.
Rachel Larkey, RD, CDN, CLC, sums it up well by saying that practicing as a non-diet dietitian “is about finding fun and freedom in food, and understanding that health looks different for everyone.”