Something interesting has happened in the field of nutrition: Weight has become a very touchy subject.
Back when I got my degree, emerging research about obesity was a red-hot topic. I wrote a lot of magazine articles about weight loss, and my master’s thesis was a survey of people who had undergone gastric bypass surgery. One of my first jobs as a dietitian was working at a local rec center doing counseling and leading small groups for people interested in losing weight.
Ultimately, though weight management was a popular specialty in nutrition, I decided it wasn’t the right focus for me. A whole lot has changed in the 15 years since then.
A growing number of dietitians are pivoting their businesses away from weight management and toward helping people trust themselves around food through intuitive eating. There’s also a growing emphasis on Health at Every Size, an approach that emphasizes physical and emotional health while accepting and respecting all body shapes and sizes.
I’m thrilled that messages of body positivity are spreading in our culture. I love seeing women with different body types in catalogs, shapelier mannequins at Target, and even a greater diversity of bodies walking the runway. I want to stand up and cheer for actresses who speak out about airbrushing and the idiocy of “body after baby” pressures.
Yet, there’s a dark side too. I’m seeing dietitians shamed on social media for talking about weight loss or sharing their experience trying things like intermittent fasting. When I made a joke on Facebook one day about pining for my 20-something metabolism, someone implied that I was promoting diet culture.
So is it possible to be body positive and try a low-carb diet? And on the flip side, is it okay to stop trying to lose weight regardless of what your doctor says?
There’s a diversity of opinions and approaches among dietitians when it comes to weight—and that’s a good thing, because different approaches work for different people. But here’s what I believe:
I believe you have the right to be happy about your body and weight and not want to change it, no matter what a scale, BMI chart, magazine, talk show, friend, family, doctor, commercial, celebrity, billboard, or society says.
I believe you have the right to want to change your weight. If you want to lose weight, that doesn’t mean you have bought into diet culture, have low self-worth, or are part of the problem. While someone may be satisfied and happy with their body at a certain weight, someone at that same weight may not feel satisfied and happy. Your body is yours, and you decide.
I believe that you should never be shamed for your weight. I also believe you shouldn’t be shamed for wanting to gain or lose weight. Your body is your business.
I believe that dietitians are trained and uniquely able to help people manage their weight safely, unlike celebrities or those who position themselves as experts because something worked for them. I also believe dietitians should not be judged or shamed for helping a client lose weight if it’s what that person wants to do.
I believe that different ways of eating work for different people. Some people thrive on low-carb, some wither. Some love being vegan, others wouldn’t dream of giving up meat and dairy. If you’ve found a way of eating that makes you feel good, I’m happy for you.
I believe that you have a right to try different ways of eating, including but not limited to counting macros, intermittent fasting, keto, counting points, Mediterranean diet, cutting out dairy, going gluten-free, eating more fiber, reducing sodium, intuitive eating, or none of the above. How you eat is up to you, and you shouldn’t be criticized or ridiculed for it. If you ask my professional opinion, I will give it to you. If you don’t ask, I will stay out of your business. (It may go without saying, but if you’re engaging in disordered eating behaviors, your family, friends, dietitian, and doctor also have the right to be concerned and want to help you.)
And when it comes to kids…
I believe parents have the responsibility to create a physically and emotionally healthy environment around food and weight. That means access to nutritious foods, grown-ups who model healthy attitudes and behaviors around food, and lots of opportunities for activity and exercise. It also means parents shouldn’t criticize their own bodies, talk about dieting or “bad” foods, or withhold foods like sweets as a punishment.
I believe no child should be shamed, singled out, or “put on a diet” because of their weight. A healthy home environment is important for kids, mentally and physically. But if changes are made in a household, like cutting back on soda or serving more vegetables, they should be made for everyone's health, not for certain family members based on their body size or weight. Children come in all sizes and shapes, just like grown-ups do.
That’s what I believe.