The Abyss of Hell

Why Are Non-Diet Diets Such a Hot Concept?

The big problem with pop diets is the presumption that the latest, hottest diet on the scene might be THE ANSWER that everyone’s been looking for. Ironically, non-diet diets fit neatly into this template. It’s all part of the abyss that greets people when they go looking for answers about diet, health, and weight. Evangelists stand ready to dispense their singular answer to your questions. Writing in Bustle, journalist Margaret Wheeler Johnson has the answer. Seek out an anti-diet nutritionist:

“The best way to guard against potentially harmful advice is to see a dietitian who takes a non-diet approach, meaning they won’t focus on your weight, ask you to count calories, encourage you to eat less, or ban any food.”

She offers this advice because she says that too many dietitians are struggling with eating disorders themselves. Too much energy goes into highly restrictive approaches to health and diet.

A Role for Intuitive Eating

This is why intuitive eating finds such a receptive audience and provides a core concept around which non-diet diets form.  For people with issues of disordered eating and body image, a recent systematic review and meta-analysis tells us it can be helpful. Intuitive eating interventions can help people practice more intuitive eating behaviors and achieve better quality of life, body image, and body appreciation. In other words, the data all point to a benefit for psychological health.

However, promising that intuitive eating, by itself, will lead to better outcomes for physical and cardiometabolic health is simply not reasonable. Such claims don’t have data to back them up. All the data on outcomes with intuitive eating relate to psychological health. It’s an important component of total health. But some people need help with physical health that intuitive eating cannot reliably provide.

Let Me Sell You My Non-Diet Diet Book

When people suffer, it’s quite natural to look for the answer to their problems. So entrepreneurs are ready to step up and offer a pat answer that will sound good to a lot of people. Because a lot of people struggle to eat healthfully and maintain a healthy body weight, the endless string of diets that take off like a rocket and then fade from view is not surprising. Low carb and intermittent fasting are the most recent examples.

Non-diet diets follow a similar formula. The promise is enticing. People have books to sell that promise to help you gain time, money, happiness, and well-being. Just throw out the diet culture and renew your life through intuitive eating.

But remember, one size does not fit all. And a miracle cure seldom solves a person’s every problem. Life goes on and it can be quite complicated.

Click here for a systematic review of intuitive eating interventions and here for a recent study of intuitive eating and dietary intake.. For positive and skeptical views of the anti-diet movement click here, here, and here.

The Abyss of Hell, painting by Sandro Botticelli / WikiArt

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September 5, 2022