These days one can’t go anywhere without hearing nutrition chatter. You’ve probably heard things like:

  • “Don’t eat gluten.”
  • “Eat more coconut oil.”
  • “Fat is bad.”
  • “Bananas are too high in sugar.”
  • “Eat clean”
  • “(Insert food rule here).”

These and many other rigid suggestions are being tossed around casually and though each statement might seem a bit different they all portray the same underlying message that what you are eating is wrong and you should be doing it differently.  Harsh, isn’t it? Consider yourself introduced to diet mentality and the diet paradigm. More formally, the diet paradigm includes patterns of eating that are:

Inflexible, quantitative, prescriptive, rigid, perfection-seeking, good or bad foods, rules, deprivation, time-based, fear-driven, guilt-inducing, shaming, body hatred, hunger, struggle, rationalising, temptation, thought-consuming, punishing (Willer, 2013).

If the way you are eating and your relationship with food feels like the above, then it is diet behavior. You are not alone in thinking the above is what you should do to “be healthy.” We live in a diet culture where dieting to lose weight or change body shape has been normalized. Our society promotes weight loss diets, puts thinness on a pedestal and advocates the belief that weight loss is the way to improve self-esteem, become respected, feel effective and in control, and avoid criticism (Mehler, 2010).  The messages, strict weight loss strategies, rule driven diets, and marketing that saturates us with these ideas come from a 60 billion dollar industry. You read that correctly, the diet industry is worth sixty billion dollars. The pushers of  “Weight is the problem and dieting is the answer” are making bank off of our insecurities and drive for thinness. That doesn’t sit well with me.

Furthermore, while this industry rakes in the dough and promotes the diet paradigm as the “norm,” clinical practice and research tell us that these messages and eating patterns are dangerous. Eating disorder specialist, Phillip Mehler, MD, and Psychiatrist, Arnold Anderson, MD, (2010) state that dieting is the most common contributing factor to eating disorders. Wow. Dieting also leads to being obsessed with food, nutritional deficiencies, increased psychological stress, impaired social functioning, increased intake of substances, food and body preoccupation and distraction from other personal health goals, reduced self esteem, weight stigmatization, discrimination, weight gain, and – because it is worth mentioning again – an increase in the risk of developing disordered eating.

You haven’t failed your diet, diet culture has failed you!

For more information check out the links below and stay tuned for Courtney’s future follow-up posts including topics such as non-diet nutrition and the Health at Every Size approach.  If you are looking to further explore your relationship with food and your body seek out a non-diet dietitian or therapist that specializes in eating disorder treatment.




Mehler, P. S., & Anderson, A. E. (2010). Eating disorders: A guide to medical care and  

     complications. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press.

Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2017). The intuitive eating workbook: 10 principles for nourishing a

     healthy relationship with food. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Willer, F. (2013). The non-diet approach guidebook for dietitians: A how-toguide for applying the non-diet approach to individual dietetic

     counseling. Raleigh, NC: Lulu Publishing Ltd.

Throughout my years of practice I have heard too many individuals talk about exercise as something they hate, something they dread, or most commonly, as something they only do when they are dieting. To some, the mere thought of incorporating exercise brings along a dark cloud of self judgement, shame and fear. When exercise becomes a ‘have to’ instead of a ‘want to’ – Houston, we have a problem!

Strict and rigid exercise routines and exercise performed solely to change one’s body, weight, or dependent on food intake may bring one to dangerous grounds. Quite often this results in inadequate fueling for what is being asked of our bodies, leaving one feeling fatigued, irritable, having difficulty concentrating, and more prone to illness, injury or further medical complications. These side effects may lead one to eliminate exercise all together, often creating guilt which challenges mental, emotional, and physical health. Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA, CEDRD in their book Intuitive Eating use the analogy of comparing exercising for weight loss to a time card being punched by a bored assembly-line employee, emphasizing that weight loss will not motivate exercise for long and will become discouraging when the results are not happening quick enough or are not what was pictured or promised. These authors recommend “decoupling exercise from weight loss,” and I couldn’t agree more.

You may be asking, what does exercise look like if it is not weight, calorie, or food focused?

First off, the definition of exercise is: planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movements; while the definition of  physical activity is: body movement produced by contractions. Takeaway: whatever you want to call it, it is about moving your body. I like to keep it simple. So instead of categorizing and labeling movement, see what happens when you just call it movement. Does that take some of the pressure off?  Refraining from strictly defining movement allows us to move away from unrealistic expectations. Other names that I like equally as much are: enjoyable movement, mindful movement, and intuitive exercise.

Secondly, identify the type of body movement that you like or enjoy that makes you feel good. This might be a bike ride with your children, a yoga class with your best friend, paddle boarding with your dog, or a walk on the beach at sunset. The music at the yoga class, your dog’s tongue flapping in the wind, or the salty beach breeze might make that experience rewarding and enjoyable enough to want to do it again! Unsure of where to begin, try to think about what you used to enjoy doing as a child, chances are these activities may still be something you have fun doing now. Did someone say kickball?

Lastly, consider what the benefits of movement are that you personally connect to. These may include: increased strength, flexibility, endurance, a more cheerful outlook, improved mental functioning, feeling of vigor, greater bone density, improved sleep, stimulation of immune function, improved circulation and lung function, reduced risk of chronic disease. Try to think of exercise as self care and health promoting instead of punishing, stress inducing, or negatively interfering with your health or well-being. I challenge you to focus on how moving your body is part of you taking care of you and know that it is okay to feel good about any movement that achieves this.

How can movement be part of your full life?


Sizer, F.S ., & Whitney, E . (2014) Nutrition concepts & controversies. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Tribole, E., & Resch, E. ( 2012). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary program that works. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Willer, F. (2013). The non-diet guidebook for dietitians. Raleigh, N.C: Lulu Publishing, Ltd.


Courtney is a registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition and eating disorder treatment. She incorporates HAES and non-diet principles into her practice. In addition to nutrition consultations, Courtney leads a weekly meal support group. Meal group provides a safe space to challenge food rules and behaviors that prevent one from enjoying food or feeling comfortable in their body.

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