What is the non-diet approach?

Birds eye shot of a persons lap with a bowl of cereal

One of the values in my practice as a dietitian is to take a “non-diet approach”. But what does this mean?

The aim of the non-diet approach is to foster a healthy relationship with food without seeking to lose weight or change your body composition. It allows us to recognise and respect our body’s natural hunger and fullness signals without the restrictive rules of dieting.

I choose to use this approach with clients as I have seen the harmful effects of dieting on people’s mental and physical health with dieting being one of the strongest predictors of developing an eating disorder.

This post will explain what the non-diet approach is and whether it is right for you. 

What is a diet?

A diet is when you intentionally restrict food with the intention of improving your health, which usually includes weight loss. There is no shortage of diets, detoxes, and programs available to help with this pursuit, and I bet you have tried at least one of them (I know I have!)

The ease with which we can start a diet is because weight has become synonymous with health. Many people, including health professionals, assume that your body size indicates how nutritious your diet is, how physically active you are and what health condition you may have. It completely ignores the evidence that people can be healthy at range of body sizes and perpetuates the harmful stigma towards people in a larger body.

Thus dieting has become completely normalised in our society and is often viewed as a noble pursuit. People are called “good” or “strong” when they are on a diet and complimented for any weight loss. But dieting does not work and usually causes more harm than good.

Studies show time and time again that over 90% of people regain the weight they lost 1-5 years after dieting. Many will even gain back more weight than what they lost. This results in people becoming stuck in a cycle of dieting and disordered eating. 

Image showing the diet cycle of wanting lose weight, dieting, breaking the diet, regaining lost weight and then wanting to lose weight again and starting another diet.

What is the non-diet approach?

Dieting is all about rules, restriction, and weight loss. But the non-diet approach is about breaking food rules and developing a healthy relationship with food and body. To embark on a non-diet approach we must first acknowledge the impact that dieting has had on our relationship with food. This could look like calorie counting, rigid monitoring of our weight, skipping meals and cutting out foods we enjoy. All of these rules ultimately numb our ability to recognise and respond to our body’s innate hunger and fullness cues.


There are five main principles to the non-diet approach which were developed by Dr Fiona Willer and derived from the Health at Every Size™ paradigm. These principles help you:

  • Accept and embrace body cues – this allows you to recognise and act on hunger and fullness signals to nourish your body.
  • Accept and embrace all foods – this dismantles the idea that food is “good” or “bad”
  • Accept and embrace body shape – health and success is not measured through weight loss and we seek to improve body acceptance and respect.
  • Accept and embrace movement – incorporating physical activity you enjoy and feels good rather than exercising as punishment or to “burn calories”.
  • Accept and embrace the non-diet approach – including a variety of foods in your diet and avoiding unnecessary restrictions.
Through support with a dietitian you are able to develop a comfortable and calm approach to food, eating and your body.

Can I lose weight with this approach?

It is normal to want to lose weight, after all we are living in a weight obsessed society. It is very much the norm to believe weight defines our health and worth. The non-diet approach recognises these desires and provides you with the tools to assess if these thoughts are helpful or harmful to your long-term health. 

It is important to recognise that you have autonomy over your body and whether you decide to pursue intentional weight loss or not is up to you. But having informed consent before beginning a restrictive style of eating can help you decide if this is the right path for you. We all have the right to choose which foods we want to eat. 

Enjoy food and socialising over food without guilt using the non-diet approach

Diet vs non-diet approach

Here is a summary of what the diet and non-diet approach involves to help you understand their differences.

The diet approach:

  • Monitors success through weight loss.
  • Is prescriptive and relies on external rules around food, nutrients, and calories.
  • Encourages us to ignore our body’s hunger signals.
  • Causes feelings of guilt or shame when you “break” a diet rule or gain weight.
  • Associates weight with health.
  • Is associated with an increased risk of developing an eating disorder and chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

The non-diet approach:

  • Does not use weight as a signifier of health or success.
  • Relies on internal cues of hunger and fullness.
  • Encourages eating for reasons other than hunger e.g. celebration and enjoyment.
  • Includes all foods and does not assign a moral “good” or “bad” label to food.
  • Encourages self-compassion and kindness.
  • Reframes exercise to be about enjoyment rather than punishment or to burn calories.
  • Promotes weight neutrality and body acceptance.
  • Is associated with improved psychological health, reduced binge eating and improvements to cholesterol and blood pressure.

Is the non-diet approach right for me?

The non-diet approach is appropriate for anyone who wants to develop a flexible style of eating that honours their innate body signals and does not focus on weight as a signifier of health. If you are interested in escaping the diet cycle and want to improve your relationship with food, the non-diet approach is perfect for you.

As you can see, I am a big fan of the non-diet approach and I hope this post helped you understand what it is and why it is so important. If you would like to start the process of breaking down those diet rules you can find out more about my online consultations here.


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