The post was contributed by Hannah Martin, WN4DC Symposium Intern
Diet culture has caused us to be in constant war with our bodies. The dominant message is still that weight is valued over well-being; it has taught us that thin equals healthy and that if you lose weight you will be healthier. Diet culture persists despite the fact that we know that intentional weight loss is not maintained the vast majority of the time1 nor is it actually known whether losing weight delivers any health benefits.2
In this war on weight, many technologies have been designed to ‘help’ us diet better, such as calorie counting apps (because we all know that losing weight is just a matter of eating fewer calories than you expend, right??? *cue eye roll*).
Many people who have repeatedly dieted will attest to the biggest pitfall (there are many) of calorie counting: diet backlash. Written about extensively in the book Intuitive Eating, diet backlash involves the changes in cravings, urges to binge, distress about what to eat and when to eat, and ultimately the alterations in neurochemicals and hormones that cause increased hunger sensations due to under-eating. Calorie counting disconnects people from their bodies because they no longer rely on and listen for internal cues to eat (i.e., listening to hunger/fullness cues) but instead focus on external cues (i.e., does this food fit into my daily calorie or macronutrient allowance?).
It boils the very complicated systems that keep our energy in check down to a simple “calories in – calories out” equation, which is inaccurate at best.
The other pitfall, is that since calorie counting apps don’t account for these changes in our systems that result from dieting, they contribute to obsessively thinking about food which further takes away from being present in life. Abbey from Abbey’s Kitchen talks about her break up with her FitBit here.
“My fitness level was rapidly declining and I was falling out of touch with my body.”
Furthermore, along the spectrum of disordered eating, calorie counting puts people into the mindset of categorizing foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and unfortunately, putting foods into these categories sets people up for feelings of guilt and shame for the majority of people. The incessant focus on calorie content takes away the satisfaction, pleasure, and joy that can be derived from the eating experience. Discovering the satisfaction factor is one of the greatest gifts I have been given since learning to eat intuitively.
So then, what is the alternative? A weight-neutral approach promotes eating for well-being by listening to the bodies internal hunger and satiety cues. It promotes flexibility and pleasure in eating rather than an externally regulated, rigid, eating plan focused on weight control.
You can learn more about providing diabetes care that is focused on health rather than weight by joining the WN4DC Symposium this July! The WN4DC Symposium is a 4-week, online CPEU Conference which provides 16 recorded programs including webinars and downloadable materials, taught by leading experts in the field of diabetes, nutrition, and eating disorders. You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Hannah Martin is a recent Master of Dietetics graduate from the University of Otago, New Zealand. Since learning all things ‘intuitive eating’ while writing her thesis, she is on a mission to dismantle diet culture and spread the non-diet and Health at Every Size® word. You can connect with Hannah on LinkedIn or at email@example.com.
- Mann T, Tomiyama AJ, Westling E, Lew A-M, Samuels B, Chatman J. Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer. Am Psychol 2007;62(3):220-33.
- Bacon L, Aphramor L. Weight science: evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutr J 2011;10(1):9.