Something interesting has happened since I became a dietitian nearly 15 years ago: 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.
I decided that weight management wasn’t for me—and that I much preferred tackling the subject of feeding kids—but a whole lot more has changed 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.
I’ve been honest about having conflicted feelings about my weight (read: My Post-40 Weight Gain Frustrations) and conversations I’ve had with friends about our changing and aging bodies (read: Life’s Too Short To Worry About A Muffin Top).
But I wanted to spell out exactly how I feel about the issue of weight to make sure it’s clear. So 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, nutritionists (a term that often means very little), 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.)