(CNN) — Many dietitians make a plea you may have always wanted but never thought you’d listen to: stop dieting.
Now, you can find some of them on social media platforms like TikTok, using the latest dances, trends, and science-backed information to reach younger generations. These anti-diet dietitians want to steer people away from what they call “diet culture,” which they say prioritizes smaller sizes over health and drastic restriction over lifestyle changes.
“Fitness people are the ones demonizing food,” said Sarah Williams, a registered dietitian and TikTok creator who goes by Nutritionalsarah on the app. Instead of glamorous photo shoots and descriptions of incredibly low-calorie diets, she said she wanted to provide content that showed an approachable and welcoming version of health.
Where professionals once emphasized making the most of the “good” foods and eliminating the “bad,” this generation of dietitians is preaching making the most of balanced, sustainable changes and an end to food-based shaming for a healthy living in multiple forms, they said.
“If we experience guilt and shame around food, we could have the most nutrient-dense meal plan in the world, and it won’t be beneficial because of that guilt and shame…and the psychological effects of dieting and restricting,” said Sam Previte. , registered dietitian and founder of Find Food Freedom.
The message is spreading more widely through social media now, but it has a longer history. For more than 20 years, some dieticians have promoted intuitive eating, which breaks eating “rules” and focuses on listening to your body’s signals.
Being kinder to yourself and enjoying the food you eat is not only more fun, it also works better than the traditional approach to nutrition, dietitians said.
“That’s why the diet industry is so successful. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry because so many people do it, fail, and then go back on that diet,” said Steph Grasso, dietitian and creator of TikTok. “I’m an anti-diet dietitian. I’m against these fad diets, these quick fixes, because in the long run, they don’t work.”
Grasso, Previte and Williams are registered dieticians and earn money through TikTok’s creator fund and paid partnerships on the site.
diets don’t work
Research agrees that this type of diet does not lead to long-term success when it comes to weight goals.
According to a 2017 study, drastic weight loss is likely to be followed by weight gain again, and slow, sustained changes are often more successful.
“My best advice to patients, based on this research, is to try to maintain a fairly similar diet every day,” said Emily Feig, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Creating a healthy and consistent eating habit can help patients reduce weight variability and lose weight more consistently, even if it’s at a slow pace.”
Dieting can also alter your mind and body.
As you lose weight drastically, your metabolism changes to require even fewer calories to continue losing weight. And neurological changes can cause you to restrict yourself from “indulgent foods,” leaving you craving more.
When you give in to the food you’ve been resisting, you often go into decline, said Brooke Alpert, a registered dietitian and author of “The Diet Detox: Why Your Diet Is Making You Fat and What to Do About It.”
Feeling guilty about your food choices causes you to make poorer choices and thus becomes a cyclical pattern, according to Alpert. “There’s a time and a place for fries, pizza, and a piece of cake.”
Defining a healthy relationship with food
What works best is developing a healthy relationship with food, the experts said, and they seek to help people redefine what that means.
“There are many definitions of a healthy relationship with food. For me, it’s really just appreciating the food you eat,” Grasso said. That means appreciating the function and nutrients it provides, but also the pleasure and social aspects, and “definitely not being afraid to eat dessert or go out to eat,” Grasso said.
Part of appreciating food is removing morality from food decisions, experts said.
“You’re not a better or worse person if you eat a Snickers bar over an apple,” Williams said. And losing weight doesn’t have to come at the cost of a healthy relationship with food, he added.
“You can lose weight and not be a game of obsession,” Williams said. “You can still enjoy the foods you love and you don’t have to cancel plans with friends. You can still live a full life and stay on the path of losing weight.”
Add instead of restrict
Whatever your health goals (nutrition or weight), going on a mission to eliminate foods considered “bad” doesn’t work anyway, dietitians said.
“Okay, you lost those 5 or 10 pounds. What will your lifestyle be like when you reach that goal? Are you going to continue on this restrictive path or are you going to implement a more inclusive lifestyle?” Williams asked.
Dietitians like Williams and Grasso advocate adding foods rather than restricting them and making small, gradual changes rather than big, dramatic ones.
“Actually, they can do more harm than good,” Grasso said. “You might lose a lot of weight, but eventually that weight will come back, and then you might even gain more because you restricted yourself so much.”
His TikTok content doesn’t focus on what to cut out of a diet, which restaurants are blacklisted, or how to cut calories. Instead, they preach adding nutrients to meals to strive for balance.
That might look like eating pizza for breakfast and then making sure to add plenty of veggies to your pasta for lunch. It may mean eating the piece of chocolate you’ve been looking at, enjoying it, and getting on with your day. Or it might mean ordering Taco Bell in a way that gives you a good balance of carbs, protein, healthy fats, and vegetables.
“A lot of people, when they’re on a diet or just trying to have a healthier lifestyle, they like to restrict their food,” Grasso said. “I would like to change that mentality of what you can add to your life.”
“Instead of what I can take away, what can I add to my plate that will nourish my body the best it can?” Williams added.