Why recommending weight loss, even when a person’s BMI is high, is often unhelpful and misguided

I was tagged in a post showing the image of a fat body and how being this size is damaging to their health (particularly organs and joints) and why weight loss through a change in diet and activity level is necessary.

I am going to to attempt to break this down as simply as possible to explain why such attitudes are misguided and damaging to a person’s health. This is a very complex topic going well beyond health science and I hope those with a deeper understanding of social justice matters will forgive me for only mentioning them as a factor without going into depth.

Let’s say this person, I will call her Marie, does have issues with organs and joints, let’s say she has diabetes and knee pain. The mainstream assumption is losing weight will help. If Marie does intentionally lose weight, she will intentionally change something in order for this to happen. If her blood sugar and knee pain reduce, how do we know if these changes are due to the weight loss or whatever it was she changed; perhaps it was due the changes in diet and activity level, perhaps aided with some mindfulness/meditation work which then influenced stress levels and her relationships with others? Unless a person has liposuction, intentional weight loss occurs along side a change in behaviours, the weight loss is a side-effect as opposed to a behaviour change; i.e. weight is not a behaviour. 

Essentially there is no one singular change that we can pin the medal on in terms of reduced blood sugar and knee pain, the human body is very complex and humans rarely ever change just one behaviour without this influencing other health factors.

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EYE OPENER – just because Marie’e blood glucose and knee pain is reduced doesn’t mean she is experiencing better health. Many people would assume this, but chances are Marie has put herself into calorie deficit to achieve the weight loss, which results in a range of physiological and psychological disturbances. These disturbances are key drivers in the weight regain that happens to almost everyone, and why so many people find themselves obsessed with food and thoughts about food to the point of distress and anxiety – you can read more about this here. Not to mention the shame people feel around their body, their health issues and their perceived “failure” to manage things – shame is a powerful emotion experienced by most, if not all, who try to lose weight and a powerful factor that has been shown to directly impact metabolic health

This brings us to vital and often overlooked factors that affect a person’s health and which may explain why Marie is in a bigger body. While these factors may influence current eating and/or exercise habits, they can affect health independent of diet and exercise.

To assume diet and exercise are the key factors to address when helping someone manage their health is misguided and in most cases, plain insufficient. I want to pause for a moment here and acknowledge that this is more or less what I was trained to do and what I did for the first part of my career. I’m not saying that I ignored, or that other practitioners who still work this way ignore a person’s psychology or life circumstances, I certainly didn’t, but I did not address them adequately, particularly with regard to body image, weight stigma, weight bias and shame, and I did not understand the implications of continuing to place focus on body weight.


Some of the reasons people end up with a higher body weight

  • Concern about weight from a young age, be that underweight or “overweight” as per growth charts. There is evidence that parents who worry about their kids weight, end up with bigger children. 
  • Natural human size diversity – their genetic blueprint for size is a bigger body 
  • Medication 
  • Hormonal disturbances 
  • Mental health issues with or without medication 
  • Economic and social circumstances 
  • Adverse childhood events, including trauma
    and the most common reason I see with my clients…

  • Through the pursuit of weight loss – a large number of my clients have dieted themselves to a heavier weight, research shows that up to 2/3 of people end up heavier through dieting in an attempt to lose weight.

Regardless of the reasons, placing the focus on weight and encouraging people to pursue weight loss is more likely to lead to the following, than it is to improve a person’s health long-term…

  • Weight loss followed by regain (weight cycling/yoyo dieting), often to a higher weight. 
  • Engaging in diet behaviours that are generally not sustainable and may lead to a poor relationship with food over-time, disordered eating behaviours such as restricting and bingeing. 
  • Engaging in exercise behaviours that are generally not sustainable and may lead to a poor relationship with exercise over-time, injury or a general dislike of exercise. 
  • An increased sense of shame over body size and perceived “failure” to control their weight, eating behaviours and maintain a certain level of exercise. Shame has been identified as an independent risk factor for health. 
  • Perpetuating our cultures weight bias (that thinner people are more worthy, healthy, attractive etc) and the social stigma that accompanies this.

To state Marie is unhealthy because of a high body weight or to keep this as the focus for her health issues, is at best misguided and very simplistic, and at worst, serves to further damage Marie’s health through the continued pursuit of weight loss, weight cycling and weight stigma. Those of us who work in the Health At Every Size paradigm work to take the focus off body weight and instead focus on addressing health behaviours (and the many factors that influence these), body image, weight stigma and the shame that usually comes in bucketloads. 

Note: HAES and the non-diet approach are not anti-weight loss, just anti-pursuit of weight loss. Some people may lose weight through changing health behaviours, we just can’t predict for whom this will happen and therefore can’t promise or expect it will happen. 


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Do you struggle with sugar cravings?

When people come to see me for help with their eating, they often feel they can’t control their intake of sweet food, or “junk” food or how much they eat when they get home from work (or on weekends). I hear people say “I’m good during the day/week, it’s afterwork… or when I have something sweet… or once my partner’s gone to bed… or when I eat out that’s the issue.”

These people usually have something in common – not eating enough during the day. Sometimes not enough carbohydrate, but mostly not enough food (ie calories) and typically they’re not even aware. In fact, it’s normal to think eating less is the “right” thing to do. Almost everywhere you look – TV, social media, your social circle, family, local gyms and even well meaning health professionals (including your GP) – eating less or restricting certain foods is validated as a “good” thing, what you “should” be striving to achieve. This is the diet culture we live in.

It is true that some people do eat more than what they need, however no person or meal plan can know how much anyone else needs to eat and this results in a blanket like calorie reduction which is not enough food for most people. Even if you plug your height, weight and activity level into an app, this can’t account for differences in metabolism between different people, or the natural fluctuations in your energy expenditure across the days and weeks. Wouldn’t it be much more powerful if you could work out yourself, through listening your body, what is the right amount of food for you? This may lead to eating less, but not so much less that you’re left feeling over-hungry or craving carbohydrates/sweets. If this sounds appealing to you, check out intuitive eating.

anti diet dietitian

In addition to the omni-present influence of diet culture, three more specific reasons I frequently see for not eating enough during the day are…

Skipping breakfast – many people discover that when they eat breakfast, they feel hungry again sooner, often around mid-morning. When you’re trying hard to eat less/cut calories, this can feel highly problematic and so people delay eating as long as possible. However, feeling hungry roughly every 3 hours is completely normal and it’s a reason morning tea exists. Not eating enough earlier in the day is a common reason for over-eating later in the day.

Trying to be too healthy with food choices – carrots sticks and hummus may be perfectly tasty and nourishing, but if this doesn’t float your boat or doesn’t provide enough calories, you’re probably not going to be fully satisfied and you may find yourself craving sweets (usually as your brain actually needs glucose and is running low). If a snack of toast with jam or peanut butter, or perhaps cheese and biscuits not only appeals more to you, but provides the necessary food energy, you are going feel more satisfied eating this and you may well find yourself not craving sweets as your brain has the calories it needs. When you brain doesn’t have adequate food energy, it releases a chemical called Neuropeptide Y to make you think about food, specifically food it can get good amounts of glucose from as glucose is the brain’s preferred energy source. Therefore, so called “sugar cravings” can occur simply because you need to eat.

Cutting carbs – diet culture, including some well meaning doctors and other health professionals, tell us to cut out the carbohydrates. No bread, no rice, no pasta, no potatoes and sometimes even, no carrots, no pumpkin and no fruit! Aside from this being completely unnecessary, including for people with diabetes, such dietary restriction can lead to…

  • Strong sugar or carb cravings
  • Over-eating to the point of binge eating behaviour (often later in the day)
  • Mental and emotional distress over food, eating and body image
  • A preoccupation with food to the point of what can feel like an obsession or sense of being out of control around food (you are not obsessed or out of control, you just need to eat more – if the room you were in suddenly started running out of oxygen, your brain wouldn’t just sit there calmly, it would demand you find more oxygen and right now!)
  • Feeling tired and weak, having difficulty concentrating (your brain runs best on a ready supply of glucose)
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Constipation

If any of this resonates with you, perhaps it’s time to stop restricting food and stop following someone else’s specific advice on what, when and how much to eat and time to start tuning into, and trusting, your own body with food. You can learn to do this through a non-diet/intuitive eating approach that is fully aligned with Health At Every Size®️. You can book with us, or a find a practitioner near you.


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Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out

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Want to avoid feeling stuffed full this Christmas? It’s time to stop trying to “be good”.

Do you tend to overeat on Christmas Day? What if I told you the problem is not you or the food, the problem is diet mentality.

If you happen to eat more than usual on Christmas day (or any other gathering for that matter), you are behaving as humans have done for thousands of years where having an abundance of food on celebration days is part of how we celebrate and connect with others. Bottom line is that there is nothing wrong with doing this and the pleasure and satisfaction we receive from sharing and enjoying food with others is fundamental to our health.

For some people though, Christmas day can feel like a minefield, creating anxiety and distress around food and/or leave you feeling so stuffed full, the pleasure is diminished. While for some there will be other factors involved, I am going to put a huge chunk of the blame on diet culture and its obsession with “health” and weight.

We live in a diet culture where thinking about food in terms of macros (carbs, protein, fat), moral value (being good or bad) and our body size has become some normalised, few people stop to recognise the madness and futility behind it all. Even for those not dieting (or following “healthy lifestyle plan”), this creates a diet mentality where food is seen as good or bad, right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy and the belief that how we eat is the key driver for our body weight (tip – your body weight is much more complex than the food you eat). There’s a constant sense we must make the “better” choice, not eat too much, and if we do, we must pay a penance with more exercise, or being “good” the next day. Paradoxically, it is this very diet mentality that results in people overeating on days such as Christmas or any celebratory party.

intuitive eating dietitian

So why does our diet culture and diet mentality lead to overeating?

It is pure human psychology to desire more what is off limits or forbidden. Deprivation heightens our desire and we are more likely to think about and crave those foods that we restrict. How often do you find yourself carving lettuce over chocolate? On that point though, just as it is natural to want something more when it’s less available, most people have had the experience of craving salad after several days of eating out with richer food or more highly processed food – so it works both ways.

Do you routinely restrict food you enjoy? When that food becomes available, are you more likely to go to nuts and “splurge”? If you’re nodding your head, you are a normal healthy human. This type of behaviour is known as the “I’ll get while I can effect”, “the what the hell effect” or “the last supper effect” where you think “I’m just gonna write off today and I’ll be good tomorrow/starting Monday”. These effect are described in studies in a number of books including Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon.

You may also fall victim to the “I deserve it” mentality – “I’ve been good lately so now I can afford to have as much as I want!”

The paradox with all of this, is that you usually end up eating more than you actually want, not truly enjoying the experience and perhaps even regretting it, swearing off the food again… until the next time.

What it you took a more relaxed and less restrictive approach to how you eat? Imagine feeling you could eat whatever you feel like whenever you felt like it? Maybe sweets would become less enticing – if you like sweets, this doesn’t mean you’d stop wanting or enjoying them, it would just mean you could them in a way that felt good mentally and physically. While all this may sound like pie in the sky stuff (my clients often say this when we first meet), you can find this place of moderation with a non-diet/intuitive eating approach. The key is to start understanding how diet culture has influenced our thinking around food in a way that has us feeling we can’t control ourselves around food and therefore we must restrict the food when in fact it is this very restriction and way of thinking that is so often at the root of your struggle with food.

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Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out

Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

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Are you struggling with Intuitive Eating or feeling it doesn’t work for you?

Intuitive Eating is becoming ever more popular with an increasing number and variety of health and fitness professionals using the concepts of intuitive eating with their clients. There are now numerous books that support the concept and most appear to hold true to original book, ‘Intuitive Eating’ by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch – a book I highly recommend reading.
While this should be a wonderful thing, unfortunately the concepts and process of intuitive eating are not always being taught or used effectively. Recently, I have had a number of people contact me for help – after trying the process through reading one of the books – saying “it didn’t work for me.”  Most often this is because weight loss continued to be a key goal for the individual or there was a promise of weight loss or changing how your body looks. Wanting to lose weight is one of the major sticking points with learning to eat intuitively. It’s not that it’s wrong to want to lose weight (or feel you need to lose weight), it is that focusing on your weight will interfere with the intuitive eating process.
Given the culture we live in, it is completely understandable and ok to want your body to change. The trick is being able to pop these desires on hold while you move through the intuitive eating process. This is one of the toughest aspects of the process and something an experienced dietitian or therapist will help you with. This is a key part of the work we do, click here if you would like help from one of our dietitians.
If, like many people, you are unhappy with your body and you try intuitive eating as a way to change your body, you will likely end up thinking – “Intuitive eating didn’t work for me.” As one of my clients expressed beautifully, when you focus on weight loss or changing your body, your eating will continue to be driven by body worries rather than instincts.


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So what is the purpose of Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating is about learning to trust your body’s cues (instincts) around appetite and food, it is about giving your body the fuel, nourishment and pleasure we all require from food to take care of our mental and physical health. Intuitive eating is also about letting go of food rules and all the “shoulds” and shouldn’ts” our culture imposes on how we are supposed to eat, it requires softening black and white thinking around food and recognising there are no inherently bad foods and that all food can be included in a healthy way of eating. Letting go of all the food rules and changing how you think about food frees up so much mental space and energy and will allow you to feel much calmer around food. In time, you will spend much less time thinking about food or worrying about what you “should or shouldn’t” be eating.

If you’re thinking such freedom with eating will result in you making all the “wrong” food choices and not eating enough of what you “should” be eating, you’re not alone. Many people have this belief when they first encounter intuitive eating partly because we are immersed in a diet culture which teaches us to fear food and that we can’t be trusted around certain foods. When you restrict food, or think you shouldn’t eat it, it’s very normal to go overboard and eat that food in excess whenever you have the chance. This reinforces your belief that you can’t be trusted around that food. What the intuitive eating process teaches you, is that when you start to allow that food in a non-judgemental way and listening to your body’s cues, you can trust your body and not go overboard. It can take some time to reach this point and may even require a period of relearning what your body’s appetite cues feel like, but even if this takes many months (or even a year or so), this is much less time than spending the rest of your life in the restrict-binge-restrict cycle that occurs with dieting or rigid patterns of eating.

If your weight of body shape does change through the intuitive eating process, this is purely a side-effect. However, if you make weight/fat loss the goal, you will struggle to ever trust your body’s natural cues and you will most likely feel intuitive eating didn’t work. It’s not that it didn’t work, you just didn’t give the process the freedom it needs to help you take better care of your health.

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Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out

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What if you didn’t need to lose weight?

The common assumption (or common wisdom) is losing weight will make you healthier, that if your BMI is above 25, you need to lose weight to manage your health. These assumptions are so strong that they prevail despite lack of evidence that pursing weight loss improves long-term health, largely because not enough people have lost weight and kept it off long enough to test this theory.

The strength of this common wisdom may also explain why most people overlook the fact that weight is not a behaviour. Take a moment to let that sink in – WEIGHT IS NOT A BEHAVIOUR. The way in which people can influence their health, is through behaviours. Focusing on weight distracts from the actual behaviour change and the weight loss often takes the credit for health improvements when it was actually the changes to lifestyle, diet, activity, mental health etc that should take the limelight. In short, we really need to stop focusing on weight when it comes to health.

HAES dietitian

You may ask, given this lack of evidence, how has this common assumption become so pervasive? Here are some of the reasons why…

  • Our culture’s strong weight bias – we live in culture that has been deeply conditioned to believe fat is bad and unhealthy, a culture that wrongly equates thinness with worthiness, attractiveness, success, health and happiness.
  • Our culture’s weight stigma – people in bigger bodies are constantly being judged as doing something wrong, having a body that is wrong, being lazy, incompetent and unhealthy.
  • The persistent public health (or more accurately, public shaming) messages that fat is bad and being “obese” is deadly
  • The continual advertising of weight loss solutions, weight loss products, body transformations and surgery
  • Doctors and other health professionals advising weight loss as necessary for almost any condition. Being weighed at the doctor and told you need to lose weight regardless of your health status.
  • Being surrounded by people, often family and friends, deeply conditioned to this assumption and talking about the next diet they’re doing or how they’re losing weight


Given all these factors, it’s not difficult to understand why so many people are unhappy with their bodies and desperate to lose weight, even people who don’t have any health issues or who may not even be considered fat by societal standards. I’m not saying it’s wrong to want to lose weight, I’m hoping to acknowledge why this desire is understandable. I’m also not saying it’s wrong to lose weight, if through changing various health behaviours, your weight changes, then that is a side-effect your body is happy to have happen.

But what happens when changes in health behaviours, while perhaps improving indicators of health such as blood pressure or blood sugar, don’t result in the desired weight loss? Or what happens when the weight is regained, which it nearly always is. Do you keep up with the positive changes or do you feel it’s not “working”? Do you then give up altogether, or do you try something else, usually something more drastic and rarely maintainable? When this happens, people end up in the (sometimes lifelong) cycle of dieting or falling off the wagon, losing weight, then regaining the weight. 

What if despite taking better care of your health and doing all the “right” things, you still have high cholesterol or develop diabetes? Does this mean you still try to lose weight even when your body doesn’t appear to want to lose weight? Again, do you give up, or do you try something else, usually something more drastic and rarely maintainable?

It’s often after turning to something more drastic (see below), or years or yoyo dieting in an attempt to lose weight, that people hit rock bottom and come to see us (dietitians). Rarely has the drastic approach or long-term pursuit of weight loss improved health, in fact quite the opposite, often it’s worsened both physical and psychological health. If you are someone who has pursued weight loss, has this pursuit lead to an overall improvement in your health, be that mental health, emotional health, social health or physical health?

What do I mean by drastic? Anything that can’t be sustained or that interferes with daily life, including;

  • Completely cutting carbs or any other other food type from your diet
  • A diet with specific rules that interferes with eating out, eating with others, holidays or just enjoying food
  • Any sort of 9-12 week body transformation
  • Any program that promises rapid weight loss
  • Any program that leaves you feeling hungry or thinking about food all the time

Now if you can do any of these with ease and no interference to your enjoyment of life, then I’m not here to say you shouldn’t be doing them. I’m talking to the people who struggle with such restrictions – which, I think is fair to say, is most people.

So what can you do? See if you can pop your weight loss the goal on the back burner, this is often easier said than done and you may need help from a non-diet/HAES practitioner who doesn’t focus on weight loss or promise weight loss as an outcome. Instead, could you think about being kind to your body, perhaps moving it more in ways you enjoy and feeding it in ways that feel good both mentally and physically. Being kind to yourself and doing things you enjoy are also vital to health, when you actively dislike and hate on yourself, you are much less likely to treat your body well, be that with food, exercise or social interaction. If you feel you need help with this, please find a non-diet/HAES practitioner, be that a therapist, dietitian or nutritionist. Or you can contact us to make an appointment today.

dietitian melbourne




Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out

Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

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“From now on I will no longer get sucked in by products or people promising weight loss”

It’s not too late to change your New Years resolution; repeat…

“From now on I will no longer get sucked in by products or people promising weight loss.”

Social media is rife with people, products and advertisements that promise weight loss. Some ads are clearly ads while others ads are disguised by the people who promote them, often popular social media influencers, bloggers and celebrities.

I learned today from a friend and social media influencer, Tara Leong (aka The Nutrition Guru and The Chef), that people can be paid upward of $450 for one post/blog showing them using the product. Tara says to look for these hashtags as a sign someone is being paid #collab, #ad, #ambassador, #spon, #partner or #partnership. If you want to learn more about this, read Tara’s excellent piece on this.


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It should come as no surprise that the advertising/marketing industry generally cares more about money than people, I’m sure even the most easily influenced people can recognise this. So why do we continue to get sucked in by marketing?

Trust – As humans we need to trust others, and when our trusted role models or people we respect get on board the marketing train, we want to believe them. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the people promoting products actually don’t realise the harm they are doing, after all, many of these people are in naturally smaller bodies and haven’t experienced a lifetime battle with food, exercise and weight. Some of them may truly believe what they’re promoting will work. But if you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work long-term, then perhaps it’s time to start questioning the products.

Hope – Hope is also a key aspect of being human and it’s human nature to feel that “this time, this one will work”. Most, if not all, weight loss products and people promoting them play on this emotion. 

Desire – We live in a world where being thinner is equated with success, worthiness, attractiveness, health and happiness. It’s completely normal to have a strong desire for these things. Again, weight loss products and people promoting them play on this emotion. 

When your well meaning doctor or health professional also suggests you should lose weight, this reinforces these desires and even provides a medical reason why you should do it – despite the fact that actual evidence that weight loss improves health long term is lacking.

Exposure – products and people that promote weight loss are constantly in our face, making it very difficult to ignore. Even more so as weight loss is such an emotionally charged subject.

Having given you a bunch of reasons why it’s so easy to get sucked in to the latest weight loss (aka healthy lifestyle) trend or product, if you experience an on-going battle with your eating and body, here are a bunch of reasons to reflect on in order to NOT get sucked in…

  • Any results you gained were short-term and you regained the weight.
  • You didn’t get the results you’d hoped for and you felt a deep sense of failure and shame.
  • You were left feeling worse about yourself when it didn’t work, or after you regained any lost weight.
  • In your years of trying to lose weight, you’ve actually become heavier.
  • You wasted your hard earned money on something that didn’t bring about the results you so dearly hoped for.
  • You wasted your precious time and energy on something that didn’t only fail you, but that also probably made you feel worse.
  • The product or program made you feel miserable, you felt hungry, the food was “as boring as bat shit” (as one friend said to me recently) and you missed out on delicious food at parties, dinners or other occasions.
  • The evidence simply doesn’t exist for a product or program that leads to permanent long-term weight loss.

Note: if you feel a particular weight loss product or program has worked for you, then great, but please understand that for most people any results are not maintained long-term and this can lead to a worsening in physical and mental health.

So what can you do?

Here’s a radical idea… have you ever tried to focus on improving your health without weight loss at a goal? The Health At Every Size HAES paradigm allows you to do this through explore these avenues…

  • Learning to eat in a way that is both nourishing and pleasurable – this can be done through intuitive eating
  • If you really feel unhappy in your body, looking at ways to start feeling better in your body that don’t depend on weight loss (the HAES approach is not anti-weight loss, if weight loss occurs as a by product of changing health behaviours then this can be welcomed)
  • For many people, addressing body image concerns is a key part of learning how to truly take care of your body
  • Finding ways to move more that feel good,  that fit in with your lifestyle and that have you wanting to participate for the joy of being active rather than to lose weight 

Need help?

We strongly recommend you seek help from a HAES practitioner in Australia or overseas

dietitian melbourne




Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out

Want to undertand how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Get a taste of what’s involved with with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

non-diet dietitians Melbourne