What Is the Anti-Diet Movement?

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Throughout media, television, advertising, and even daily speech, western culture has promoted the idea that a healthy person fits one mold. It's been implied that if you don't fit that (often appearance-based) mold, you need to work toward it. That's where diet culture comes into play.

Recently, conversations about body size have shifted, reigning in the idea that healthy looks a certain way, encouraging individuals to let go of the restriction and pressure diet culture has created. This can be described as the Anti-Diet Movement.

The Beginning of the Anti-Diet Movement 

The Anti-Diet Movement is closely linked with the Health at Every Size (HAES) approach. The HAES approach is intended to be a weight-neutral approach for people of all body sizes. The aim of this approach and movement is to promote body positivity, create a mentally healthy relationship with food, and remove fatphobia and stigma from our society.

The “war on obesity” has caused a lot of stigma in our society. People are scared to be fat for many reasons. Whether it be social shaming or the fear of poor health, many people are taught to avoid being fat at all costs. This can and has led to dieting, food anxiety, a bad relationship with food, using exercise as punishment, purging, starving, and more. All of these things can lead to unnecessary physical, mental, and emotional distress. Further, it has been found that current weight stigma and weight-loss methods are often unsuccessful.

What Does Anti-Diet Mean?

Dieting has been seen to cause a preoccupation with food. This leads people to label “good” and “bad” foods and to treat eating like a punishment and reward system. This mindset often causes physical, mental, and emotional distress, sometimes leading to disordered eating habits. 

The Anti-Diet Movement aims to promote intuitive eating. With intuitive eating, the focus is on eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full. This means evaluating external factors, cues, and emotions. Further, the focus shifts toward well-being and removes the focus on body weight and food labels.

Part of this is done via Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) skills. This involves awareness and acceptance of your present moment experience, such as thoughts, emotions, cravings, and sensations in the body. Validating your present moment experience, while also being able to analyze it, can help people recognize whether they are truly hungry/full or if external factors are causing them to reject/want food.

Irregular Eating Behaviors

  • Frequent dieting
  • Chronic weight fluctuations
  • Preoccupation with food, weight, or body image
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, or loss of control around food
  • Using exercise, food restriction, fasting, or purging as punishment

Intuitive eating, the method promoted by the Anti-Diet Movement, has been shown to improve psychological and behavioral health across a range of outcomes. Not only that but it is considered a valuable intervention for improving mental health and reducing disordered eating behaviors.

According to some studies, however, switching to intuitive eating might not actually affect energy intake or the quality of your diet. Its main purpose is to combat disordered eating patterns and lead to better mental and emotional health.

What This Means for You

According to Rachel Fine, registered dietitian nutritionist and certified counselor of intuitive eating, “Even those with medically-warranted dietary changes (like diabetes) can benefit from a non-restrictive mindset around food. It’s encouraged that these consumers consult with an anti-diet dietitian for support.”

The Anti-Diet Movement and Exercise

Anti-diet practices are not solely based on what fills your dinner plate—as is the case with many wellness initiatives, nutrition and exercise both have a role. In fact, the Anti-Diet Movement promotes exercising for fun, leading to positive feelings around exercise, as well as other benefits.

A positive relationship with exercise can improve your cardiovascular health, workout retention, body image, and relationship with food. Some studies suggest that anti-diet practices can improve quality of life and cardiometabolic risk, even in the absence of weight loss. This implies that forced exercise and shame are not the answer to cardiovascular mortality or obesity.

The Anti-Diet Movement and Body Image

While a healthy relationship with exercise is important, so is a healthy relationship with body image and eating. Women are especially impacted by poor body image and eating habits and are therefore the focus of many studies. Anti-diet practices are shown to improve eating, weight, and psychological factors in women struggling with weight and body image.

Women are not the only group of people severely affected by weight and body image, however. Another group that is highly affected by weight bias is children. When children experience weight bias, they are also influenced psychologically and are more likely to engage in harmful weight-related behaviors. Anti-diet practices can help to prevent disordered eating in children and teens and improve overall health as they grow.

Is the Anti-Diet Movement for Everyone?

The anti-diet movement is intended to be accessible to everyone. If you would like to begin incorporating anti-diet practices into your life, here are some ways to start:

  • Eat when you are hungry, but be conscious of emotions that may be affecting your desire/lack of desire for food
  • Stop labeling foods as "good" or "bad"
  • Stop using punishments (e.g. food restriction, exercise) regarding your eating habits
  • Exercise for fun—there are many different forms of exercise to try (e.g. swimming, biking, dance)
  • Practice self-care and self-love
  • Learn about your body and its needs
  • Don’t engage in diets unless they are to accommodate a health condition and supervised by a healthcare professional
  • Be conscious about the media you consume—most things are not a reflection of reality
  • Be aware of the language you (and others) use regarding weight and body image

A Word From Verywell Fit

Working to gain (or re-gain) a healthy relationship with food and your body can be a challenge. It's not easy to suddenly change your perspective, behaviors, and thoughts—be kind to yourself and acknowledge that this may take time. A medical professional's assistance can be an excellent tool to help your recovery journey, particularly if you're working on recovering from an eating disorder, disordered eating, or a history of yo-yo dieting.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is wrong with diet culture?

    Diet culture focuses on a thin ideal body, is perpetuated through media, and leads to body dissatisfaction and poor mental health. These factors often lead to disordered eating, which is characterized by irregular eating behaviors and negative feelings regarding weight, body image, and food.

  • How do you ignore diet culture?

    Diet culture is often the reason for eating disorder development, but it can be combatted with education. Research suggests that being educated about eating disorders and disordered eating makes people less likely to engage in diet culture. This means that the best thing you can do is educate yourself.

  • Can you eat healthy without dieting?

    Dieting often leads to labeling food as “good” or “bad,” leading to guilt and shame around food topics. It is more beneficial to focus on getting your body the nutrition it needs.

9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Barraclough EL, Hay-Smith EJC, Boucher SE, Tylka TL, Horwath CC. Learning to eat intuitively: A qualitative exploration of the experience of mid-age women. Health Psychology Open. 2019;6(1):205510291882406. doi:10.1177/2055102918824064

  4. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. What is Disordered Eating

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  6. Grider HS, Douglas SM, Raynor HA. The influence of mindful eating and/or intuitive eating approaches on dietary intake: a systematic review. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2021;121(4):709-727.e1. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2020.10.019

  7. Bégin C, Carbonneau E, Gagnon-Girouard MP, et al. Eating-related and psychological outcomes of health at every size intervention in health and social services centers across the province of québec. Am J Health Promot. 2019;33(2):248-258. doi:10.1177/0890117118786326

  8. Aparicio-Martinez P, Perea-Moreno AJ, Martinez-Jimenez MP, Redel-Macías MD, Pagliari C, Vaquero-Abellan M. Social media, thin-ideal, body dissatisfaction and disordered eating attitudes: an exploratory analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2019;16(21):4177. doi:10.3390/ijerph16214177

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By Nicole M. LaMarco
Nicole M. LaMarco has 19 years of experience freelance writing for various publications. She researches and reads the latest peer-reviewed scientific studies and interviews subject matter experts. Her goal is to present that data to readers in an interesting and easy-to-understand way so they can make informed decisions about their health.

Edited by
Lily Moe
Lily Moe for Verywell Fit

Lily Moe is a former fitness coach and current Editor for Verywell Fit. A wellness enthusiast, she can often be found in a hot yoga studio, trying a new recipe, or going for a long run in Central Park.

Learn about our editorial process