Living With Extra Weight: Meet an Anti-Diet Dietitian

Sara WatsonPatricia Pinto-Garcia, MD, MPH
Published on April 21, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • Anna Jones, who holds a master’s degree in public health and is a registered dietitian, calls herself an “anti-diet dietitian.”

  • Growing up in a larger body, she’s dealt with issues such as eating disorders.

  • Now, she wants to change the dialogue about size and weight and help others to be healthy at any size.

Picture of Anna Jones with her hand on her hip.

As someone in a larger body who had struggled with over-exercising, binge eating disorder, and other disordered eating, Anna Jones knew she wanted to help other people in similar situations develop a healthy relationship with food. Then, when she was in school to become a registered dietitian nutritionist, her partner pointed out something that surprised her. She was avoiding certain foods and restricting calories. 

“I didn’t even realize that I was being so strict, until I met my partner,” Anna recalls. “He was just, like, ‘Why don’t you eat this?’ or ‘Why don’t you drink this?’ And I was, like, ‘You know, that’s a good question. I’m not sure.’” 

After some self-reflection, Anna realized her education in nutrition was prompting her to restrict her calories. 

“It was very much orthorexia,” she says, referring to an eating disorder that involves obsessive focus on healthy eating. “I was very strict with what I was eating because of what I was learning in class.”

Now, Anna, a Healthy at Every Size clinician in Ann Arbor, Michigan, emphasizes food freedom and intuitive eating and refers to herself as an “anti-diet registered dietitian.” 

Weight stigma carries a mental health impact

Anna’s goal is to change the dialogue around weight and health. While there have been some shifts in how dietitians are trained, “there’s still a bit of a weight-centric approach,” she says. 

Quote from Anna Jones: “I really hope that more clinicians treat their clients and patients as individual humans with unique needs.”
Black and white headshot of Anna Jones.

As someone living in a larger body, she has firsthand experience with the weight stigma that is pervasive in the health field and beyond. 

“Even thinking about media — whether it’s TV, movies, books — there’s this repetitive representation that the person in the larger body tends to be the joke and tends to be very self-loathing. And the transformation is usually them into a smaller body. 

“And then, you know, it’s the stereotype of now they’re beautiful: They’re more worthy. They’re dating someone. They feel better about themselves. 

“You very rarely see people in larger bodies in media just living their best, most happy life,” she says, noting that this trope is even more problematic and exclusionary when it comes to minority groups.

Health conditions may go undiagnosed 

While media representations are a major issue, they're not alone in perpetuating weight stigma and fat-phobia, Anna says. These biases are often apparent in healthcare settings, which can lead to dangerous consequences for people living in larger bodies, she says. 

She has experienced the ways stereotypes related to size and weight can exacerbate health conditions. She doesn’t want her clients dismissed or told to just lose weight if they report issues such as knee or back pain. 

“I dealt with an eating disorder for about 20 years of my life,” she says, “and I went undiagnosed because, frankly, if you’re in a larger body, the chances of you getting diagnosed are significantly lower than someone who fits the typical profile for eating disorders.” 

This recurring, widespread stigma spurred Anna to work with people dealing with eating disorders, and to do so in a more compassionate, respectful way.  

Intuitive eating offers a gentler path to nutrition

A core part of Anna’s health philosophy is intuitive eating, which offers an alternative to dieting and asserts that equating weight with health is harmful. 

“Intuitive eating includes several principles, ranging from rejecting the diet mentality to learning to respect your body to coping with your emotions with kindness and compassion,” she says. “They’re different principles that help you to examine your beliefs around food and wellness and movement.” 

In practice, this means learning that boxed macaroni and cheese isn’t any better or worse than a Greek salad, Anna explains. 

“Learning that food is food and your body will utilize it in a way that’s appropriate or found to be efficient takes away that power of good and bad,” she says.

Once Anna’s clients are in a place of food freedom — eating what they want without guilt or shame — she introduces other helpful ways of thinking. 

“Maybe they have a limited budget, so they would benefit from relying on canned or boxed foods. Or maybe they’re concerned about their blood pressure,” she says. “We would talk about that, like, ‘OK, if it comes down to choosing two foods, and you genuinely enjoy both, maybe this is where we would pick something that’s lower in sodium.’” 

These types of considerations allow you to feel empowered by your body and take care of it in a way that feels authentic to you, Anna says.

Inclusivity offers a healthy path forward

Just as Anna takes a gentle approach to diet with intuitive eating, she advises people to go easy on themselves when it comes to movement. 

“Not everyone has access to a safe neighborhood to walk around; not everyone has access to the financial resources to go to a gym or see a personal trainer,” she says. 

“So, how can we use the resources that you have to incorporate movement and even redefine movement? We often don’t think about doing the laundry or cleaning the house or walking up and down the stairs as movement,” she says, adding that movement doesn’t have to be a designated 30 minutes at the gym.

Her approach allows people of all shapes and sizes to experience the benefits of a healthier lifestyle. And it’s something she wants other health professionals to learn from. 

“I really hope that more clinicians treat their clients and patients as individual humans with unique needs and — especially if someone’s in a larger body — don’t jump to weight loss as the first solution, but really listen to that person’s goals and needs and concerns,” she says.

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