I still remember getting the email from the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) that said “Be one of the first dietitians credentialed to fight obesity in America”. I opened up the email and BOOM! In huge letters the email started off with “The wait is over.” Obviously CDR is really excited about the new credential for Obesity and Weight Management. See all the details on the certification here: https://www.cdrnet.org/interdisciplinary. However I am NOT excited about it, and in fact I am worried. I am so passionate about intuitive eating, body positivity, and forming a healthy relationship with food. You can do that at any weight, and in fact some people even GAIN weight when this happens. I decided to write my thoughts about this in a letter and posted it to one of my favorite Health at Every Size groups on facebook. So many other practitioners signed this letter as well!
I hope with our response, CDR will notice our effort to include the Health at Every Size® (HAES®) principles in the certification material. But even if nothing happens to the certification, I hope this letter reaches dietitians, therapists, doctors, healthcare professionals, and clients. Know that you are not alone if you are trying to practice the HAES® mentality. It’s hard in today’s world and we need all the support we can get.
Here is my letter. Feel free to copy and paste (maybe change the part about your personal/professional journey because we are all different). Send your own letter to email@example.com
**Edited to add: I created a change.org petition for this issue! Please read and sign for your support. THANK YOU!
The Commission on Dietetic Registration
120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000
Chicago, IL 60606
Re: In response to the new Obesity and Weight Management certification program
To the Commission on Dietetic Registration:
I would like to express my concern, and offer some alternative education, for the new certification for Obesity and Weight Management. I am compelled to write about these concerns after reading through the definition of a Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management (CSOWN) practitioner, the content outline for the course, and the reference list to study for the exam. I am hopeful that these remarks will make it to the Task Force and have some impact on coursework selected for this certification, and therefore an impact on those practitioners choosing to apply to take the examination. Hopefully, you will hear from a lot of professionals, like myself, who practice dietetics with a Health at Every Size® (HAES®) mentality. Like-minded dietitians like myself, who believe in the HAES® movement, passionately want our voices to be heard in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and would support more education on the HAES® principles for dietitians, nutrition students, and healthcare professionals.
Ironically, as a Registered Dietitian, I always said I hated the word “diet” and preferred to talk to clients about a healthy lifestyle. In the beginning of my career 10 years ago, I was a Certified Diabetes Educator and advocated for weight-loss plans through “dieting” even though I didn’t think I was educating clients about the diet mentality at the time. Through clinical practice and experience, I learned that I was wrong to put clients on diets and focus on weight loss. A weight-loss diet has a 99% chance of weight regain and an increased likelihood of disordered eating behaviors. I started to find my way as a non-diet dietitian when I started to see eating disorder clients and became an eating disorders expert, especially in the area of Binge Eating Disorder. This is when I discovered the Health at Every Size® movement, and the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH).
According to the description of this new certification, “Over half of American adults are overweight or obese. In order to better assist individuals in their weight loss endeavors, the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is unveiling a new specialist certification in Obesity and Weight Management.” The main issue I have with this description is the reference to “weight loss endeavors”. A diet for weight loss does not work long-term and the focus on weight can steer a client in the wrong direction. It can have a negative impact by leading to weight cycling, weight stigma, in addition to the risk of disordered eating and developing an eating disorder. Rather, health should be looked at as a puzzle and each piece is important. It’s not WEIGHT that needs to be addressed, but rather a person’s relationship with food and exercise, positive behaviors around food, eating for well-being, exercise that feels good, and emotional, spiritual, environmental, social, and intellectual well-being. There’s no question that nutrition and exercise are important pieces of the puzzle. However, positive behaviors in these areas do not necessarily result in weight loss. In fact, some positive behaviors are associated with weight gain. The HAES® approach is weight-inclusive, meaning that clients with diverse body weights and sizes should be respected equally.
When I read through the content outline and recommended research for this certification, so much of the content is focused on weight-specific recommendations. Many dietitians pride themselves in being evidence-based practitioners. The evidence shows that weight is regained after a weight loss program, no matter the approach (see this study from Mann, T. 2007 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17469900). Why should the CDR train dietitians to promote weight loss if there is no evidence to support that weight loss efforts actually result in long-term weight loss? Rather, it is known that positive behaviors around food and a healthy relationship with food will make a huge impact on a person’s health, regardless of weight. A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist is the perfect professional to help clients on the journey to a healthy lifestyle, regardless of weight or the number on the scale. RDN’s have the unique ability to use science, psychology, and physiological knowledge of the human body in order to help clients with weight concerns. I would love to see HAES® concepts included in the content for the certification, or better yet, an entire section dedicated to the HAES® curriculum. This would be helpful, not only to increase awareness among professionals, but to help clients who have weight concerns be taught the HAES® principles by those who receive this credentialing.
The HAES® movement may have a reputation to some people as being “healthy no matter what”. This is simply not true. Taken directly from the Health at Every Size® curriculum website (https://haescurriculum.com), Health at Every Size® principles help us advance social justice, create an inclusive and respectful community, and support people of all sizes in finding compassionate ways to take care of themselves. HAES® is about respect for body diversity, including those bodies classified as “obese” according to the BMI chart. Respect is so important because these bodies should be celebrated no matter what size they are. These people have been “shamed” so many times and we all know that shame never helps behavior change toward health. The HAES® movement is all about health, not weight, because people at any size can be healthy.
With that being said, I encourage the task force to read Linda Bacon’s book Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, as well as Body Respect. I also encourage the task force to read the HAES Manifesto (http://lindabacon.org/HAESbook/pdf_files/HAES_Manifesto.pdf), which includes many links to research articles and more explanation of their position. This article, “Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift” (http://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9) evaluates the evidence and rationale that justifies shifting the health care paradigm from a conventional weight focus to HAES. https://haescurriculum.com/ and https://haescurriculum.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/haes-curriculum-resource-list.pdf also have many resources for professionals to learn more about the HAES® principles.
Thank you so much for your consideration of this information. I appreciate your time to read my letter and hope you will consider including information about the HAES® principles in the new certification program.
Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDN, CDE, CEDRD
Health At Every Size® and HAES® are registered trademarks of the Association for Size Diversity and Health and used with permission
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Jennifer is a Registered Dietitian and the owner of Eat With Knowledge in Nyack, NY. She is on a mission to help people heal from diets, and find peace and balance with their food choices. She leads a team of dietitians who support the philosophy, “Feel Fabulous about Food!”
Start your own healing by downloading her Free Stop the Cycle of Binge Eating guide or her Free Hunger – Fullness Scale.