Ever been to a conference and experienced the post-lunch urge to nap? Don’t expect that at this year’s 2016 Dietitian Day – you won’t get the chance! We’ve purposely loaded up our afternoon sessions with exceptional, engaging and energizing speakers.

Kicking things off for us right after lunch will be Fiona Sutherland, APD and nutritionist, of Body Positive Australia. A noted authority in the dual approaches of Mindful Eating and Non Dieting, she advocates for eating in an individually tailored way that supports every person’s unique needs. Fiona also co-facilitates workshops all over Australia, training other dietitians in the Non Diet Approach, alongside fellow DD2016 speaker Fiona Willer.

At Dietitian Day, Fiona will pose – and answer – the question, “Is mindfulness a game changer for dietitians?” We had the chance to connect with her in advance and ask a few questions as a lead-up to her presentation on 11 March in Sydney.

DC: Letting go of judgement and criticism is central to your philosophy of Mindful Eating.Do you think that social media has the power to bring about meaningful change in this area – for example, by promoting positive body image?

I do feel there are many ways we can bring about change, and it’s not going to come about from just one area of the community. It takes effort on individual, community, global and political levels to really make meaningful impact. Any effort that is being made to help people engage in health and wellbeing-focused behaviours (rather than “health via weight loss” approach) is likely to be helpful.

Unfortunately, what I notice is that even well intentioned social media commentators are often mixing up ideas around weight, size, appearance and health, which is sending mixed and confusing messages.

I can’t see messaging being consistent anytime soon – there’s too much money to be made by selling weight loss, and preying on people’s body insecurities, unfortunately – but there’s more of a vocal group now speaking out against shaming, and advocating for a more body-positive way of talking and being, which is great!

DC: How did you land on your approach to weight management?

The Non Diet Approach has been around since before my time, and was embraced by dietitians more formally in the 1990’s. Many dietitians have been working with some flavour of this approach intuitively most of their careers before it actually had a “name.” But now that it’s more formally recognised, and has some structure around it, it’s much more accessible for dietitians to understand that approach.

I came across the Non Diet Approach around 2002 after arriving back in Australia after time spent overseas. I was very disillusioned with being a dietitian because I didn’t relate to so much of my training; I wasn’t sure how it fitted into my observations of human beings on my placement, and I felt like I wasn’t a “proper” dietitian (whatever that is!) – so my confidence was low, and I was very close to tossing it in altogether.

I took a job at a “Weight Loss Clinic,” which taught me the value of taking the time to listen to people’s stories about their relationship with food, eating and their body. This demonstrated to me the futility of diets and the weight loss industry, and ultimately led me towards my work in Eating Disorders. It was at this time that I stumbled across Dr. Rick Kausman’s groundbreaking book, “If Not Dieting Then What?” – which changed my life. I called Dr. Rick, and said, “Can I meet you for a coffee?” and I’ve never looked back.

The Non Diet Approach is a just a beautiful way of working that aligns with my values of care, compassion and seeing the whole human in each and every person we see.

DC: Fiona, what question are you asked the most about food or nutrition?

“You’re a dietitian…should you be eating that?” (Answer: “Yes”, accompanied by an invisible eye roll) and “You’re a dietitian….should I be eating that? (Answer: “It’s up to you”, or “I’m not the boss of you” – again, accompanied by that same invisible inner eye roll)!

DC: What do you most often wish you could say to clients, but don’t?

There’s not much I don’t say to clients with whom I’ve established a good relationship. Many people give me the feedback that the “genuine but blunt” approach works well, so I’m going to stick with that!

What I often want to say (and sometimes do) is:

You are an amazing human being, who is doing your best. You have strengths, abilities and talents that are so valuable, yet you don’t see it. Please stop trash talking yourself – it doesn’t lead anywhere good and sucks your soul dry.

Food is for nourishment, which includes pleasure. Take the pleasure away, and you’re left with something that resembles a dry cruskit. Boring.

DC: Barbie doll was recently unveiled in new body shapes and sizes. What effect do you think this will have, if any, on a new generation of children?

Any chance for kids to have direct interaction with toys resembling different sizes is great. Mind you, I’ve seen “curvy” Barbie and really, she’s not particularly curvy! I don’t subscribe to the idea that “Barbie causes eating disorders” or the like, but I do think that getting the conversation started about size diversity is fantastic!

DC: Can you share with us a favourite online resource you turn to for inspiration?

My favourite website is The Center for Mindful Eating, which houses the most incredible array of the world’s experts on Mindful Eating. I love heading there to check out what everyone’s doing and learn new ways to approach mindfulness in practice (both my own practice, and my work-based practice!)

DC: You’re now the ambassador for the Special K #OwnIt campaign. Why is it important for you to be involved in this?

It’s really important to be authentic, and to walk the talk. My fellow ambassadors and I felt that we can’t continue to agitate for change – to speak to dietetic students, teachers, coaches, athletes and my clients about what it means to be more Body Positive – if we’re not prepared to support a campaign that aims to send the same message.

This is a brilliant opportunity for us to partner with a campaign that has demonstrated a commitment to turn around 50 years of diet and weight-loss focus, to take a brave step in a new direction.

There’ll always be marketing, and there’ll always be cereal. But if there are messages there that help women feel like they can get more involved in life just as they are, without needing to be in a different body first, then that’s a win in my book. We just believe that everyone deserves to participate fully in life and not be made to feel “not good enough” because of her size or shape. Every body, no matter what age, shape or size, deserves respect, care, compassion and nourishment. And our mission is to deliver this message.

Edited by Laura Byrne

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