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Diets don’t work.
In our diet-obsessed culture, that fact can be terrifying.
It might not even seem true. After all, there’s a $150 billion industry promising to “help” us lose weight, and it can feel like everyone from doctors to smartphone apps to well-meaning relatives tries to prescribe weight loss as a cure-all (
But it is true, and Bentley Adams knows it. That’s why he’s the co-founder and CEO of Way Health, a mindful eating app designed to help you break the diet cycle.
“We’re asking questions to get into thoughts and emotions and feelings behind the relationship with food and behind the relationship with the body,” Adams told Healthline.
Unlike some nutrition apps that co-opt the language of anti-diet frameworks while still promoting weight loss, Way Health isn’t prescriptive, according to Adams. It’s not rooted in changing your body. Rather, it’s meant to help you honor the body you have.
“It’s the real anti-diet. You never step on a scale, you never count a calorie, you never track a macro,” he said.
Instead, Adams said, the app challenges users to ask themselves, “If you woke up tomorrow and you can have your relationship with food be whatever you want it to be, what would it look like?”
Using Way is meant to be the first step in helping users actualize that ideal relationship with food. Folks answer several series of self-reflective questions to get to the heart of their emotions and begin unraveling how diet culture affects them — and how to start breaking free.
Research shows that most people regain more than 50% of the weight they lose within 2 years of starting a diet and regain more than 80% within 5 years (
Plus, a review of 121 studies analyzing 17 different diets found that weight loss and improvements in markers of cardiovascular health — like blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels — typically slow after 6 months and plateau after a year on nearly all the diets (
Many factors influence weight changes and maintenance, but studies show that dieting may actually encourage your body to hold on to its weight. Dieting for weight loss appears to increase appetite, decrease feelings of fullness, and slow down metabolism (
In fact, it’s suggested that for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of lost weight, your body burns 20–30 fewer calories per day while increasing your appetite so that you eat about 100 calories more per day than you did before dieting (
That’s part of what causes the phenomenon of weight cycling, also known as “yo-yo dieting” — dieting to lose weight, regaining the weight, dieting again, and repeating the pattern over time (
Trying to “do it right” when it comes to nutrition may feel tempting, but it can backfire.
If you are preoccupied with food or your weight, feel guilt surrounding your food choices, or routinely engage in restrictive diets, consider reaching out for support. These behaviors may indicate a disordered relationship with food or an eating disorder.
Disordered eating and eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of gender identity, race, age, socioeconomic status, body size, or other identities.
They can be caused by any combination of biological, social, cultural, and environmental factors — not just by exposure to diet culture.
Feel empowered to talk with a qualified healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, if you’re struggling.
You can also chat, call, or text anonymously with trained volunteers at the National Eating Disorders Association helpline for free or explore the organization’s free and low cost resources.
That’s where Way Health hopes to come in, according to Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD. She’s an advisory partner for the app and a non-diet dietitian based in Kansas City.
“We’ve really been educated on this idea that health is synonymous with thinness,” Harbstreet told Healthline. “That dieting cycle is so harmful just from a physical standpoint and the toll it takes on your body, as well as the mental and emotional well-being and the impact that it has on your soul and relationships and identity.”
Harbstreet said that chronic dieting reduces eating to numbers rather than allowing it to be the intuitive and enjoyable experience it should be. Diets impede your ability to read your natural hunger and fullness cues and can cause you to emphasize thinness over health.
This prioritization of the aesthetics championed in our fatphobic society over individual needs is part of the reason dieting is linked to eating disorders — and people in larger bodies appear to be at higher risk of developing eating disorders (
The negative psychological effects of dieting and the lack of evidence that it provides long-term health benefits have even led some researchers to suggest that dieting does more harm than good (
Way hopes to challenge the cultural norms that celebrate dieting and applaud thinness. Instead of asking you to follow a specific dietary pattern or telling you how to feel about food, it suggests reflecting on how you feel when you eat in ways that feel authentic to you.
“We don’t see ourselves as something that’s trying to compete with these legacy diets that have been around for decades or any of the new fads and trends that are emerging,” Harbstreet said. “We really want to stand apart and on our own two feet as an option for the people who are ready for an alternative.”
To accomplish its goals, Way Health offers more than 60 activities across 3 pathways: Emotional Eats, Body Feels, and Mindful Shifts.
The Emotional Eats pathway turns the traditional concept of “emotional eating” on its head. Rather than demonizing pleasurable foods, the activities in this section simply ask you to think more deeply about the role emotions play in your eating habits without moralizing them.
Next, the Body Feels pathway asks you to consider your body image, as well as how the foods you eat and the movement you engage in may influence your mental and physical states.
Lastly, the Mindful Shifts pathway questions the way you talk to and about yourself and others when it comes to food, exercise, and bodies. Adams said it’s meant to help you reverse the diet culture mindset that prioritizes thinness and adherence to diets.
Questions are open-ended so users can formulate responses in their own words based on their unique experiences and identities.
Clara Nosek, MS, RDN, is another Way partner and a non-diet dietitian based in Modesto, California. She said the activities are meant to help you learn to trust yourself and your ability to know what foods are right for you.
“The app really works towards unraveling and unlearning those behaviors that lead to ‘health’ in terms of this aesthetic goal, as opposed to an individualized feeling of wellness and wholeness,” Nosek told Healthline.
What Way Health isn’t meant to do, though, is replace working with a non-diet RD, licensed therapist, or other professional. Instead, it helps you gauge where your relationship with food stands today and determine where you might need support.
“The Way app is like a stepping-stone to opening that new space of ‘what if?’” Nosek said. “What does life look like if you’re moving your body not as punishment for what you ate last weekend but for heart health [or] the way it makes you feel?”
It’s not something you should rush through. The app is intentionally designed for exploration over time, restricting the number of sessions a user can complete in 1 day to help avoid overwhelm.
Nosek recommends spending about 5 minutes per day on the activities.
“One of the features that I really love is that it limits the number of interactions, so there’s really this practice of setting a boundary of ‘How much information do I really need right now?’” she said.
Harbstreet said one of the most important differences between Way and other nutrition apps, aside from the rejection of tracking, is the consideration of enjoyment in the eating experience.
“One of the biggest common denominators across different diets is that there’s very little to no accounting for those individual taste preferences of what feels satisfying and enjoyable to eat,” she said.
“Because we have not put an emphasis on measuring or tracking or counting, it opens up a whole new language and vocabulary to start saying, ‘Here’s what I enjoyed about this meal. Here’s what I’d like to experience again.’”
— Cara Harbstreet
Way holds space for pleasure, body diversity, and the full range of cultural foods in your eating experiences — and with a $6.99 monthly subscription price, it’s much more affordable than many popular tracking apps.
According to Adams, it doesn’t take long for users to begin implementing lessons from the app into their daily lives. He said early data show that 73.5% of users report “thinking differently about how they eat” within the first week of using Way Health.
“The big differentiator between us and everything else is the feeling of a safe, nonjudgmental environment to go through self-exploration,” Adams said.
“You know what your body does and does not need, and that’s ultimately how you can heal your relationship with food and with your body: by learning how to listen to it.”
A note on weight discrimination
Although studies often suggest that obesity is a risk factor for certain health conditions, they rarely account for the role weight stigma and discrimination play in health. Discrimination is one of the social determinants of health — the conditions in daily life that affect our health — and it can and does contribute to health inequities.
Weight discrimination in healthcare can prevent people at high body weights from seeking medical care — and those who do may not receive accurate diagnoses or treatment, because doctors may attribute their health concerns solely to their weight.
As a result, any health condition a person may have may be more advanced by the time they receive a diagnosis.
Meanwhile, experiences of weight stigma in daily life, even outside of medical settings,
Everyone deserves appropriate and compassionate medical care. If you’re interested in finding weight-inclusive healthcare professionals, you may want to follow the work of the Association for Size Diversity and Health, which is developing a directory that will launch in summer 2022.
Rose Thorne is an associate editor at Healthline Nutrition. A 2021 graduate of Mercer University with a degree in journalism and women’s & gender studies, Rose has bylines for Business Insider, The Washington Post, The Lily, Georgia Public Broadcasting, and more. Rose’s proudest professional accomplishments include being a college newspaper editor-in-chief and working at Fair Fight Action, the national voting rights organization. Rose covers the intersections of gender, sexuality, and health, and is a member of The Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists and the Trans Journalists Association. You can find Rose on Twitter.