Were you with us for the afternoon sessions of Dietitian Day 2016?

Then you were lucky enough to hear the unique presentation of Fiona Willer, APD: “Swimming against the Tide: How Questioning the Status Quo Can Lead to Better Client Care.”

A university lecturer and clinical educator in Nutrition and Dietetics, Fiona is well regarded for her work in advocating for Health at Every Size [HAES]. She is the author of two how-to guides that apply the non-diet approach in individual counselling: 2013’s “The Non-Diet Approach Guidebook for Dietitians” and 2014’s “The Non-Diet Approach Guidebook for Psychologists and Counsellors” (co-authored with Clinical Psychologist Louise Adams).

Fiona is currently engaged in PhD study, investigating the adoption and effectiveness of the non-diet approach in dietetic counselling for women with weight concern.

Even if you weren’t in Sydney to hear Fiona present in person, we still have a treat for you. We spoke with her in advance of Dietitian Day to learn more about Health at Every Size.

“I was aware of Ellyn Satter’s work for a long time while I was a student,” says Fiona, “and also had read Dr Rick Kausman’s book, If Not Dieting, Then What?. I also had a personal eating disorder history. That piqued my interest in looking at things a different way.

“I didn’t understand why we had Satter’s approach for kids, and then when people became adults, we completely disregarded all of that wisdom and thought that we needed to micromanage our eating. I don’t like to be micromanaged in terms of my eating, and I was seeing that my patients [felt the same]. It would stick while they were highly motivated, but then it switched back. That got me started.”

Fiona was working at the Wesley Hospital in Brisbane at the time, as well as in private practice. And Dr Judy Bauer was heading up the nutrition department at that time. “She is an amazing researcher and terrifyingly intelligent, so I knew I had to follow the evidence, rather than cherry-pick,” Fiona explains. “I was interested in reading what evidence was out there, and what other people’s perspectives were.

“There’s a lot out there, which I was surprised about. We tended to disregard that kind of research in dietetics at the time because it wasn’t hard, quantitative research.”

These days, eight years on, quantitative research into HAES approaches is catching up.

Fiona says that while she can’t take any credit for developing the non-diet approach, “I read everything I could in the academic world, and for the public that was written by health professionals. I did a thematic analysis for my PhD because I wanted to know how things played out in the dietetic situation. That’s how the non-diet approach for dietitians ended up, which is both a considerable part of my PhD topic and the topic of my book, The Non-Diet Approach Guidebook for Dietitians.”

Stepping back, she notes thoughtfully, “That’s how most other organisms eat. There’s no great surprise, when you look at it that way.”

Fiona is now taking her focus to an even broader audience: she has just been part of the formation of HAES Australia, along with fellow Dietitian Day presenter Fiona Sutherland and a number of other key members of the Australian HAES health professional community. HAES Australia is an expert advisory group for health professionals, the media and the general public.

Health professionals can learn more about HAES and connect with colleagues; resources are available for journalists who are reporting on HAES; and the general public can use the site to find a HAES professional.

What’s more, due to popular demand, Fiona is about to launch a self-paced “Non-Diet Approach for Dietitians” online course. Those interested can register their interest at www.healthnotdiets.com.

When asked about her favourite HAES blog, Fiona cites the honest and astute site, DanceswithFat.

“It’s written by an amazing woman named Ragen Chastain,” Fiona explains. “She’s a self-described ‘fat activist’ who has had amazingly appalling experiences while living in this world. She’s been stalked, and has had to put restraining orders into place [to keep away stalkers].”

And yet, shares Fiona, there’s great insight to be found in DanceswithFat: “Her blog enables you to become immersed in material that can change your perspective about the lived experiences of people with larger bodies.”

Keep the conversation going: connect with Fiona professionally via LinkedIn or learn more at her website.

Editor – Laura Byrne

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