Workshop summary by Kathryn Hawkins


The one-thing dietitians seem to have an endless supply of is enthusiasm!


In the middle of July, on the coldest Sydney morning of 2014 so far, 36 rugged up and eager dietitians arrived from all the corners of NSW (and one from Queensland) to Kirribilli Neighbourhood Centre for a workshop.  The presenters were Fiona Willer and Fiona Sutherland, and the topic – The Non Diet Approach and Advanced Counselling Skills.


The non-diet approach to managing weight is an attuned to mindful based eating and supports self-compassion and body acceptance. The Health at Every Size (HAES) concept supports the non-diet approach and its focus on self-acceptance. HAES is still in its infancy in Australia, with the movement being pioneered by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor. They pioneered the research and the changing paradigm we see in the USA and UK, and have written a number of books and papers that interpret HAES theory into practice.


Here in Australia we have Fiona Willer and Fiona Sutherland flying the HAES flag and leading the movement, presenting their colleagues with a practical, hands on workshop and equipping us with the knowledge and the tools to integrate the Non-Diet Approach into our current practice.


We started the day by looking at the research behind the Non-Diet Approach and establishing, what most of us had already come to realize, that the evidence is, in fact, very favorable – of the 6 studys we looked at, all groups experienced long term weight stability or weight loss, improved biochemistry and improved psychological markers and overall wellbeing. Very exciting evidence when compared to that of studies looking at restricting dietary intake, or applying dietary rules (and we all know how that goes!).


Fiona Willer took us through the core practice principles of the Non-Diet Approach and opened a discussion around body cues, acceptance, self- compassion and normalizing eating. The depth of experience and wealth of knowledge in the room was fully appreciated at this point as we discussed strategies for dealing with clients that have been stuck on the ‘diet cycle’ for some time swing between restrictive eating and binging. There where some truly lovely analogies shared and I think we all left feeling a little better equipped to explain the idea that binging cannot be fully extinguished until dichotomous thinking is gone.


“HAES is really well accommodated by the current Nutrition Care Process (NCP) and nutrition diagnosis” says Fiona Willer. The Nutrition care process is the framework for dietetic practice and involves assessment, diagnosis, intervention and monitoring and, when integrated with the standardized terminology (International Dietetics and Nutrition Terminology (IDNT)) forms a framework for our dietetic practice.


In the afternoon we were guided through the ‘Advanced Counselling Skills’ section by Fiona Sutherland, from Body Positive Australia, in Victoria. We had a chance to build on our skills, giving us practical examples and helping us feel comfortable with HAES concepts including ‘rolling with resistance’ and ‘working with outcomes’. The workshop explored how we conduct initial consultations and introduce the HAES approach. “We need to work with the client to give them individual advice on meeting dietary guidelines and reducing disease risk, but not giving meal plans, and we are not to restrict their diet” encouraged Fiona Sutherland. In fact, one of the biggest take home messages I heard was “always add food to the diet, don’t remove or restrict it”. The idea being that by adding vegetables, fruit and other nutritious foods to the diet, the healthier foods will eventually ‘crowd out’ the more highly processed and less nutritious options. 


There where hands on case studies and fabulous group discussions as we came up with strategies for identifying clients we felt may benefit from the non diet approach, and then, how to introduce the idea, and in turn, integrate it into our treatments.


I think we all came away feeling very inspired, enlightened and excited. There is a change in the air, that is certain, and it is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body. HAES supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being, rather than weight control, and if we can feed this through to our clients (pardon the pun), then we are shaping up to be a new generation of dietitians with a real opportunity to make change.


For more information on the Non-Diet Approach: 



  • Kathryn Hawkins (MDiet, APD,AN)

  • Kathryn is a wholefoods dietitian and freelance writer based on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. 

  • Kathryn specialises in the areas of weight management, eating behaviors, eating disorders, women’s health, and promoting a healthy body image. Her business was founded on the idea that true health and wellness means you’re making the right choices for your body because you want to, not because you have to. She believes that once you get started on this path everything else falls into place. 

  • Kathryn is passionate about assisting clients to reach and maintain health goals by empowering and educating them in an honest and supportive environment. 

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