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How To Break Free From Diet Culture, With Lindsey House

Is the number on the scale your clients’ only measure of wellness success? This week, Accountability Coach Lindsey House joins Health Coach Talk to explore the pitfalls of diet culture and the importance of a holistic approach to well-being that shifts the focus from weight to overall health.

“There’s so much more meaning behind health than diet culture provides. Diet culture provides quick fixes and quick weight loss that don’t equate to long-term, mental and physical health.”

Lindsey House

While many of us are fixated on the numbers on the scale, Dr. Sandi and Lindsey reveal the deeper markers of health and success, including skeletal muscle mass, metabolic rate, and emotional well-being. Lindsey shares her insights on the limitations of calorie counting and the need to address underlying psychological factors. The conversation highlights how a holistic approach, supported by accountability and a focus on sustainable lifestyle changes, can lead to true health and happiness.

As health coaches know, weight loss is one of the most common health goals our clients want to work on. They often come to us having tried and abandoned multiple diets over the course of their lives. Coaches can leverage Lindsey’s insights to help clients break free from the dieting mentality and embrace non-scale victories that support their overall well-being. This episode underscores the importance of addressing all aspects of health, including emotional and psychological factors, to create a more balanced and fulfilling approach to wellness. Listen below for practical advice on how to guide clients towards sustainable health.

Episode Highlights

  • Unpack the drivers of diet culture that lead us to focus solely on weight
  • Discover the importance of muscle mass and metabolic rate
  • Learn about the role of emotional well-being in health journeys
  • Explore strategies for sustainable lifestyle changes and accountability (like Lindsey’s free meal planning guide)

Meet the Guest

Lindsey House, RD, LD

Accountability Coach, Lindsey House RD

Lindsey House is an author, dietitian, and personal trainer focusing on accountability coaching. She is passionate about rewriting the rules of health and fitness success and believes we have to leave the all-or-nothing mentality behind when it comes to wellness. We should celebrate the small daily efforts, because it’s the small changes that provide the ultimate success to what we are seeking. Lindsey’s philosophy is “Direction, Not Perfection,” and she believes that we should all be thriving, not just surviving.

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Episode Transcript

Dr. Sandi: Today on “Health Coach Talk,” we’re discussing dieting. How do we overcome the diet mentality, which is still with us? I remember, back in the ’60s, we talked about diets, standing in line to buy groceries. At checkout, there were magazines, “How to Lose Those Stubborn Side Pounds?” “What’s the Latest Dieting Craze?” There have been hundreds of diets and still today we hear about dieting, losing weight as if you would stop and start. You go on a diet and then you go off your diet. Well, we discuss that with my special guest, Lindsey House.

Lindsey is an author. She is a dietitian, and she’s a personal trainer. But most importantly, recently she has become an accountability coach because she believes that’s where it’s at. It is working with somebody who could help you stay accountable. She is incredibly passionate about rewriting the rules to what success feels like in the health and fitness world. She believes that we have to leave this all-or-nothing mentality behind and celebrate those small daily efforts. She believes it’s these small changes that will provide the ultimate success to what you’re seeking. She believes in direction, not perfection, and believes that the change is in showing up, and believes we should all be striving through our days to thrive, not just survive. So, without further ado, my conversation with Lindsey. I know you’re going to enjoy it.

Welcome, Lindsey.

Lindsey: Thank you so much for having me today, Sandi. I appreciate it.

Dr. Sandi: It’s my pleasure, and I’m really looking forward to this conversation. So, let’s just jump in and talk about, first of all, sharing your background. How did you get started in this field? You’re a dietitian and a personal trainer.

Lindsey: Yes. Isn’t there always a journey with it? It’s never how we envisioned it. I was working in an athletic club as a consulting dietitian, and they were like, “You really should fill some hours as a trainer.” And so I ended up getting certified. And secret be told, I liked the training even more than the dietitian part, but I like them both and I always felt like both were necessary, that whenever I was just doing nutrition, I felt like I wish I had a little bit more on the fitness end and then vice versa.

So, that is how that started, but I noticed my clientele that kept coming to me, the common thing was, “I know what to do, I just need to do it.” And so I shifted into this lane of accountability coach because, yes, I’m a dietitian but that coaching piece became more and more important to me than necessarily like the educational piece.

Dr. Sandi: That is so important, and that’s why I train health coaches because they are accountability coaches. They’re your ally, your guide, your support. Yes, they offer education, but the key is really how do you actually follow through and particularly when it comes to our food choices, changing how we eat, and how much we’re eating, and what kinds of foods we’re eating, that’s hard for many people. And often it’s hard because they’re stuck in the wrong decade. They’re stuck in the dieting mentality.

And I know I grew up in the ’60s, and I remember all the diets. We had WeightWatchers. We had Jenny Craig. We had so many ways that you can join different associations to lose weight, but also there were these fad diets. In college, I remember going on the Stillman diet. In fact, now it’s like the carnivore diet, but it was where you would just eat protein, nothing else. Well, that was guaranteed for me. I could lose a quick 5 pounds to fit into a party dress for the weekend. Then you’d gain the weight back and then, “Oh, I’ll go on a diet again.” But it was always in terms of the scale and in terms of having a diet.

There was the grapefruit diet, the Beverly Hills diet. I mean, just so, so many. Of course, we go into a bookstore or a library that has archives of books. I mean, you just see there are hundreds of books about hundreds of diets. So, let’s talk about this dieting mentality. How do we turn away from it? Because why do you feel so strongly that we need to break away from this dieting culture?

Lindsey: I will tell you, I have seen one too many amazing… I’m going to say women because that’s my clientele, but this covers everybody, females, males. But one too many amazing women walk through my doors who are so excited about all their progress, they’re moving more, their fruits and vegetables increase. They could rattle off this list and smile through it and be proud. And then all of a sudden, put on the scale, the face changes. And it’s because this number came up and the number doesn’t even have to be weight gain. It could be maintenance. It could be lost, but it wasn’t the amount of loss that they were hoping for, that it just destroys the momentum.

And it also defines, is it going to be a good day? Is it not a good day? All this number where it’s so much more than that. So, when we think about turning away from diet mentality, we’re really finding that next way to measure our success and how important it is to dig deep that ask why until you cry. Like, why do you care about being on this health and fitness journey in the first place? Because, yes, everybody starts with, “I want to lose weight.” But then you ask, “Why do you want to lose weight?” “I want to lose weight because it really helps my knee pain.” “Well, why do you care about your knee pain?” “Because I want to get on the floor and play with my grandchildren without having to look for things to help me stand back up.” “Well, why is that important?” “Because I want to spend all this amazing time and have energy for my grandkids or get on a roller coaster or get on an airplane.” And it’s like, oh, there’s so much more meaning behind health than diet culture provides. Diet culture provides quick fixes and quick weight loss that don’t equate to this long-term, both mental and physical health.

Dr. Sandi: I agree completely. And we see this all the time. And our health coaches ask those kinds of questions like, what do you want your health for? And seeing it as health, not the weight on a scale. And yet people… I’m 74. I have friends who are still stuck in that mentality. I had a good friend say she’s not happy. She’s gained about 10 pounds and, “I’m going to go on a diet.” And they’re still thinking in terms of “going on a diet.” But what are some of the dangers? Why is the scale so deceiving and such a bad tool for tracking progress?

Lindsey: Well, and we’ll start with a simple piece of this, but just the water weight alone. I know that it’s not an exact science with the numbers, but let’s just throw out that number of 3,500 calories to gain a pound or 3,500 calories to lose a pound. So, when people are stepping on and off that scale every day or multiple times in a day, the only thing they’re seeing is water weight fluctuations. So, they’re getting that little reward system of, “Woohoo, I did well,” or, “I’m a failure,” and it’s not even relevant. It’s really not telling them a true story.

So, their facts aren’t straight, which is really defeating when, like I said, what if somebody says, “I’ve moved more, and I ate healthier, but the scale went up”? Guess what we’re going to do? We’re going to fall off that great momentum of eating healthier and moving more because it didn’t link in our brain to success. And so I feel like the scale is so damaging because it’s not telling our brain the true story and therefore we’re not following the research-based, evidence-based path of what does create success. So, it frustrates me.

And it goes deeper, the layering of if we’re only looking to that as our success or failure, we’re missing these other components of, “Hey, what does our blood work look like? What are our labs, the things that might keep our brain healthier in the future, or prevent a stroke, or prevent heart attack?” that it almost deceives us. It takes our eye off the prize where what if we got a lot more focused on our lab work and how much food can positively impact that lab work and movement can, that now the focus is on something that is letting us go into our 70s and 80s with muscle strength and with brain health and with energy. So, that excites me where the scale I feel like just quickly takes away that…it takes away our power.

Dr. Sandi: Yes, and so many women feel that the scale is it, and as you said, whether you have a good day or a bad day, I probably, over the course of my life, lost and gained back those 5, 8 pounds. When I was in college and all through my 20s, it was all about the scale. I remember when I was getting married, I was 22. This was like 52 years ago. And, yes, I was 95 pounds. I had reached that goal. It didn’t matter that I had no idea about skinny fat in those days. Who knew from that? But that’s what I was. I was skinny fat, not realizing that every time I would gain those pounds and lose them back, I was losing muscle and continue to lose muscle. So, I was metabolically busted. I was not healthy. I had a high percentage of body fat. We didn’t talk about that. And we certainly didn’t talk about muscle mass.

And now I have a scale and I don’t look at the weight at all. I look at the skeletal muscle mass and see if I’m maintaining, if I’m gaining there. That is the important criteria or resting metabolic rate. So, I wonder if you could comment on that. And do you help people see that there are better markers on your home scale?

Lindsey: Yes, absolutely. We do have to get a nicer home scale. And if you don’t have the funds for that, there are doctor’s offices or workout facilities, typically if you call around, that you can pay a small nominal fee and get on their device that measures what you’re talking about, that bioelectrical impedance that can give us our body fat percentage and see where our skeletal muscle mass is. And people talk DEXA scans on this too. Like, I actually think this is a really good conversation with your healthcare provider to just say, “I would like to have a much better insight of my insides. And do you at your office provide anything like that? And if not…” I like to talk almost generalized about this a little bit because our surrounding areas provide different opportunities. Sometimes our doctor’s office has a body-in-line type scale that provides all that. Not always, but we have to start asking the questions.

Dr. Sandi: Absolutely. And a good question is, I think, on a deeper psychological level, what are the markers of success? If women are so tied to the scale, “It’s a good day/bad day. This is unsuccessful. I’m failing at my diet. I blew it again,” what do you do to help people overcome that and see that there are genuine, authentic ways that they can feel successful?

Lindsey: Yes, thank you for that question because I feel like it’s a tricky one. They’re not as tangible, but there’s ways to get at it. And I love this. One of the psychologists that I worked by for many years, she developed the scale of success survey and it’s 50 questions. And it goes through questions that talk about irritability, that talk about sleep, that talk about how you feel about yourself in that day. And it words them in all different ways. So, you’re covering energy, mood as well as body, weight loss. It’s all-inclusive in there. And what I like to do with my clients is, when we first start meeting together, have them take that scale of success survey, and then months into our journey, retake it because I think what’s really interesting is they don’t realize that something’s affecting them until they answer the question differently the next time. So, I’ll give an example with that, but they might not realize that energy is affecting their day until they go back through a question and say, “I was indifferent about energy, and now I’m saying I have good energy.” And normally that trickles into the emotional component of, “I’m less irritable with other people around me in the day.”

It’s just a way to what feels not tangible to bring it down to paper to go, “Hey, look, you really are succeeding whether or not the scale’s telling you that or not or whether you feel it.” And I have a specific client right now who keeps going, “I don’t think anything’s working.” And then when prompted with the right questions, she’s like, “Well, my brain’s in a totally different space than I’ve ever been in my life.” But the scale is not changing, right? And so it’s like, “Go back to that scale of success and now tell me that nothing’s working or changing.”

Whereas society tells us the success measure is weight loss. And what if you just had total brain transformation? To me, that’s more exciting. Like you said, there’s some individuals who are going into their 80s and still struggling with diet mentality. And I think for a lot of individuals, that gets scary to think, “Oh, it doesn’t just disappear at some time. Like, I actually have to work on this or this could be me forever.” So, it’s a process.

Dr. Sandi: It’s definitely a process that we’re continually addressing and focusing on to help people lead healthier, happier lives. And as health coaches, what they will do is guide people in that direction to appreciate all of the things and all the ways that they have changed, perhaps since they’ve changed their way of eating or they’re moving more, exercising more during the day. When I was working as a health psychologist, I remember a lot of people had stubborn weight loss. It was just not coming off, and they would come to me specifically for that issue, or their doctors would refer them to me. And we often looked at the full picture because they were so focused on calories in, calories out. But when addressing things like sleep, how have you been sleeping lately or what about what’s going on that’s extremely stressful in your life? What’s going on with your relationships? So, looking at the full picture of all of those lifestyle factors, it’s not just the things you eat.

But turning to the things you eat, we still seem to have this mistaken notion that a calorie is a calorie. And I wonder if you’d comment on that because you go to the grocery store and you see all these hundred-calorie snack packs and people are still focused on counting calories. Does that work or is that completely outmoded? Do we need to just eat not for calories?

Lindsey: Oh, gosh, there’s never a simple answer. I think I’m going to attack this way, that if it really was just calories in, calories out, then anybody who truly was following that formula would get that consistent weight loss. And I know that you and I both know that we’ve seen plenty of people hand over their sheets, and it looks like it should be working perfectly and it’s not.

So, then there’s all these onion layers. I think the calories are a nice place. If people are willing to…like to do the research a little bit, it can be a good place to start. And then if you start there and you can look at it as research and you don’t get too caught up in it, it’s a wonderful… If it’s working for you, then go ahead and glance at the calories in, calories out. But then if that’s not working, we need to peel the next onion layer back and go, “If we are battling something like insulin resistance and we’re saying 100 calories is 100 calories, 100 calories from a carbohydrate is probably going to affect our body differently than 100 calories from protein.” So, there’s that whole onion layer. And then there’s the next whole onion layer is, are we dealing with any sort of autoimmune disorder, something that we might need a medication in order to actually see weight loss?

So, I’m hoping to bring hope to your community today that no one’s a lost cause, but it does seem a little stressful and this is where I love your health coaches because the health coaches will ask the right questions to keep pulling back the onion layers and that your listeners are not supposed to understand this on their own. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by going, “Oh, I’m hearing all of this and I have no idea how to get to the answer.” You’re not supposed to know. Sandi and I couldn’t even right this second tell you what’s happening. We’d have to peel back the layers with you. But there is a journey to the answer, so don’t give up.

Dr. Sandi: Absolutely. I think that is wonderful advice. Not give up, be persistent, have hope, and have that vision out there. This is where I want to be and continually working towards it, overcoming setbacks. I used to say that it’s like trending on… You’re charting a stock, for example, the stock market, it’s not a straight drop or a straight rise. It is up and down. And so you will have those ups and downs, especially if you’re monitoring the scale, which we’re saying is not productive for you because there’s reasons it’s going up and down that are out of your control that you may not be aware of.

I don’t think our conversation with dieting would be complete if we didn’t talk about the latest craze, which is the GLP-1 agonists, Ozempic, Wegovy, and we’re seeing children being prescribed. There are pediatricians advocating. And what my position has been is that this is not an either/or. If you are embarking on this journey with these medications, if you are working, if you have the support to focus on lifestyle and also are doing resistance training, not losing muscle, that is going to be a better option than if you are relying on this medication and then what happens when you go off. So, I wonder if you could comment on that.

Lindsey: Yes, and you already hit so many good points, but I’m just going to reiterate some of them because this technically could look like any other diet. I don’t care if it’s surgical weight loss, if it’s a GLP-1, if it’s a Jenny Craig, WeightWatchers. Like, everything has its success factors or things that could work really well for any given individual. I never throw out anything because I feel like when the right support is provided, when we have the right knowledge behind it, it’s a tool.

And what’s happened that’s been hard with this tool of medication is that because people can see quick results with it, if the resistance training isn’t paired with it, if the right amount of protein isn’t paired with it, you nailed it, then you lose weight, but you’re losing muscle mass weight with some fat weight. But it’s really hard to get that muscle mass back. So, we’re putting ourselves at a detriment. The second that we try to go off of it or that we’re not as focused, now we’re back to that diet mentality of, “Yes, I’ve lost the weight, but is it lifelong attainable for me?”

So, I know I’m giving you a long answer with this, but I really feel like if somebody is considering it and considering it with the right healthcare professional that’s ready to team up and really do this properly, you need to ask yourself the question of, “Can I see myself eating this new way lifelong? Can I see myself working out this way lifelong?” And if the answer’s no, that’s a really good way to self-check on, “Am I doing the diet mentality thing again? Is there actually brain work that needs to happen before I need to go on anything?” Because it’s the brain piece. It’s the emotional eating. It’s the, “I skip eating all day.” There’s all these other pieces that, if that’s not worked through, the medication will be temporary. And then I feel like it’s detrimental.

Dr. Sandi: That was so well said and my feelings exactly. Let’s turn to this notion of an accountability coach. Can you describe why you call yourself an accountability coach?

Lindsey: Yes. So, again, I really do feel like people always say, “I know what to do. I just need to do it.” And then the interesting piece with that, there is a quote that says, “To know and not do is to not know.” So, with that, it’s important I feel like in the accountability coaching is to acknowledge that there are barriers. There’s a reason why you’re not doing what you’re saying you should do. And it is part of all of our coaching jobs to make sure that we help be the eyes for the client to say, “You probably don’t realize this, but this piece of the puzzle is really a barrier for you. It’s not about once you’re at the gym, it’s actually about that the bag never got packed in the morning.”

So, there’s these things called entry points into behavior changes. And I love to think about the entry point into a behavior. If it’s not happening, we’re not going to do the behavior if it doesn’t flow in our life. And so getting to be the accountability coach, yes, we get to talk through all the different ways that we can make these healthy behaviors happen in life and then get to circle back to them. And if they didn’t happen, then we throw that one out and we try a new one. Like, if you know that we talked about you’re going to try to work out once this week and you’re going to meet with me again next week, what is the likelihood that you’ll do that behavior? Probably pretty high, right? And that’s where I love the accountability piece. I feel like we sometimes use it with money, with financial. We can sometimes use it in all these other areas, and we forget or we think that we’re weak-minded if we use accountability in health. And where’d that come from? Like, why are we so hard on ourselves? They’re like, “Why do I have to pay somebody in order to, like, show up to the gym?” Because if it makes the difference of you showing up or not showing up, then it was worth its weight in gold. Accountability is a beautiful thing.

Dr. Sandi: Absolutely. And we’re not Nike, the famous slogan, “Just do it.” We can’t just do it. We need accountability. We need support. We need guidance. When we make a pledge, it’s our word. And I hear people say, “I heard the coach in my head, and I didn’t take that extra cookie.” So, it is something that is remarkable. And I look back and I see my husband and my husband’s family. They’ve struggled with weight. My husband’s father, my father-in-law, was overweight and there was an organization that he belonged to and he was very involved. It was called TOPS, Take Off Pounds Sensibly. You may have heard of it in the local branch. Okay, so he was the social chairman. Every summer, they had a picnic, and they had an ice day with the whole family. Their families would come, but they had an ice cream truck. They had all these five-calorie laden sugary foods. And they were all eating it because, well, I’ll go back on my diet on Monday. And that was the mentality. And they didn’t have accountability coaches for that. So, that is how far we have come with the field of what you do with health coaches and a complete 360 turnaround in terms of the dieting culture and that mentality of, “I’m off my diet, I’ll go back on Monday. I’m starting my diet on Monday.” And you’re on it and then you’re off it. And you go back to everything you were eating and doing before.

Lindsey: Yes. And you hit the nail on the head with the I’ll start Monday or I’ll… It’s really hard to get out of that mentality. If you’ve ever had it built into your life, and you and I both know that there’s some girls who have been… And gentlemen too. I so apologize. I keep limiting our people. Since little, like we’re talking elementary school. So, we are unlinking and disconnecting things that have really been programmed in someone’s brain since childhood, which takes time. It’s hard.

Dr. Sandi: Yes, we got this from our moms. “I need to reduce” is what they called it. I need to reduce. I need to slim down. So, this has been a fascinating conversation, Lindsey. Tell us where we can find you.

Lindsey: You are so sweet, healthaccountabilitycoach.com. And this is where I got to meet, Sandi, Direction Not Perfection is my podcast. And that’s really my favorite place to have people come just check out the feel. It’s just one of those. If this all resonates with you, there is a happy home outside of diet culture that you can be plugged into to keep getting these weekly, daily, motivational bursts that there’s a different way to do this.

Dr. Sandi: There sure is. Thank you for spending time with us today. It’s been such a pleasure.

Lindsey: I’m so honored. Thank you again for the invite.