Thursday Thoughts: Diet

It's Thursday, so you know what that means...

Thursday Thoughts

If you are new to my blog, or haven't been reading on Thursdays, this is a segment where I post my thoughts about various nutrition and health related topics, or maybe even something else if it is really an intriguing topic.  Most of my current views and opinions come from experience working as a dietitian and as college instructor in nutrition courses.  Most of that learning is science based or observational from the clinical setting.  In general, I hate over-generalizations, so for many of the things I post, I expect there is one or two exceptions because broad sweeping generalizations are always bound to miss out on something. 

Today I want to talk about the word diet.  It is a simple 4 letter word that packs a punch whenever you hear it in conversation.  I like this word, but not in the context it has morphed into in recent years.  I call this new meaning the media definition.  So, here are my thoughts:

1) The original definition, without quoting directly from any dictionary, would be any food or beverage consumed for nourishment.  Therefore, anything you eat or drink is your diet.  People have various methods of finding the diet that works for them, but all in all, their diet is what they eat.  Somewhere along the line, this word developed a negative connotation and now when we hear it, it usually means a restriction of calories and food groups or certain foods.  This means diet now means food and beverage that we DO NOT consume for nourishment.  I hate that this word has become so ugly and twisted into something that everyone feels like they need to restrict something so they can be on a diet.  In my own opinion, you were on a diet to begin with, since that was the food and drink you were consuming.  By going on a diet I am not sure what the heck they think they were doing before that.

2) This is why I tell people to change their diet, not go on a diet.  They had a diet to begin with, so going on a diet means they weren't eating before, and we know that is not what is meant at all.  When we go on something, like a diet, it is so easy to go right back off.  It happens all the time.  I hear "I was on a diet, but I am off it today".  What does that even decided to starve yourself a little, but now you think maybe you'll indulge because the starving thing just didn't work out...really?  Changes are things that people tend to stick with.  I rarely hear "I made some changes to my diet, but I was really unhappy with them so I unchanged my diet back to something I know is a little unhealthy".  Nope, doesn't really happen that way.  If you are struggling to go on a diet, it is inevitable you will go off this, so you might as well stick with a lifelong program and just change your diet.  You will never have to say again "I'm going on a diet".

3) When adults say things like "I need to diet" it reinforces to younger generations that this is how it is supposed to be or that is how adults act.  I do not think that parents should let children think that adulthood is about being unhappy with your body and always trying to diet to make yourself better in other people's eyes.  This reinforces that people need to be skinny to be liked.  Dieting in the pop culture sense of the word can pose serious health risks, and when kids start this pattern early, it sets them up for a lifetime of potential weight problems because they will never learn how to eat healthy.

4) That brings me to the next point.  When kids learn early on how to follow a healthy diet plan, they will never have to "diet" and can lead a healthy life.  It is a lot easier to change poor eating habits when they are children than when they are in college, or have their own kids.  Starting younger is the way to go, and this is entirely up to parents.  I do think that the eating behaviors of children are 100% a reflection of the parents.  Yes, children will sneak foods or want to have a treat, but ultimately, they should know healthy foods from unhealthy foods, and which to eat more often versus which are for special occasions or sometimes.  We all know there is no such thing as a bad food, it all has to do with how much we eat.  A small bag of potato chips once a month is a lot different from a bag a day.  That is why these are behaviors that need to be taught or demonstrated early on.  Parents can make a difference and should not think that they have no reason to change their diet because they can lose weight just by "dieting".

5) Last up is dieting to lose weight.  As I already said, I don't like the meaning of the word diet as in something cut out to lose weight.  Losing weight is not the part people really have trouble with.  The diet book/pill industry is a billion dollar industry, we see people dieting all the same, and people have no problem dieting.  The part people have a problem with is maintaining a weight loss.  There is a huge difference between losing weight and losing it and keeping it off.  The one that really matters is the keeping it off part.  Dieting may lead to weight loss, but it won't lead to keeping it off, which then leads to weight gain, and guess what...more dieting.  It does no one any good to yo-yo diet or diet/regain/diet/regain and so on.  The only real way to keep off the weight is get rid of the habits that put the weight there in the first place.  In my opinion, which I might add is based on my training in weight management and science/research, the only real way to effectively lose weight and keep it off is to change your diet, not go on a diet.

There you have, my thoughts on the word diet.  It is a 4 letter word that gets so much attention.  I wish it was possible to go back to the original old school definition, but I doubt that will ever happy.  It is so sad to see that something so positive was turned into something so negative.  I hope for the future of our children, something is done to change the emphasis from dieting, to eating foods for nutrition and health, which will hopefully lead to maintaining a healthy weight.  I could probably go on about this all day, but I think I will end it there.

QUESTION:  What are your thoughts on the word diet?


Beth said...

I think dieting, especially constant dieting is so bad for people. I know it took me a long time to get over food issues because my mom was constantly "dieting" and I thought I needed to too.

But now that I'm on a soy-free diet, I do find using the word to be the easiest way to explain to people what I do and don't eat.

MelindaRD said...

Beth, that is precisely the way I think the term should be used!

Kristen (swanky dietitian) said...

Great post! I agree that with kids it is so important to introduce healthy eating at a young age. It doesn't get any easier as they get older.

Andrea@WellnessNotes said...

Your Thursday Thoughts posts are always great, and I really like this one! It's such an important topic! (Incidentally, yesterday I discussed the different meanings/connotations of the word "diet" with one of my ESL classes....)

I especially like your point about kids. Yes, they really do what they see us doing (at least in the long run.) It's so important to show them that it's important to eat a healthy, balanced diet (with the occasional treats and all) and not to do "crazy" things...

Gina; The Candid RD said...

Great post. I couldn't agree more, I HATE the word DIET! For work we have a diabetes class that we call "The Journey To a Healthier Lifestyle". I try not to use the word diet, EVER, unless I am just referring to food, in general.

I get so frustrated when I see younger kids getting fed crappy food all day long (Nick's nieces, for example). I always want to butt in and say, "NOOOO, let them start eating healthy NOW because it will only get more difficult as they age!!", but obviously I can't do that. It's sad :( I thank goodness my parents raised me with fruits and veggies, because I LOVE them!

Special K said...

I, too, cringe when people say "I need to go on a diet." I commonly say, you already are on one! and then I ask...WHY? What do you think you may get out of "dieting"?
I am not a fan of diets. I think the restriction actually leads people to feel disempowered and malnourished. Food can't be broken down into just its physical components...they are also spiritual and psychological in nature.

Again, I love your thoughts....

Is it hard to have the title
DIETICIAN in this culture?

Unknown said...


Most welcome. A particular selection of food, especially as designed or prescribed to improve a person's physical condition and to treat a disease is known as balance diet. Thanks a lot...

Bariatric Surgery Diet

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