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Redefining the Word “Diet”

What does the word “diet” mean to you? On Friday I was interviewed for an upcoming documentary about dieting and the quest to be thin. I told the director that sadly, I once had a client who decided to start smoking in order to lose weight. She was fully aware of the health risks of smoking, but she wanted to lose weight so badly that she was willing to accept the side effects. I’ve also known many women and men who started to use illegal drugs to control their weight and became addicted, and throughout my 18 years as a practitioner, I’ve seen many, many people jump on and off the fad “diet” bandwagon, typically with the exact same result – they lose weight, but feel cranky, irritable, moody and fatigued in the process, then regain all the weight they lost plus more.

As Shape’s Weight Loss Coach and as a health professional, my goal is to support healthy approaches to weight loss and I don’t think that’s a contradiction in terms. The word “diet” has come to mean deprivation, starvation, and the drive to do anything to get thin, regardless of the laundry list of physical and emotional side effects it creates. That’s not how I define diet. The dictionary definition of diet is, “the sum of food consumed by a person or other organism.” A diet can be Mediterranean, vegetarian or vegan, organic, natural, or seasonal, and a “diet” can also be therapeutic, such as one that helps to promote healing or recovery from an illness. In short a "diet" is a way of eating.

In my opinion, an optimal “diet” is one that meets all of the following criteria:
-Provides the nutrients your body needs in the right amounts for optimal health and wellness
-Allows you to feel good physically and emotionally 
-Realistically works with your lifestyle
-Allows you to enjoy food

What I described above is something that is very self-nurturing. Someone who eats a “diet” that meets the above criteria would undoubtedly feel well and be physically healthy – and that’s what I want to help you do. 

If you're not there, one of the first steps is to rethink your relationship with food. Undereating doesn’t feel well physically or emotionally, and while overeating definitely feels good in the moment emotionally, it often results in negative consequences, both physically and emotionally.

So, today I have an assignment for you if you're up for it, and I hope you’ll leave comments to share your thoughts and feedback. Here it is:

Explore three recent or past eating experiences.

1. First, think of a meal or way of eating that left you feeling deprived and physically not well-nourished, one that didn’t give your body what it needed to feel healthy.

2. Next, describe a meal or way of eating that left you feeling like you overdid it - too full or stuffed, sluggish and not very well taken care of physically.

3. Finally, describe a meal or way of eating that left you feeling full but not overly full, satisfied, energized and nourished.

What circumstances led to each of the three? How did you feel before, during and after? If #3 allowed you to feel best physically, what factors get in the way of eating like this consistently (stress or emotional eating, social eating, being offered food and eating to be polite even if you’re not hungry, time constraints or eating on the go, not being aware of how full you’re getting while you’re eating…..). Let’s explore this together and see what we learn!

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