Diet is defined as a prescribed selection of foods, the usual food and drink consumed by a person or animal, or the act of restricting food intake (1). That last definition casts a negative light on dieting and for that reason, as a dietitian, I try to avoid the term – even if it is a part of my professional title. However, diet is a common and recognizable word, so it constantly creeps into conversations, wanted or not.
Trendy diets have swept our nation for years. When entering diet into a search engine, one link lists 82 recent diets, none of which I recommend (2). No wonder the term diet is associated with unsustainable, unsatisfying eating patterns that lead to temporary weight loss, often followed by a surge in weight gain as the confused and restricted dieter declares, “enough!”
As a dietitian practicing a vegetable-based, high nutrient diet, who am I to talk about restrictive diets? I prescribe specific food regimens for sick or struggling individuals, and certainly it makes sense to identify diet as the usual food and drink consumed. But if a diet is not embraced by the dieter none of the technicalities matter! Nutritional choices don’t just reflect diet; they reveal a way of living. Until our daily food choices portray an overall healthy lifestyle, temporary attempts to dabble in the latest fad diet will fail.
When I initially transformed my eating patterns, from the Standard American Diet (SAD), many people felt sorry for me while others thought I was extreme. I did not hesitate to make the changes. I believed in the potential of excellent nutrition to aid my body’s self-healing capabilities to restore my health – and I eventually saw major improvements.
I started to look better, feel better, think better, and live better in addition to many other tremendous benefits. Aside from the obvious health rewards of reduced body weight, lowered cholesterol, blood pressure and triglyceride levels, choosing food based on nutrition enhances disease maintenance, reversal, and prevention while also sparing the environment and living creatures.
So, when people say things like, “I know your diet is strict/limited,” or, “what DO you eat?,” I think to myself, ‘limited? I enjoy eating quality food – and more than I ever have!’ I contemplate how much I appreciate high-nutrient fruits and vegetables in all of their glorious colors and flavors. About how I love discovering a new enticing recipe to try, how I find preparing ingredients therapeutic, and how I delight in savoring the combination of tastes, textures, and nutrients as they burst with flavor in my mouth.
Of course, removing highly sweetened, processed and commercialized foods, salt, animal products (read: saturated fat and cholesterol) has other benefits. I savor knowing that our food is helping and not harming our bodies. I’ve learned that we can experience the refreshment of actually preparing real food – not just unwrapping pre-packaged imitations. And after relishing a multi-course meal, I know we don’t have to feel guilty or gluttonous – we can feel simply satisfied.
So, instead of feeling bogged down by constant hunger or withdrawal from adulterated food and beverages, I experience a deep satisfaction from the foods I choose to eat. I feel healthier from the inside out, which liberates me from poor health, a reliance on prescription drugs, medical burdens, food dilemmas, weight problems, boring meals, and a dependence on packaged foods. My so-called “diet” in all of its colorful variation and deliciousness is what I call the spice-of-life!