“Diet” is a Four Letter Word

I detest the word “diet.” The noun technically describes what an animal eats. The verb, however, means the purposeful change in diet (n.) to foster weight loss through a reduction in specific foods and/or calories. Both noun and verb connote the hopeless impermanence of New Years resolutions. So if I tell people I’m on a low fat, low sugar, plant based, whole foods diet. They say, “Are you trying to lose weight?” or “How’s it working? Have you lost weight?” As if the only reason for changing one’s diet is to fit into a smaller pair of jeans.

Our society’s obsession with food and dieting is unhealthy. We all know this. So that’s why I try not to use the word “diet” when I talk about what I do and don’t eat. I prefer the term “nutritional plan.” My food choices are part of a plan based on personal research and professional advice intended to provide my body with nutrition and energy. I’m treating my my mind, body and soul — not my waist line.

As Erin discussed in her post yesterday, I kept a journal to figure out what foods and situations triggered migraines and stomach problems. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, food is part of a treatment plan, but there isn’t one standard diet for every patient. The more I think about it, the more I realize it’s crazy that one diet claims to work for everyone.

There was a time when I ate to satisfy my hunger, without much thought for nutritional value.  Or I ate to make myself feel better. I was am an emotional eater, i.e. I deserve this cupcake because I had a really bad day!

Cupcake I bought several months ago (before I changed my nutritional plan) from a delicious Italian bakery.

I believe food can be prepared for enjoyment, however, pleasure can’t be the only consideration in what we eat. Likewise, food is not the only source of pleasure in life. The biological purpose of eating is to provide our bodies with nutrients and energy to survive. Which is kind of a “Duh!” idea, but I find it hard to grasp at times, especially if I’m really hungry, working late, or getting a craving.

Rootbeer Float Cupcakes from the Happy Herbivore Cookbook p241. I baked these a few weeks ago to satisfy my sweet tooth. They're vegan and low fat!

Focusing on the nutrition and health aspects of my individualized plan helps me stay focused when I walk past a bakery or a pizza place (there are so many in NYC!). This nutritional plan is just one part of a larger journey towards a more balanced life. Which is why I’m not dieting and I hope this isn’t just a fad.

What kind of nutritional plan are you on? Do you have issues with the word “diet?”



  1. The problem with a diet — or dieting as a verb — is that it conjures up images of being temporary. Because I will never manage to keep my weight healthy if I lose it in an unsustainable way. Sure, I can temporarily swear off french fries altogether (and I have, at points) but it’s far better for me if I make it an occasional treat, something that’s not forbidden, but not eaten twice a week either.

    I don’t know if I’m organized enough to have a very detailed plan; but my general thought process is fiber-rich carbs for breakfast, some protein, fruits and veggies if possible with lunch, and heavy on the lean protein and veggies for dinner.

    It’s an imperfect plan that’s sometimes derailed by sweets lying around at the office and emotional or bored eating, but that’s the sort of thing that works for me — not to have a specific menu planned out, but to try to get those key elements in every day.

    1. I think that sounds like a great plan! I have more restrictions on what I can eat based on my stomach problems. Other than that though, I believe in occasional treats, like you said. I try to cook multiple meals at a time I have lunches for work, but sometimes I decide to order in or go out at the last minute. Then other weeks, I barely make it into the kitchen. I think realizing all eating plans are “imperfect” is one of the most important lessons. At first, I was frustrated because I didn’t want to eat quinoa, kale and sweet potatoes every day, but I thought I should. Then I realized that was totally unrealistic. What I eat changes from day to day and week to week but there are consistent themes. Maybe “nutritional theme” is a better term for what we’re doing here 🙂 Thanks for the the feedback! You have such a great perspective!

      1. Ha, thanks 🙂

        I like quinoa (although I find it a pain to cook), I like kale, I like sweet potatoes — but no way can I eat all the same thing day after day. (Though that reminds me that I should start buying sweet potatoes again now that it’s fall. And squash. On that note, I’m a believer in eating seasonally, so I’m going to eat different produce depending on what time of year it is.)

        I don’t always manage to practice what I preach, but getting it right most of the time still means a healthier me.

  2. I think the idea of having key elements that are important in your diet is a great one. Focusing on what you want to eat instead of what you can’t or shouldn’t eat means that you’re generally approaching eating with a positive feeling instead of feeling bad or guilty about what you’re eating.

  3. […] on us than the sum of its letters. Several posts ago I wrote about the meaning of the word “diet,” and it started some interesting conversations. So I thought it was time we broke down […]

  4. […] I mentioned, I radically changed my nutritional plan when I started acupuncture for health reasons. Over night I quit consuming processed foods, […]

  5. […] So then I tried was more conservative the rest of vacation. I will probably be strict with my nutritional plan the rest of the week as […]

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