What is a diet, and can a lifestyle be a diet?


When people find out I’m a Registered Dietitian, I often hear things along the lines of “oh, so do you put people on diets?” and I don’t blame them for coming to that conclusion. Heck, the word diet is in the name. But as a health professional and a nutrition expert, going on a diet is the last thing I would recommend to be well. What we know (and what the research shows) is that 95% of diets don’t work, and diets actually lead to rebound weight gain and disordered thoughts and behaviors around food. But what exactly is a diet?

Dieting is the act of restricting the amount and/or type of food you eat in order to lose weight. Going on a diet entails demonizing a food, food group, or macronutrient. Diets ignore hunger/fullness cues and take the pleasure out of food.  Sometimes a diet is obvious (aka has diet in the name, examples: Atkins diet, cabbage soup diet, gluten free diet) and other times it's disguised as a sneaky liar in lifestyle form. Examples of “lifestyles” that are actually diets include paleo, counting macros, whole30, “clean eating”.

Why is cutting out or restricting food problematic? When an entire food group is removed from the diet, we are cutting out nutrients that our body needs. For example, cutting out carbohydrates removes fiber and B vitamins. Cutting our dairy removes calcium and some protein. Removing sugar takes away pleasure and glucose, our bodies preferred source of fuel. Not only does it take away from true nourishment, but cutting out foods and demonizing them also creates shame and anxiety when we do eat those foods, which can spiral into disordered eating.

There is a different between dieting and choosing foods based on your preference. If in the moment salmon, wild rice and broccoli sounds better than pizza THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. But making a choice from a place of “I should eat this to be healthy" is the diet mentality. There is also a difference between being a vegan(choosing not to eat animal products) for animal rights, versus avoiding animal products because you were told that you may lose weight(lies!). Remember, nothing is black or white when it comes down to nutrition.

All in all, we were born knowing how to eat-dieting has strayed us away from that. We can trust our bodies inner wisdom to choose foods that are satisfying, nourishing, and from a variety of food groups (so that we get all sorts of nutrients). All foods fit into a healthful relationship with food when we don’t rely on diets to tell us what to eat.