What does the word diet mean to you?

A recent survey has revealed that 44% of slimmers say they previously saw fast weight loss as a priority when choosing a diet, only 7% still feel that way in 2014, according to the survey by Slimming World.

Clearly, the word diet as we have come to know it - restriction, the subtraction of food, isolation due to being unable to eat out or drink - is falling out of favour.

About time, too.

Diet has increasingly become a byword for a state of dysfunction that we find ourselves in, where we follow regimented eating plans which inevitably fail because it becomes too hard to stick to for a number of reasons.

diet

First, because some of us quite like the occasional pie or ice-cream cone, and - like smoking - once you've deviated from something strict and uncompromising, you might as well give in to temptation.

Second because it involves a lot of forward planning which isn't always possible depending on work commitments, and thirdly because eating to a specific diet (for example, mono meals, where you eat a bowl of only one thing such as papaya) can have a big impact on your social life because eating out then becomes a hellish minefield.

A spot test which almost invariably works, is to tell your female friends you're on a diet, and then sit back and watch the reaction.

The majority of them will veer between telling you that 'you don't need to lose weight' to trying to derail your diet by coaxing you to order the most indulgent thing at a restaurant. They aren't necessarily doing it to be bitchy: it's just a sign of what the word diet has come to mean.

So do we need a new attitude to what diet really means? Judging by some of the comments we've read on these pages, we should just live and let live. But based on what we've learned in 2013, that period of living may not be a very long time.

The hard facts are that obesity is an an epidemic in this country, and that conditions and diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are preventable by putting the right types of food into our mouths.

There have been a number of surveys and studies that reveal we overeat when we go to the gym regularly to reward ourselves for our hard work, undoing all our hard work. Some of us lead extremely sedentary lives which is steadily killing us. Others are consuming far too much food labelled low-fat than if it has been full-fat.

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For many of us who choose to diet for a *insert name of event here*, it carries deep-rooted associations of unpleasantness and, ultimately, inevitable failure.

Dietitian Priya Tew agrees: "The word diet has so many negative connotations that I think it would be better to move to a different word altogether. I definitely agree with encouraging people to eat healthily and to avoid restrictive and dangerous diets."

So we'd like to champion a new makeover for the word diet. To us, this comes down to a very simple principle: eating healthily and continuing to make healthy food choices for life, not just for an occasion.

But why has the word diet developed such an unsavoury association?

Celeb diets aren't without blame, but it's the responsibility of magazines in how they disseminate the information. Celebs aren't like us - they occupy a very specific body image-led job, in a small bubble of society. Yet we are told about celebs who eat baby food to lose weight, as if that would be a perfectly normal undertaking for a HR manager from Scunthorpe.

"A healthy lifestyle," says fitness and diet expert Francesca Fox of Francesca's Fit Kitchen, "is finding what works best for you not what magazines, celebrities or the latest fad diet promotes. We are all unique and we need to indenting and establish a path to health that reflects our own goals and lives."

She adds: "Giving up "dieting" is the first step to a truly happy, mind and body."


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HuffPost UK blogger and dietitian Chloe Phillips says that the problem also lies in the definition of the word.

"In the Oxford Dictionary unfortunately there are two definitions. The first - 'the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats' - is of course what I refer to, but the latter sadly involving restrictive eating is generally the one that the general population relate to.

"Even the term dietitian gets a bad rep because it includes this word. Diet should be associated with anything that involves our normal or recommended way of eating for health, and anything restrictive or unsustainable needs a new word or must always have the 'fad' prefix in front of it!"

While fitness author and expert Sam Feltham doesn't feel the word needs a rebrand, he says: "You can think of the word diet as being positive or negative one depending on your way of thinking but also on your experiences.

My advice would be if you have had negative experiences with diets, try a scientifically sound diet. Then your experience will be a positive one and your own personal definition of diet will change into a more positive outlook."

Sam may be right in that for clinically obese people wanting to lose weight, the word diet is a very real, reassuring term. When we spoke to Cacia Griggs who went from size 24 to size 10 on the Cambridge Diet, a meal replacement plan was her last hope because she'd tried and failed at so many others.

However, for those of us in the middle who do want a healthier approach to eating without resorting to such extremes, it is high time we take a look at what this word actually means. And it's nothing to be scared of.


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  • Fat Makes You Fat

    <strong>Why that's BS: </strong> It depends on the type of fats you're eating, says Tricia Psota, RD, a nutritionist based in Washington D.C. "Fats in chips, cookies, and greasy foods can increase cholesterol and your risk for certain diseases. But good fats, like nuts, avocados and salmon, protect your heart and support your overall health." And when paired with a healthy diet, the right fats can help keep you from being, well, fat, adds Sharon Palmer, RD, author of The Plant-Powered Diet.

  • Stop Snacking To Lose Weight

    <strong>Why that's BS:</strong> Eating in small, frequent amounts is a great way to curb hunger, control portion sizes, and make better nutritional choices, says Mike Clancy, CDN, a personal trainer at David Barton's Gym in New York City. "Smarter snacks like nuts, fruits, and yogurt will keep your energy levels high throughout the day." (Need proof? Our 400 Calorie Fix plan -- which involves three or four meals plus snacks -- can help you lose 11 pounds in just two weeks!)

  • A Calorie Is A Calorie -- And You Should Count Them

    <strong>Why that's BS:</strong> "Not all calories are the same," says Clancy. "The type of calories, the timing of the calories, and the quality of the calories can significantly alter the effect of the calories on the body," he says. "Food creates reactions within our bodies and the type of food you eat is an important component in diets." For example, 50 calories of an apple will cause a different internal reaction than 50 calories of cheesecake, says Clancy. "The quality of the calories is also important because the chemicals, hormones, and general byproducts that are found within processed food effects the absorption of real nutrients." Quality calories are nutrient dense, like spinach. Calories that don't contain any nutrients -- also known as "empty" calories -- are like the ones found in French fries. Bottom line: Calories are important for understanding portion control, but they’re not the only factor in good nutrition, says Clancy.

  • Cut Out Carbs

    <strong>Why that's BS:</strong> The research on carbohydrate intake is often misinterpreted, says Chrissy Carroll, MPH, RD, founder of Inspired Wellness Solutions, LLC. "Yes, it is true that excessive intakes of refined carbohydrates, like white bread or white rice, may lead to weight gain or increased cardiovascular risk. But there is no research suggesting that healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, or legumes, can negatively impact health or weight. On the contrary, many studies suggest a diet high in these plant-based foods is associated with better overall health." Case in point: A 2002 American College of Nutrition study that found replacing refined grains with whole-grain and minimally processed grain products, along with increasing the intake of fruits and veggies, can help lower dietary glycemic load and insulin demand. This, in turn, can ultimately reduce the risk of both type 2 diabetes and heart disease, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, manager of wellness nutrition services for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. So, keep the carbs! And aim for those that come from 100% whole grains or fruits, adds Kirkpatrick.

  • Load Up On Protein

    <strong>Why that's BS: </strong>Sorry, caveman lovers: eating lots of protein is not the key to healthy weight loss. Why? The body needs three macronutrients: Protein, carbohydrates, and fat, says Rania Batayneh, MPH, a nutritionist and author of the forthcoming The One One One Diet (published by Rodale, which also publishes Prevention), and focusing exclusively on protein for weight loss makes no sense. "You not only deprive your body of fiber and other antioxidants found in healthy carbohydrates -- whole grains, fruits, and veggies -- but you also run the risk of eating too much fat in your diet which can lead to high cholesterol and triglycerides.”

  • Go Gluten-Free To Lose Weight

    <strong>Why that's BS: </strong>There's no scientific evidence that gluten is a particularly fattening ingredient, says Palmer. "The problem is that we eat too many refined grains -- foods made of white flour or other refined grains," she says. And cutting gluten without checking with your doctor first can lead to deficiencies in important nutrients, such as fiber, iron, vitamin B12 and magnesium, says MaryAnne Metzak, CDN, a nutritionist in Southampton, NY. In the meantime, focus on getting healthy whole grains in moderate portions.

  • You Burn More Calories Working Out On An Empty Stomach

    <strong>Why that's BS:</strong> Working out with or without food in your stomach doesn't affect calorie burn -- but skipping meals before sweat sessions may result in muscle loss, finds a study published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal. And before you settle for a sports drink, know this: While a quick sip of sugar energizes your muscles, the drink’s other artificial additives can be harmful to your health, says Sanda Moldovan, DDS, MS, CNS, a diplomat of the American Academy of Periodontology. Instead, go for naturally sweet fruit, like bananas, peaches, and mangos before your sweat session. Or try an ounce of dark chocolate for the same caffeine fix you get from a half cup of coffee. "Chocolate also contains feel-good substances, called neurotransmitters, which are the same release during a 'runner's high,' " says Moldovan.

  • Eat Every Two Hours To Rev Your Metabolism

    <strong>Why that's BS:</strong> Going four or five (or even eight!) hours between normally-sized meals will not make your metabolism slow down, says Monica Reinagel, MS, a nutritionist based in Baltimore. "Eating more frequently may help stave off hunger, which can help you fight temptation. But if you want to do this, you have to be careful to keep your meals and snacks really small," she says. "Otherwise, eating every 2 hours can simply lead to taking in too many calories over the course of the day."

  • Watch What You Eat During The Week, But Take The Weekends Off

    <strong>Why that's BS: </strong>Throwing caution to the wind on the weekends can offset the consistency and success you had all week, says Batayneh. "On the weekends, we tend to sleep in, maybe missing our workout, typically drink more alcohol and have heavier meals. So if you lose about one pound between Monday and Friday, you just might gain it back -- or at least maintain it, really taking away the efforts towards weight loss." Which means if you're trying to lose weight, the weekends shouldn't be a free-for-all. You still need a plan, says Batayneh. Some suggestions: passing on the bread basket and limiting yourself to one cocktail.

  • Swear Off Forbidden Foods

    <strong>Why that's BS:</strong> "We tend to be in 'all or nothing' mode when we diet and never seem to find a middle ground," says Batayneh. "You have to realize that you can’t have pizza, French fries, and chocolate cake all in the same day, but -- with careful planning -- you can enjoy these foods when they are presented to you. Just don’t go for seconds and share if you can." In fact, research shows that moderately indulging in "forbidden foods" is what keeps people from bingeing on the stuff.