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When is a diet not a diet?

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a plate of healthy food
November 05, 2022 Trevor Dias

The word diet evokes so many emotions in many people

The word diet evokes so many emotions in many people, unfortunately not usually happy ones. When most people hear, see or think of the word diet, they shudder - as it usually means tough, rigid, harsh, bland, boring, painful, and for most - failure!

Until recently, I avoided using the word diet for the above reasons. However, after understanding the word's history and origins, I love it - and think everyone else should too. So before I get into the definition of 'diet', which I love, let's address what I believe diet means to most people: Avoid consumption of certain food groups, only eat specific food groups and avoid anything they love (chocolate, cake, crisps etc.). 

There are a million and one (and counting examples of these):

  • The Atkins diet

  • The Paleo diet

  • The Ketogenic diet

  • The Low-Fat diet

  • The Carnivore diet

  • The Cabbage diet

  • The Smoothie diet

  • The list goes on...

Now it's also important that I state I am 100% supportive of anyone who adheres to something for religious, ethical or medical reasons:

  • Fasting (check out IW)

  • Vegan (Check out SL)

  • Vegetarian

  • Gluten-free

  • etc

Every natural macro and micronutrient plays an imperative role in the hugely complex and outrageously fantastic makeup of the human body.

Anyway, back to my issue with the former. It is not that they don't and can't work to hit a particular goal (for example, lose weight). My issue is mainly twofold:

  1. They are unhealthy: Every natural macro and micronutrient plays an imperative role in the hugely complex and outrageously fantastic makeup of the human body. Most 'restriction diets' deprive vital nutrients and, in some cases, even a whole macronutrient group of foods.

  2. They are unsustainable: I never have, yes NEVER met a single person who has partaken in one of those diets which did not, over time, end up back above the initial weight they started at…….. Yep, the fabled Yo-Yo dieter.

A way of living

Alas - to the version of the word diet, I love. The word diet originates in the Greek phrase diaita, which means a way of living. I love this, as it is ultimately something you do forever, something sustainable, something you enjoy, something that, over time, comes naturally, without a second thought and becomes a way of life!

And how do you do that? 

Well, this is where it can get very complicated, and there is a whole book's worth of content on this alone. I will also be writing other blogs that pay particular attention to the different aspects of diet, so keep an eye out for those. However, for this blog's purpose, I will keep it simple and high-level.

For most, this means forgetting everything they have ever been taught about the word diet. The key is to change the perception and focus on making your diet something that is sustainable, a way of life, and ultimately something you will do for the rest of your life:

  • The issue is never food itself; it is your relationship with it 
  • No foods are off limits - Yey for White Chocolate Toblerone
  • Eat with the prime focus on nourishing the mind and body
  • Experiment with foods; find ones that you love and that fit into your life
  • Eat the rainbow, lots of natural fruits, vegetables and salads
  • Never remove a whole macronutrient; carbs, Protein & fats are all vital

Ultra-Processed foods

Although I did want to keep this high level and not go down any rabbit holes, I would like to address ultra-processed foods. Changing your relationship with these is not only the most fundamental thing but can also be the hardest. People will argue for days over the definition of natural, processed and ultra-processed foods - I like to define them as follows:

Natural: Think of this as anything in or as close to its source as possible: plant, vegetable, fruit, chicken breast, or rice. Yes, it may have gone through some processing, but in doing so, no other ingredient has been added. 

Processed: Think of this as something that is no longer in its original/ natural state due to the addition or inclusion of another ingredient(s). What is important here is that the ingredients are minimal (think five) and natural (think salt, paprika, garlic - basically anything you would find in a standard kitchen cupboard or fridge).

Ultra-Processed: Think of this as anything with an ingredient list longer than your arm. And it has something on that list that you've never even heard of, can't even pronounce and definitely wouldn't find in a standard kitchen cupboard or fridge.

No more than 20% of your calories should come from ultra-processed foods

In order of preference and quantity, you should be getting most of your calories from natural food sources, a smaller amount from processed food sources and more minor still from ultra-processed food sources. In an ideal world, I would go as far as to limit all ultra-processed foods, but this would go against my philosophy and methodology. 

We have to acknowledge the life we all now lead and the environment we all operate within. It is busy, stressful and, unfortunately, the vast majority of foods we have access to are ultra-processed. Just stop for a minute and think about everything you have consumed today; I would hazard a guess at least 80% of it would be from ultra-processed food sources (don't forget that can of Coke). That isn't very comforting! 

Be warned

Something unique will happen when you do this. Your mind and body will change. They will naturally start to crave good quality, nutritious foods, which will become a habit. It will be something you naturally do without even thinking.

You will experience something else whenever you deviate from your diet. Something every adult dreads... A hangover!

You read that right; you will get a food hangover the next day. This is because your body will be so used to your diet that it will rebel when you feed it sugar, salt and ultra-processed foods. As a result, you will wake up groggy, dehydrated and lethargic. Take this as the positive that it is - you will return to your regular diet instantly to feel like the healthy, fit, productive you again.

See here for an example of how I balance this on a typical day.

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