What does diet really mean?

We are what we eat, goes the saying. Certainly food plays a major part in our life, punctuating every day, often determining how we organise our time – and having a significant impact on the way we feel mentally, physically and emotionally.

As part of our attitude to food, we often talk about being on a diet. The interpretation of what a diet is tends to suggest a regime undertaken for one primary purpose: to lose weight.

In fact, that is somewhat misleading. Weight loss is only one aspect of what and how we eat, and it is not always the healthiest or most suitable way to feed ourselves.

The fact that there are so many fads must tell us something.

The word ‘diet’ actually comes from an ancient Greek word meaning ‘a mode of living’. Perhaps it is time to go back to that original derivation and see our diet as something far more holistic, as a whole way of approaching life and health.

Weight loss diets come and go. We’ve probably all tried at least one of them at some point, caught up in the hype, swearing by the latest one, drastically altering our food intake because we have been swept up in the dream.

The fact that there are so many fads must tell us something. There is no easy shortcut. Most weight loss diets involve a lop-sided approach, cutting out or focusing on a key food group. In the short-term there may be some instant, visible change, but in the long-term, balance and moderation pay far higher dividends.

You don’t need a guru to be able to re-assess and reconsider your diet, just good common sense. And we know that having too many rules about what we can or can’t eat often backfires; they become too restrictive and we end up throwing the diet book in the recycling bin before long, as we desperately crave the one thing we have been banished from eating!

For real, long lasting change, consider adjusting your overall eating plan to a healthy diet with achievable goals, and a structure that is liberating rather than constricting. Adjust the level of structure to your own instincts. You know yourself well: would it help if you had some clear guidelines, or would you like some room to improvise within an overall direction?

Taking time to think about your diet is a good chance to educate yourself about the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats, the beneficial impact on different aspects of health of different fruit and vegetables, grains and oils, the importance of drinking water. The deep-down nutritional science may be complex but usually the top-line information is easy to digest – pun fully intended! – and to take positive decisions about how to apply it to what you eat and drink.

You could explore the diets of other cultures – there is the Mediterranean diet, with bags of colour and flavour, but which has been shown to reduce the risk of that trio of modern scourges of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and strokes. Asian diets, which are based around rice, noodles, soya protein and fish, but with little in the way of red meat or dairy, offer an alternative route forward.

The knowledge you will gain provides the power to understand why you have decided to follow your personally bespoke, balanced diet. You will know what you hope to achieve, and by adjusting it to your individual likes, dislikes and expectations – with eminently manageable goals – you are far more likely to stick with it and see the benefits in your sense of well-being, your energy levels and your all-round physical health.