‘Diet’ Is A Four Letter Word

by | Mar 20, 2009

fresh vegetablesHave you ever wondered why we use the same word for both normal and extreme eating behaviors?

Diet vs. Dieting

We all know what it means to “go on a diet.” When you are dieting (the verb) you temporarily change how you eat–sometimes in ways that are very extreme–for the purpose of losing weight or achieving another immediate goal, like “detox.”

But we also use the word diet to describe normal, everyday eating patterns such as a “healthy diet” or “vegetarian diet.”

Failing to distinguish short-term and long-term eating behaviors is a serious problem though, because in reality most of us confuse these methods and try using short-term strategies to achieve goals that can only be met with a long-term approach. And describing and correcting this fallacy is almost impossible when the terminology we use is the same for both.

Dieting Is Temporary

To be clear, there are a few cases where dieting (short-term) can be beneficial. Sometimes an athletic event or other performance requires temporary weight loss or a special training program. But if your goal is long-term health or permanent weight loss, you won’t find much success with this approach.

Sure you can lose weight if you go on a diet. In fact, you can lose weight on almost any diet (I’m still skeptical of the cookie diet, but I would not be surprised if someone has lost weight on it). What you must remember is if your changes are temporary, so will be your success.

Worse, most temporary weight loss plans encourage rapid weight loss that ultimately destroys muscle and lowers your metabolism. This makes future attempts at weight loss even more difficult and may result in a net weight gain, once you have fallen off the bandwagon. In other words, you achieve the opposite of your goal.

The Maintenance Illusion

Deep down you probably know all this. Yet still we love to rationalize this behavior by telling ourselves that once we lose the weight, then we will switch to a healthier diet. We tend to associate “healthy diets” with weight maintenance, and we keep this idea in the back of our brains for the mythical time when we finally achieve our perfect, ideal bodies.

But this strategy is backwards.


To lose weight and keep it off, to prevent chronic diseases and stay fit and active into old age, we need to permanently change our daily eating habits. We must learn to make healthier choices and gradually shift our behaviors to those of a healthy, thin person.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”


Aristotle’s wisdom holds true for weight loss as well. To change our bodies we must change our habits. And habits are created in our minds. We need to stop thinking of dieting as a way to achieve permanent weight loss. Instead we need a term that emphasizes our set of personal habits we adopt for long-term good health.


Healthstyle is the word I am choosing to describe the healthy habits that fit our own individual styles.

One of the wonderful things about health and weight loss is that there are countless ways to get there. And what works for someone may not work for you. Healthstyle is your customized path to health that suits your personal tastes and lifestyle.

Most importantly, Healthstyle emphasizes habits and long-term health, not painful diets and temporary weight loss.

Please join me in removing the word diet from the discussion of healthy eating. If you use Twitter, share your healthy habits with the tag #healthstyle.

What is your Healthstyle?

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11 Responses to “‘Diet’ Is A Four Letter Word”

  1. Shannon (The Daily Balance) says:

    I love this, especially the whole “Dieting Is Temporary” section.Great insight. Keep it coming, girl! 😉

  2. Dinneen (Eat Without Guilt) says:

    Excellent post!! Took the words out of my mouth 🙂 I don’t like diets as I have seen all too well that they don’t work. And why do we keep falling for the “diet-trap”???I completely agree with you on this, 110% Thanks for sharing the message!

  3. Karin says:

    So it sounds like we’re allowed to have some unhealthy things in our healthstyle, as long as overall we are healthy? “Cheats,” if you will. I guess what you’re saying, is to just know what you will and what you won’t cheat with, plan ahead for that, and accept the consequences? Interesting….

  4. Greg says:

    Everyone is on a diet; some people are on good diets, and some people are on bad diets. Just the idea that you are ‘going on a diet’ must assume that you are currently on a bad one, gonna go on a good one, then go back to the bad diet. You’re right, we need to be saying that we’re ‘gonna start eating healthier…..’Right?

  5. Cheryl Foiles says:

    Great post. I couldn’t agree more and recently blogged about the same thing. http://tinyurl.com/dgqzq7It should be about a healthy lifestyle, not a “diet”.

  6. Darya Pino says:

    @ShannonThanks! Don’t forget to share your healthstyle habits with #healthstyle—–@DinneenWe agree on so much. Thanks for sharing!—–@KarinYou got it. What this really all comes down to is picking your battles. If filet mignon is your favorite thing in the world, it is ridiculous to try to completely cut it out of your diet. It will be all you think about! Go ahead and have what you want, but be sure to make it special! Buy the most expensive grass-fed, dry-aged succulent steak from your favorite restaurant. Pay every penny and taste every bite.If you eat healthy most of the time, this indulgence won’t matter. And it will be sooo worth it!—–@GregRight. If you use the word in the science-y sense, “diet” simply describes what you eat. To be thin and healthy, you must eat like someone who is thin and healthy. Thin people never go on diets!You can check out my healthstyle here.

  7. Travis Saunders, MSc says:

    Excellent post, people really need to realize that the only lifestyle changes that work are the ones you can do for the rest of your life. Unfortunately there are a lot of gimmicks being peddled that promise people just the opposite.I like the healthstyle concept as well, I will be watching for it on twitter.

  8. Healthyliving says:

    Thanks for this post Darya. In the larger scope of life, dieting is so weird. I’m not certain, but I feel like dieting is something that has only existed for the last 100 years in America- even worse, most diets out there now exist only to make someone rich, not to make us all healthier. Shame on all these fly-by-night diets……

  9. fas says:

    My healthstyle is to gym once in a blue moon and diet once in a blue moon too. Need to get healthy by being more focussed on health then on just taste.

  10. Thi says:

    Found the blog a few days ago and I really like the approach you are taking to healthy living, but I just wanted to clarify:

    The word diet originally meant “manner of living,” from the Greek diaita. or diaitasthai meaning to “lead one’s life.”


    I think I ran across this in one of the Zone Diet books, but it definitely got some gears turning for me. For me the geek approach is all about keeping an open mind, consuming all the relevant info you can, and making an informed decision for yourself…personal responsibility for your own health.

  11. Dee says:

    For me it is a very difficult battle. What messes up my eating is when others feed me – offsite meetings, traveling on business…

    Also this is the first time I m reading about the cookie diet… Thinking back now, I remember years ago, when cooking and grocery shopping was a once in a while occasion , I used to eat chocolate covered raisins everyday, a few times per day… In the evenings when I get home, I may have ought dinner takeout – motly subway… I always drank lots of water on evenings as well…. I did lose weight, my muscles were wasted, this ‘diet’ was not intention to lose weight, i did not quantify but I did….

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