Updated: Mar 3
The word "diet" bugs me.
For most people (young and old), the word DIET brings up a whole whack of negative feelings. And it's no wonder.
When people use the word diet, they are usually talking about a restrictive way of eating. The primary feeling that comes up for many of my clients and friends is DEPRIVATION.
Even the dictionary is in on the act.
While "diet" is used to define what a person or group of people habitually eat (i.e., the Mediterranean Diet), all dictionaries also include references to restrictions. Merriam Websters includes this ...
The kind and amount of food prescribed for a person for a special reason
A regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight
Let's not forget all the messages we heard as kids, and all the situations we've experienced since childhood ...
"Your father is grumpy because he has to go on a special diet for his blood pressure."
"Your mother is just a little tired and irritable because she's following the cabbage soup diet."
What about the classmate who gets picked on for being overweight and then picked on again when he or she brings a salad for lunch?
"We better go on a diet before spring break and need to get into a bathing suit."
Self-pressure to look AH-mazing for your wedding and honeymoon?
Social pressure to lose the baby weight you gained when you were pregnant ... "Can you believe she is ALREADY back to her pre-baby weight?"
What about kids with food sensitivities or allergies ... "They are difficult to feed."
DOCTOR: "You're at risk of type 2 diabetes and I want you to give up all sugar and overhaul your diet because you didn't take care of yourself earlier."
"You need to reduce meat because your cholesterol is way too high."
This list goes on and on and on ...
Seriously, I don't know one person (young OR old) who has a positive association with the word DIET.
I've become hyper sensitive to the D-word ever since I started working with autoimmune clients. Even more so when working with autoimmune kids. My daughter included.
I also find the D-word brings up a whole lot of resistance for everyone.
While people realize their current symptoms and diagnosis have long-term implications ... risk of developing a disease, a secondary disease, the ability to have children, hold a steady job, lead an active life ...
NO ONE wants to change their DIET.
In their minds, diet = deprivation. Failure. Exclusion. Different.
And I get it. When you're sick, or tired, or frustrated, or afraid, you don't want deprivation. You want to LIVE. Feel JOY. Feel NORMAL.
So the choice becomes ... do you remain status quo and sit comfortably in habits and rituals that no longer serve you, your body, your dreams, your future ... or do you try something new? For yourself or your family.
New is scary. New is uncomfortable. So, here is what I explain to my clients.
When the body is out of balance, for whatever reason, it requires a different way of eating. Clearly, the "old rules" no longer apply because you are suffering. You wouldn't come and see me or be reading this blog if things were good. Right?
But diet = deprivation and that is a huge obstacle.
So, I ask my clients to reframe how they think of the word diet. How they think about food. WHY they want to make changes. What does their life look like one year ahead if they are successful in making change.
And I ask them to think about NUTRITION instead of diet. Focus on all the amazing foods they CAN have.
NUTRITION is defined as "the act or process of nourishing or being nourished."
NUTRITION places equal emphasis (if not more) on what you ADD into your daily diet, not just what you're avoiding.
Avoiding certain foods still matters. Certain foods are absolutely shown to increase inflammation and sabotage even the best health plans.
But avoiding or limiting certain foods isn't enough. You need to equally address known nutritional deficiencies associated with your unique situation. It doesn't matter if your health goal is weight loss or better managing an autoimmune disease, hormones or inflammation.
There are key nutrients that are typically deficient in a standard American diet - nutrients like Omega 3s (fish and fish oil), vitamin A (think orange foods and liver), iron, zinc, selenium (seafood), magnesium, quality protein, fibre and others.
I have seen time and time again that when my clients approach changes to diet from a nutrition mindset - abundance of what you CAN eat - it creates the opportunity to thrive so they can make better decisions throughout the day. So they remain in control.
Let me give you an example.
Imagine starting the day with two different blueberry muffins for breakfast. Your goal is weight loss (a common goal for all my clients AND parents of autoimmune kids).
You start your day with a standard, traditional, store-bought muffin. It is probably giant (cuz that's how the stores make them) and you only eat one muffin because you feel guilty (it's HUGE and high in calories and you're counting your calories, so that matters). It tastes really, really good, but because it is made with a ton of refined flour and sugar, it doesn't have a lot of nutritional value. The calories you're eating are pretty much empty.
By lunch time, you've crashed.
You're starving because your nutritional needs haven't been met with that delicious muffin. So, you've guzzled 2 coffees to fuel your energy and at noon, you rush out and grab something quick at the strip mall or food concourse because you don't have anything prepared for lunch and THAT'S because you've been on roller coaster of fatigue and brain fog for months. So, you grab a sandwich which is way more bread than vegetables and protein, but the calories look good. Or maybe you grab a small salad because you feel guilty about the muffin. You gobble it down and WHAM! You're back on the hamster wheel of either empty calories or deprivation get you through the afternoon.
3pm arrives and you're back on the floor.
You grab a coffee and bar of some sort. Maybe come chocolate because you think "I just had a salad for lunch, so I should be o.k. with the calorie count." At dinner, you deprive yourself again - feeling guilty about the chocolate, but you're starving before bed and start snacking mindless as you scroll facebook.
It is no wonder the idea of "diet" makes you cringe. You told yourself that you were being good that you only had a muffin for breakfast, a salad for lunch and you can't make it through the day. How on earth could you restrict food further?
The second muffin is a bit denser and not as sweet. It is either a homemade Paleo version OR a store bought version from the local health food store. These muffins have the same amount of calories as the other, but they are a lot smaller and certainly a lot healthier, so mentally, you're ok with having two instead of one. This one is made with almond flour and maple syrup. It is higher in protein and healthy fats that keep your blood sugar stable. As a result, you are calm and cool and collected for a few hours.
You drink water because you don't need an energy fix.
Now it's lunch time and you're hungry, but controlled. Because you've been doing this for a couple of days, you're prepared and pre-made your lunch. You dig into the massive "bowl" you made that has tuna, chickpeas, salad, some rice and a wicked yummy lemony dressing. Or you take your time trying to figure out where to get a healthier lunch in the concourse. Freshii looks good. You're ready to take on the afternoon.
Fuelled and focused.
Dinner time comes. You have a meal plan in hand, and know exactly what's on the menu. In fact, you batch cooked a few options so you're not harried trying to figure out what to make, and because your meal plan balances all your macros, you are not hungry before bed.
But your meal plan allows you to have a little bit of dark chocolate as you scroll social media, so you suck on that chocolate and it gives you so much pleasure because you know that you are well within your calorie target for the day ... and you do NOT feel deprived.
You are in control because you are focusing on nutrition to achieve your goals, not deprivation.
These two very different scenarios, but they highlight the visual queues we take from food. The stories we tell ourselves. And how focusing on nutrition over deprivation can set us up for success throughout the day and next.
Making good choices regarding nutrition helps you live life on your terms. It takes your from a deprivation mindset to a healthy mindset.
JOY is not a result of food. JOY is what happens when you FEEL good - physically and emotionally. JOY is what you feel when you LIVE.
That's when the magic happens. This is how you regain control. This is nutrition. Not deprivation.