The word ‘diet’ derives from the Latin word diaeta, meaning “way of life.” Yet when you ask a modern day American what the D-word means, they look at you with dessert-deprived eyes and say things like “torture” and “hell.” So when and why did the definition of this ancient and seemingly innocent sounding word get so muddled? Is there a connection between increasing obesity rates and the growing number of new diets being marketed toward us Americans?
Despite the fact that new, ever more restrictive diets have been advertised at Americans every year since around the late 1970’s, and despite the explosion in health and nutrition-related science, Americans have not gotten any thinner or, more importantly, healthier. So why haven’t the most recent fads in dieting (Atkins, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Sensa, Gluten Free, Carb Free, low-fat) helped shrink America’s waistline? Here is a link to a blog written by Dr. Mark Hyman, a health advocate who speaks out against the diet industry and their marketing techniques, which, ironically, he argues are intended to keep America unhealthy. For more evidence of the diet industry’s less than outstanding track record in helping American’s keep the weight off, check out Shape Your Culture!
In my pretty well informed (yet still humble!) opinion, healthy eating does not need to be a science. I would argue, as would the bloggers listed above, that the diet industry has fostered a sort of food anxiety in Americans, a sense of nervousness that keeps us forever at the whims of the so-called nutrition “experts” and the latest MDs trying to make a quick buck. This anxiety has lead us to make terrible decisions, like paying more attention to carb and fat contents of foods rather than the all-more important ingredient list. Would you rather eat three-ingredient butter? Or its 27-ingredient, chemically altered cousin, margarine (only a few chemicals short of being plastic, by the way)?
So how should we eat? Whose advice should we take? Though every person is different, Michael Pollan, food philosopher and healthy food advocate, provides a list of creative yet simple rules for eating on his website. Most of these rules are passed down from grandparents and great-grandparents, and, unlike the diet fads of today, are timeless and will lead to a life of health and happiness.
I think it is about time we return to the Latin meaning of the word diet. Eating healthy shouldn’t be a chore or something that leaves you miserable and hungry. It should be a habit, a hobby, a celebration of friends and family…a way of life, if you will.