It’s always amazed me that Americans have managed to turn an innocent word into something negative. I am specifically talking about the word “diet.” It’s an innocent word originally meant to describe what we eat or drink. However, through decades of desiring to be thinner and being inundated with new, magical solutions, we’ve distorted this word to mean something hard to do to in order to reach a goal that’s difficult to achieve.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definitions of diet are:
a : food and drink regularly provided or consumed. This is the definition I prefer. Every person on this earth is on a diet. It’s not a good or a bad thing. It’s the food we eat to sustain life. Some people’s diets are high in calories and fat, some peoples diets are low in calories or gluten or fat or processed foods…
b : habitual nourishment. This definition applies to the food we eat routinely. If you routinely do not eat gluten, then your diet is gluten free. If you eat ice cream for every meal then your diet is an ice cream diet. There is no good or bad in what we choose to eat. It’s each person’s personal preference.
c : the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason. This definition of diet is usually applied to a meal plan that is prescribed for medical or other physical reasons. The Paleo diet was very popular with my friends who were or are into endurance sports. It was rarely medically prescribed, but it was interpreted by many of my friends to be beneficial for health and competitive reasons.
d : a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight . This is the definition that has sent the eating habits of the American public into a tailspin. The holy grail of searching for just the right food or combination of food that will enable everyone to have the body they have always dreamed of. Preferably the dream we’ve been sold through America’s vast marketing army. In other words, thin and buff.
When I Googled “popular diets” there were a whopping 13,500,000 results found. Wow! Thirteen MILLION posts on dieting. If this isn’t a quantitative measurement of our obsession with being the perfect size and shape, I don’t know what is.
For me, the real question is “When did being overweight become a sin?” I have people in my family who truly believe that people who fulfill their definition of “fat” are less valuable than a “skinny” person. For too many people, curves equate to “less than.” On the television show Drop Dead Diva, Margaret Cho’s character, Teri Lee talks to Jane, played by Brooke Elliott, about her shopping experiences when she was overweight as a teenager: “They told me anything other than skinny was wrong.”
I have personally been both overweight and underweight. You know what? I was no better a person when I was thin than I was when I was heavy. The only difference in my experience was in how people perceived me. I was that woman who walked into a fashionable clothing store only to be told by a sneering saleswoman that there were no clothes there that would fit me. On the other side of the issue, when I lost weight I was aghast at how free people felt to comment on my “skinniness.” I heard a lot of opinions on how I’d lost enough weight and was too skinny. Obviously, neither extreme made other people happy. I am just now realizing that it never occurred to me until recently to ask what made me happy.
After a lifetime of my size expanding and collapsing, I still work to make peace with my size. I am fortunate to still turn heads but sometimes I cannot understand why. Instead of accepting the compliments I hear, I try to break it down and figure out why I generate these positive comments. In my experience, it’s the rare American woman who sees the same reflection every time she looks in the mirror. Too often I’ve looked in the mirror one day to say “damn, you look good,” only to look in the same mirror, in the same jeans, the next day to say “you fat cow.”
So, what diet do I follow? It varies from day to day. Some days I’m on the double-cheeseburger and fries diet. Other days, I’m on the protein, fruit and vegetable diet. I have a minor sweet tooth that is, thankfully, satisfied with a bite or two of a sweet. The majority of the time I try to avoid processed food. I’ve found that if I eat what feels right in any given moment, and if I recognize that the double-cheeseburger and fries diet can’t be my full-time diet, my weight does all right and my happiness isn’t based on what I eat.
Which diet should you follow? That’s a matter of personal preference. The only requirement in my opinion is to eat a diet that includes protein, fat and carbohydrates. The body needs all three. The body also needs a minimum number of calories a day to perform at its optimum level. Despite the best marketing efforts of most of America’s media, there is no pill or diet that will magically make you thinner. It takes work…and a healthy level of common sense. In the meantime, love the body you have and promise yourself that no matter what size your body is you will feed it healthy foods that you enjoy. Life’s for living and there are no prizes for being the skinniest.