We hate the word “diet”.
“Diet” invokes a negative reaction. “Diet” immediately conjures up images of starvation, deprivation, bland food, and boring meals.
The word “diet” does not inspire us to lose weight and live better. It’s not motivating. It takes the focus away from what will be added to our life (improved self-confidence, a better self-image, more mental focus) when we eat good foods, and places the focus on what we perceive is being taken away.
OK, so we’ll avoid the word “diet”. We’ll describe our eating as “healthy”. Problem solved, right?
Research from the University of Texas at Austin shows that when people perceive their food to be “healthy”, they describe it as “less filling”, and, as a result, end up eating more.
“The consumption studies provide evidence that people order greater quantities of food, consume more of it, and are less full after consuming a food portrayed as more versus less healthy.”
Even though participants in both groups ate the same cookie, those who ate the “healthy” cookie rated it as less filling and less satisfying than those who ate the “normal” cookie. So, the word “healthy” is out.
OK, “diet” and “healthy” don’t work. Should we eat “clean”?
You may have heard this one before. A friend says she’s “cleaning up” her diet. Your roommate can’t go out because he’s “eating clean” now. I’ve used the word “clean” to describe my eating habits.
Using “clean” to describe food conjures mental images of food being cleansed with Windex and soap until “pure” – not an appetizing picture.
There are other problems with “eating clean”. Who decides what food is “clean”? Are “clean” foods always “clean” – or are there shades of grey? Are your “clean” foods also “clean” for me? What does “eating clean” even mean?
Enough bullshit. But what do we do?
We want many things from our food.
We want food to provide us with energy. Energy to build businesses, to do our jobs, to train hard, to play with our kids. We want our food to deliver a constant, steady supply of energy, because time doesn’t wait for us when we get tired.
We want our food to provide us happiness. Our tastebuds connect to nerves in the brain that provide positive emotions when we eat good-tasting food.
We want our food to connect us. We come together with family and friends over food. Holidays, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries – all of these special events are celebrated with the people we love. What’s the constant component that brings us together on these occasions? Food.
We fear words like “diet” and “healthy” because we fear that they’ll disconnect us from the pleasurable aspects of food. We envision a spartan existence void of happiness.
“Food is fuel”.
You’ve likely heard this analogy – “you wouldn’t put shitty fuel in your car; don’t put shitty food in your body.”
But food is much more than fuel. Food is not gasoline. We don’t invite dates over to go buy gas together. We don’t celebrate birthdays and holidays by buying gas.
The “food is fuel” analogy may be appropriate for describing food’s role in providing energy for the human body. But it fails to capture everything else that goes into food.
Let’s avoid the words “diet”, or “healthy”, as much as we can. Let’s avoid referring to food as fuel.
Let’s eat well.
Eating well is a mindset that captures every component of food – not just the nutritional aspect.
When we eat well, we avoid food dystopia. We maintain the pleasurable aspects of food – the taste, the smell, the social connection – while consuming foods that nourish our bodies, allowing us to excel, aesthetically and mentally.
Eating well is simple. It avoids oversimplification. It allows wiggle room for personal interpretation and experimentation.
Eating well means consuming nutrient-rich food that helps us function at high capacity. It means avoiding nutrient-sparse foods that drain our energy and make us fat.
Eating well means finding foods that work for us, instead of espousing “one size fits all” approaches.
Eating well means eating delicious food, because life is too short to ignore our finely-tuned sense of taste.
Eating well means realizing food is a social experience, that the “healthiness” of a meal goes beyond its nutritional and macronutrient profile, that enjoying meals with family and friends makes us happy, and that the social aspect of food should not be ignored.