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What is dieting anyway?

The diet companies love to say that their programs aren't diets. Maybe they're "lifestyle changes" or "eating plans."

Some people say that the word diet has been highjacked - "all it refers to is the way you eat!" But, reinforcing this older, more neutral meaning doesn't magically make weight loss diets into normal eating patterns. It doesn't change the fact that they're basically disordered eating, that they almost never work long-term or that they make most people fatter. Saying that the word is being misused doesn't make what it's come to refer to disappear.

Language wasn't a focus in my education, and I've sometimes taken definitions for granted, used words imprecisely, and relied on technical jargon. It's easy to forget that everyday words have power and that in order to communicate, we need to agree on their meanings. If you've ever tried to define a word - especially a loaded, dynamic, controversial word - then you know how difficult it can be. Tara MacGregor, a Psychotherapist and Dietitian, has given the meanings of "dieting" and "non-dieting" some serious thought and conferred with other professionals, and I'm posting her definitions here with her permission:

Dieting is a class of eating behaviours involving any modification to food choice that is guided primarily by external prescriptions and classifications of food with the principal goal of reducing body weight. Dieting views a reduction in body weight as an imperative to improve health including physical, mental and emotional aspects. Dieting is not an innate human behaviour but is learned and typically incorporates separating from and/or controlling the body's sensations and internal cues. Dieting is 'weight centric.'

Non-Dieting may also be referred to as Attuned Eating, Intuitive Eating, Normal Eating, Mindful Eating. Non-Dieting is a class of eating behaviours guided primarily by attunement to internal body cues of hunger and satiety. Non-Dieting behaviours are innate and honour our intrinsic connection to our body and it's messages. Non-Dieting behaviours can also be learned and can be re-adopted in order to undo disordered eating patterns which can occur from any age for a multitude of reasons, particularly learned dieting behaviours. Modifications to eating behaviours using a Non-Dieting philosophy are made with the principal goal of improving health and well-being including physical, emotional and mental aspects. These improvements can occur irrespective of changes to body weight. Non-Dieting is 'health centric'.

Definitions by Tara MacGregor, BSc MSc G.Dip Couns. CMCAPA, PACFA Reg.
Counsellor & Psychotherapist; Accredited Practising Dietitian

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wriggle99 August 26th, 2011 | Link | A diet is what (all) you eat

A diet is what (all) you eat not the way you eat.

Which is exactly why the term "diet" is an accurate way to describe a "weight loss diet". There is no such thing as "non-dieting" there is normal eating or just eating that is according to your internal needs and dictates and then there is everything else.

Which can include everything from exclusion diets-where you leave out certain foodstuffs or groups usually for health reasons, to weight loss diets which seek primarily to restrict calories. If the imperative was weight loss it would have been abandonned as a bad job long ago, for the reasons you've stated.

DeeLeigh's picture
August 27th, 2011 | Link | I see your point, Debra.

I see your point, Debra. However, I kind of think of the Ellyn Satter method (and what I do) as flavors of intuitive eating. I agree that rational thought can and maybe should play a role in choosing what and when to eat - and even how much, to some extent. For example, there are a few days every month when my satiety cues disappear completely, and so I have to stop eating when I've had what I consider to be a reasonable amount of food on those days. On the other hand, a combination of listening for cues and noticing how food affects me after I eat it does seem to go a long way toward keeping me happy and feeling good, physically.

I think there's a difference between decision making that's based on a balance of rational thought and listening to cues (and pleasure!) on the one hand, and the kind of strict, precise restriction that's associated with diets on the other. Sometimes I think that the role of rationality in eating choices is talked down too much in intuitive eating circles. On the other hand, some people seem to think that eating as little as they can manage to, as rarely as possible, is "healthy" and I think that's absurd. I guess everyone has to strike their own balance.

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