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Tara Dunker

Tara Dunker

Bring up food, bodyweight, health or a host of other nutrition-related topics at your next gathering, and you’re bound to hear (or say) the word diet at least once, probably more.

What thoughts and feelings does this four-letter word bring with it?

If you’re anything like me, this seemingly harmless word evokes feelings of limitation and self-constraint, and the inevitable feeling of failure when life and personal enjoyment trump a rigid set of food rules.

While the word diet is often said with good—or at the very least, neutral—intentions, it’s worth noting that a quick Google search of “diet synonyms” gets you the following: fast, regime, regimen, restriction, starvation and weight-reduction plan.

One definition of the word diet is harmless: the daily intake of food, with synonyms like fare, nourishment and sustenance. But the other definition is the abstinence from food.

And what’s the one and only antonym listed for this definition of the word diet? Indulgence.

Talk about some joyless stats for a word used to describe what we need to do for survival, and get to do for enjoyment, multiple times every single day: eat food. 

Here’s my proposal: from this day forward, join me in ditching the word diet for good.

It’ll take some time to completely eliminate it from your vocabulary, but when you do, you’re guaranteed to feel liberated.

Take the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a food and nutrition report updated every five years and grounded in the most current scientific evidence, as proof that words matter.

These Guidelines state that a healthy eating pattern is not a rigid prescription, but rather, an adaptable framework in which individuals can enjoy foods that meet their personal, cultural, and traditional preferences and fit within their budget.

Notice how the word diet has been replaced with the term eating pattern? And the term eating pattern is described using lovely words like adaptable, enjoy, personal and preferences.

"But Tara, you’re a dietitian, and the title of these Guidelines start with the word dietary—both of which contain the word diet."

I get it. But these titles are relics of the 20th century, and relics have a way of sticking around—sometimes past the point of being helpful.

So please, join me in shifting the conversation.

Let’s make the 21st century one full of adaptable eating patterns (not diets) we each enjoy because they suit our personal preferences and help us reach our individual health goals.

Eating patterns for the win.

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If you have any further questions, please contact Tara Dunker at 402-223-1384, tara.dunker@unl.edu, or visit the Gage County Extension website at www.gage.unl.edu.

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