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To Diet or to Protocol?



What are the first thoughts or feelings that come to mind when you hear the word "diet?" Let me guess: shame, guilt, body image concerns, deprivation, starvation and so on. From there you might think of specific "diets" you've tried or that are popular today like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, Paleo, Keto, Whole 30 to name a few. What if I could tell you that there is a way to feel more optimistic, hopeful and comfortable with a diet simply by calling it something else? That's right, give the "diet" a different name.


We all have different reasons for attempting a diet. Some do it for weight loss. Others do it to help manage health conditions. There are even people that go on a diet because their friends are doing it, or it's popular and seems like it couldn't hurt. Well, sometimes it can hurt, but I will save that for a different post. No matter which diet someone follows a sense of imposition can be felt. Who doesn't love bucking the rules from time to time? Cheating happens, right? What if by calling a "diet" a nutrition plan or a nutrition protocol we could trick ourselves into believing we were choosing this, or that it was part of a larger plan for wellness? Would we cheat less? Maybe. Would we stick with it longer? Maybe. Might we start to feel it's a lifestyle or habit that is natural instead of an imposition? Maybe. I'll take those maybes and bank on them turning into yeses.


As a Nutrition Consultant, part of the medical history forms I use with clients ask about previous or current diets being followed. I leave the forms this way because "diet" is a term that we are all familiar with. And, most of us have followed one diet or another at some point in our life. At least, most of us women have. Aside from improved health, of course, one of my main goals when working with clients is to help them step away from the word "diet." For some clients, this alone makes a huge difference. It allows them to let go of anxiety, fear, and any sense of impending guilt over failure to stick to the rules. The power of a single word is truly amazing the power of one single word.


So let's look at how the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word "diet" in its noun form.

diet noun (1) di·et | \ ˈdī-ət \

1a: food and drink regularly provided or consumed

example: a diet of fruits and vegetables, a vegetarian diet

b: habitual nourishment

example: links between diet and disease

c: the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason

example: was put on a low-sodium diet

d: a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight

example: going on a diet

2: something provided or experienced repeatedly

example: Their imaginations feverish from a diet of detective novels …


Definitions 1a and 2 are my personal favorites. In both, the idea that what we regularly consume, be it food or other habits (reading, listening to music, exercising, etc.), is our diet is a breath of fresh air. Neither definition discusses any kind of deprivation. When working with clients it is crucial to help them see what changing their eating habits can give them as opposed to focusing on what they cannot have. It's also vital to focus on making these new eating patterns a habit and routine. For these reasons I refer to any plan I create as such; a nutrition plan or nutrition protocol.


I was recently teaching a 3 part lecture series in which I discussed my dislike of the word "diet." The women in the room nodded and shook their heads in agreement. The men were a mixed bunch. Some of them looked curious, while others scoffed. When we got to the last lecture, one woman in particular spoke up. Typically she was quiet in the lectures and I was never quite sure how much she was taking in. But on this day, she wanted to let me know just how much the conversation about "diet" made an impact on her. She had began using the term protocol for herself instead of diet and told me that she felt more empowered. "I finally feel like I am the one in charge instead of food driving the bus, " she said. She went on to say that it had helped in other areas of her life, as well. Feeling empowered in one area of her life was helping her to feel more confident about other choices she was making.


The terms plan and protocol also imply that there is a method and reasoning behind the steps being taken to improve one's health. Dieting is typically used for weight loss, or managing health conditions such as Type 1 or 2 Diabetes, which can bring about body shaming insecurities, or stress and anxiety. It is not my job to perpetuate these feelings. Even if someone comes to me primarily for help to lose weight, my main goal is to help these clients relieve symptoms from being overweight and improve their health via nutrition. They will lose weight in the process. When someone comes to me with a long list of autoimmune diseases or even just one, but other random symptoms, it is not my job to take food away from them. Instead, it is my job to introduce them to foods that will help nourish whichever system in their body is affected most by providing the right balance of macronutrients and increasing specific micronutrients. Yes, this may mean removing or reducing the frequency that some foods are normally eaten, but the emphasis is on what that client can eat, what will improve their health, and aide in alleviating symptoms. It's also about creating a plan, one they are involved in and are in charge of.


The power of putting a spin on an old standard has the ability to help transform the experience of clients from something they may be dreading, to one of empowerment and joy. Give it a go for yourself or your clients and let me know how this switch up helps.

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