Restricting Food By Any Other Name is Still A Diet

by Charlotte on October 13, 2008 · 32 comments

By most accounts, our economy is in the crapper, and yet the day after President Bush revealed his “bailout” plan, Google Search trends reported that “cupcakes” was a more popular search term than “financial crisis,” “bailout,” or even “economy in the crapper.” In case you are curious, “puppies” topped the list.

The Boston Globe thinks they may have an answer to that odd trend (besides the obvious one that we are vapid, simple people more concerned with kittens and confections than 401Ks): less people are dieting. In fact, according to their source – a soon-to-be-released study on dieting patterns in the U.S. – a mere 26% of all women and 16% of all men were on a diet as of February 2008. This is the lowest number of dieters in recorded history. Somewhere Atkins’ family is exhuming his body just so they can perform another autopsy to drum up interest in the Diet Revolution again.

Honestly, I don’t know who the mysterious survey interviewed. In my circle of friends exactly 0% are dieting. That’s because we’re all “making lifestyle changes” per the advice of the ten different women’s magazines we all subscribe too. “Dieting” is old skool and not in a retro-Nikes kind of way.

So what is the difference between a diet and a lifestyle? A lifestyle is exactly the same as a diet. Except where diets have a finite beginning and end, lifestyles are forever. Here, I’ll break it down for you:

1. On a diet you count calories (or carbs or fat grams or trips to your therapist) but as part of your new Lifestyle instead you “food journal.” It’s not just food and numbers but a legacy for posterity! Your grandkids will thank you.

2. On a diet you restrict something like carbs or sweets or fat or anything white but as part of your new Lifestyle you aren’t restricting anything – you just choose not to eat it. You can pick any number of reasons for your selectivity. Popular ones include “allergies” “bloating issues” and any medical condition you can make up ending with the word “syndrome.” The options are limited only by your imagination!

3. On a diet you follow a strict program like Atkins or South Beach or Scarsdale but as part of your new Lifestyle you are expected to know the details of every program, be able to pick the ones that best suit you and then change on a moment’s notice when the new diet research comes out each month packaged in between glossy advertisements for, ahem, “health” products.

4. On a diet you are expected to be hungry. As part of your new Lifestyle, however, you must find a way to reinterpret stomach growls. You are not deprived, you are “80% full.” You are not hungry, you are simply no longer a slave to your cravings. You are not Starvin’ Marvin, you are just plain old Marv from accounting.

5. But the most important difference to remember is that while on a diet you are allowed to be cranky, irritable and restless. As part of your new Lifestyle you are required to embrace all of these changes with equilibrium (PMS notwithstanding), understanding and even excitement.

The Boston Globe article sums it up nicely with this sentiment from Liliana Staiculescu, 48, an accountant from Plainville, “Dieting is not your normal way of living. You have to limit what you eat and pay attention to your health.” Got that?

Originally Posted on The Huffington Post

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

katieo October 13, 2008 at 5:04 am

“You are not deprived, you are “80% full.” LOL! So true.

(…off to google “puppies eating cupcakes”…)


Ashley October 13, 2008 at 5:21 am

It’s all about how people view themselves. Dieters are doing it to lose weight and look great! Lifestylers are usually in it for their health in the long run ( although looking great is a fabulous silver lining!)I agree that with diets you usually deprive yourself of something. But if a person is really changing their “lifestyle” I think moderation is key! Not eating chocolate because it goes straight to your hips is not feasible for the long run. Eat a milk dud once in a while, because I know that if I deprive myself of something it’s suddenly always on my mind and must have it!


sariqd October 13, 2008 at 6:22 am

The first time I heard the phrase, "Lifestyle change" was when I was a teenager (which was about… too many years ago) and my mother used it. We had a scare with my dad's high blood pressure & cholesterol so she announced at the dinner table that the whole family was going to make a lifestyle change. "NO SALT." Whoa momma! lol! To this day – I rarely use salt and it drives me NUTS when I see people salt everything before they taste it. Anyway -


tokaiangel October 13, 2008 at 7:11 am

The stomach rumbling on 80% full thing was SO sniper-style PERFECT.

Cannot articulate how much I love you for writing this post.

It explains why my “eating normally again” somehow still equates to suffering and self-punishment for me a lot of the time. And I tell myself that it’s being healthy and definitely Not A Diet. Why can’t it just be easy to know how to do this?? I feel like we’ve (well I have at least) lost sight of eating instinctively….

TA x


thatwasmyveil October 13, 2008 at 7:50 am

Diet is a dirty word that instantly brings pressure and obligation onto a person…mention you’re dieting in front of your friends and hear them scream cries of protest while watching everything you eat like a hawk from thereon.

Nay, tis much easier to market it as something else.

A rose by any other name still makes one’s jeans loose, huh.



Shivers October 13, 2008 at 7:51 am

Yet another insightful post Charlotte, and well timed of course. I realised yesterday as I walked through the supermarket that there are certain items I steer clear of, and have been doing so for about 2 years, because I’m “trying to watch what I’m eating right now…” Two years! I feel like I’m perpetually restricting myself in my attempts to be “normal”.

I’d love to go back and visit Childhood Me, the little girl who used to get in trouble for never finishing the food on her plate, and tell her it’s ok, that’s what’s normal for you!


Kat October 13, 2008 at 8:32 am

Diet= deprivation.
Lifestyle= healthy outlook (eat well 90% of the time).
Lifestyle changes take adjustments but the awareness from choosing well makes choosing healthy foods come naturally in time. I realized recently that I don’t eat very many things from the cabinet anymore (trying to cut back on processed foods) and I now really think about what is actually in my food. Never really thought about it before! Always a learning process for me which means life is good…


MizFit October 13, 2008 at 10:07 am

as always a GREAT WAY to start my morning. THINKING.

and I have a friend, out here in the real world, who is slowly starving herself to death all in the name of lifestyle (sigh).

this? In my circle of friends exactly 0% are dieting.

so true.

and in my experience the more intelligent the person the more fiercely they cling to the lifestyle excuse.



didnt mean to.

sunshine, flowers & puppies,



Crabby McSlacker October 13, 2008 at 10:57 am

A number years ago the Lobster and I went on a diet, but even back then we couldn’t bring ourselves to call it that. We called it a “thing.”

“Hey, we’re doing pretty good on the THING, just a few more months and we can ease up!”

We counted calories in little notebooks and weighed our food and recorded all our exercise and made sure the numbers added up. It was definitely a diet.

The weirdest thing? It worked. We both lost about 20-30lbs, and have been on a “healthier lifestyle” to maintain the weight loss.

So I can’t be entirely against dieting–I just know it sucks too much to do it the rest of my life.


CDlover October 13, 2008 at 12:07 pm

Wow, in my quest (obsession) to find the perfect pumpkin muffin last week, maybe I helped that statistic? Hmmmm. I guess that says a lot about my interest in this economic crisis.

I have always been anti-Dieting…I credit (blame?) my high school health teacher who drilled it into us that “diets” are what we eat everyday….we just choose to have a healthy or unhealthy diet.

But I definitely see a decline in “dieting,” too, future brides and a few new moms aside. I would, however, love an excuse to be cranky!


Dr. J October 13, 2008 at 12:41 pm

It’s too common to read “dieters” saying as soon as they lose blank pounds, then they’ll start a healthy lifestyle to maintain it. I like how Crabby and Lobster learned their healthy lifestyle “on the job!”


Charlotte October 13, 2008 at 12:52 pm

katieo – I bet your Google search turned up some adorableness! And congrats on your little cupcake-in-the-oven!!

ashley – Great point about letting people define themselves. And about moderation!

sariqd – I’m so with you about the salt. I’ve gotten used to not eating it and so it’s funny to watch people eat my food.

TA – hey, I’ll admit it: I have NO IDEA how to eat instinctively. And I can’t believe that something as primal as eating is not instinctual to me. Sigh. You are not alone.

cara – I love misheard song lyrics;)

Shivers – I think you are right – a lot of us would be so much better off today if we could just go back to eating how we did as kids!

kat – thanks for the distinction! Of course I was oversimplifying for the sake of humor in my post. So thanks for pointing out the legitimate difference:)

MizFit – “the lifestyle excuse”! Aptly put.

Crabby – I’m not necessarily against dieting. I just people should call it what it is!

CDLover – bring on the cranky time;) And did you find the perfect pumpkin muffin? If so, please send me the recipe!

Dr. J – as a doctor, of course you are right on! (As always!)


Gena October 13, 2008 at 1:13 pm

So true! “Diet” has almost become a dirty word, so everyone is now making “lifestyle changes.” But you’re right, it all amounts to the same thing.

The big difference in what the two terms seem to mean is that “lifestylers” mean to follow through long term for a goal of overall health, and not crash/yoyo/give up, as diet seems to imply.

Anyway you look at it, though, it’s all semantics!


Colleen October 13, 2008 at 1:32 pm

OOOOOH, I made pumpkin muffins about two weeks ago. 1 box of spice cake, 1 can of pureed (sp?) pumpkin, 1 box of raisins (not the mini boxes), and one bag of chipped pecans. Use a hand mixer and they are about the consistency of cool whip. And they took about 2 minutes less time to bake than the mix called for. They didn’t “rise” like regular cake/muffins would, but they were YUM-MAY! My husband ate ‘em up!

Oh, and I have to give credit to for the recipe – but the raisins and pecans were my own doing. You can also soak the raisins in hot water for about 5 minutes to make them more plump before you add them to the mix.


Colleen October 13, 2008 at 1:36 pm

BTW, my husband and I are all about the “lifestyle change.” You have no idea how thankful I am to be married to someone who feels the same way I do about eating healthily (at least 90% of the time). Neither of us had any weight to lose (no kids yet!), but we’d like to maintain a healthy weight and continue to exercise, and now it’s just part of our lives.


Tricia October 13, 2008 at 2:02 pm

I definitely see my eating habits as a lifestyle, and like the idea that you can’t just lose the weight and then go back to your old eating habits.

That said, “I can’t have that, I’m on a lifestyle” just sounds weird.


Lethological Gourmet October 13, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Diet has definitely become a bad word, all about restriction and what you can’t have. I eat according to a healthy lifestyle (ok, apart from that apple cherry bread pudding I just ate…). But Crabby makes a good point…sometimes a diet can help you get to where you want to be, then you change your lifestyle for the long term.


WeightingGame October 13, 2008 at 2:57 pm

Don’t forget – all queen latifah wants to be is “a size healthy.” AKA she’s not on a diet. Even tho she is.


Sagan October 13, 2008 at 3:00 pm

Hehe this is funny. We all love being able to label things… people don’t much like the idea of being “on a diet”, but “lifestyle change” seems much less intimidating and more friendly.


monica October 13, 2008 at 3:29 pm

“You are not Starvin’ Marvin, you are just plain old Marv from accounting.”

Hah, this post is full of so many quotable one-liners, I don’t know how to pick a favourite.

The whole diet vs. lifestyle thing is so true. This month, we’re not letting butter into the house (we call it “Rocktober”). But never did it occur to us to call it a “butter-free diet”. No, this is Rocktober! So much more fun.

Just call me Marv!


Missicat October 13, 2008 at 3:47 pm

Ya know, I eat pretty well health-wise about 85% of the time. Fortunately I like fruits and veggies and don't have much of a sweet tooth, but when I crave a chocolately handful of m&m's I give in and grab some! Life without m&m's? Not a chance!


azusmom October 13, 2008 at 4:32 pm

Brilliant! Perfect! Once again, Char, you have hit the nail right on its noggin!


Quix October 13, 2008 at 5:17 pm

This was hilarious! While I think I’ve got myself drinking the koolaid most of the time that I prefer to eat healthy most of the time and exercise, I have to wonder what will happen once the goal and thrill of losing weight is done.

Now the question is – what would I do if I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted and exercise whenever I wanted. Sadly, I’m afraid to death of trying that, it could be very enlightening…


Prof. Steven M. Platek October 13, 2008 at 8:04 pm

charlotte, another great post. one that is near and dear to my personal and researchy heart.

the last post is spot on! it identifies one of the fundamental differences between dieters and people who (honestly) eat healthy, because that's what they do. The former, heavy dieters, are sometimes referred to as restrained eaters. Restrained eating sort of refers to a propensity to monitor your food, and care about what you eat, but also relates rather strongly toward potential development of obesity. Some people describe restrained eaters as 'pre-obese' or having an 'obese tendency.' This differs from someone who honestly does not think about what they eat, but just happens to eat healthy – i am a restrained eater without question!

Interestingly, restrained eaters have a tendency to go on and off diets frequently (unhealthy of course because of the vast fluctuations in weight and fat deposition), they also eat more when satiated. That is, if you take a non-restrained eater and a restrained eater and feed them so that they say, "yeah I am full." And then follow that up with placing a bowl of ice cream in from of them (and it does not have to be ice cream, many restrained eaters have trigger foods, I think someone said M&M's – the dark choc ones are brill!) – the so-called normal eaters will say, "no thanks, I am full" They might even say something like "maybe later" The restrained eaters on the other hand will either 1) eat it up or 2) demonstrate a great deal of distress about the ice cream being there. A sense that I think we have all felt – "mmm, damn those cookies, m&m's, cake, pie, cupcake would be so good. I am so full and could not even think about eating it, but, ok, one bite – then one bite leads to a second, and so forth – in some cases a full on binge. There is some evidence that even suggests that presentation of highly palatable foods to a sated restrained eater activates fear centers in the brain; that could be loosely interpreted as a fear of food – an activation suggesting that they really hate food and would rather express a flight response, but instead, often devour it.

Unfortunately, I think even when you diet and then utilize healthy lifestyle to maintain your weight loss – you are still a dieter at heart – you still care, even if you dont talk, read, or blog about it daily. Right? Even if your tank is 100% full (on healthy food), your dessert stomach (we've all heard this, right?) usually has space for more.

Sorry for the incredibly long comment, but just one more thing – I will always accept irritability associated with PMS-regardless of what or how you eat, i mean I cannot deny nature's messages, can I?

great post charlotte! you are way too good at this, way too good!


Judy October 13, 2008 at 8:36 pm

My comment just got eaten. The internet, apparently, is not on a diet.

Ah, well, great post. Well said. Too tired to retype.


GroundedFitness October 14, 2008 at 12:02 am

haha cupcakes.

i hate the term “diet.” Literally, your diet is just what you eat, plain and simple. Saying your are GOING ON a diet, by terminology means you wont be able to keep it up for long. that should be a big red flag right there.

Kelly Turner


Rachel October 14, 2008 at 1:40 am

WOW this is SO true–I love it!!!


Elina October 14, 2008 at 10:25 am

It’s an another lovely post on diet & weight loss, I’m impressed.


CDlover October 14, 2008 at 12:14 pm

I DID find the perfect pumpkin muffin recipe! At least, I think it’s pretty darn good:


Charlotte October 14, 2008 at 12:26 pm

Professor – As usual, your comment deserves its own post! You have a rare gift of insight. And it is always so interesting to hear things from the evolutionary perspective, esp. since I don’t think of that on my own!

CDLover – ooooh thank you!!


Prof. Steven M. Platek October 14, 2008 at 12:38 pm

charlotte, thanks – glad to provide a bit of input – i love this blog.

and cdlover – sounds like a rad recipe – which I will try in the upcoming weeks for good ol monster day.


deprogram October 14, 2008 at 10:18 pm

Wait, wait, wait!

I restrict what I eat for environmental, political, and health reasons – in that order. I refuse to eat meat out of opposition to factory farming techniques. I eschew artificial flavors and sweeteners not only because they taste terrible, but because they are often cocktails of mildly toxic chemicals. Soft drinks are axed not only because they do nothing for me, but because I don’t want to contribute money to the multinational conglomerates behind them. I don’t think it makes sense for developing countries to be spending food dollars on soft drinks. That’s messed up. Coca Cola literally kills union organizers in South America.

On the other hand, Silk (soy products) uses all green power to package and process their products.

Fish is an important part of my diet, but I am militant about eating sustainable fish. I will go so far as to boycott restaurants with Patagonian Toothfish on the menu.

For some, perhaps, food is only a source of calories and nutrients. For me, what I choose to eat is an important statement about how I view resource consumption on this increasingly crowded and exploited planet – and how far I’m willing to go to make a difference.


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