When I was young I remember being very confused the first time I encountered someone using the word ‘diet’ in reference to what they were eating in general instead of being on a ‘diet’.

In my head ‘diet’ was some form of restriction of food not just what you ate all the time.

I think many of us have this association of diet and dieting so that whenever someone, like a health practitioner, asks you about your diet the immediate response is defensive and we all reply that it’s fine thanks, without really thinking about it.

I recently encountered this at a visit to my general practitioner for a regular check-up.

She suggested that I eat more vegetables and I replied that I didn’t really think that was possible.

She looked at me oddly as though I had just told her I didn’t like vegetables when, in fact, I meant that I already ate lots of vegetables and probably couldn’t add more to my diet.

I’m not saying I’m perfect, far from it, but for my GP to simply say ‘eat more vegetables’ is not necessarily a solution either.

And this is one of those weird things about people.

We like to discover stuff for ourselves.

Years ago, when I was first speaking to my pre-diabetic friend and told him that his diet was rubbish, he did exactly the same thing.  “No, it’s not.  I eat pretty well.” 

It wasn’t until I pushed him a bit and asked him a number of questions that he discovered there was room for improvement.

Even then, he only made a few very small changes and, as a result progressed on to being diagnosed as diabetic.

It took about four or five conversations with me being brutally honest, and him thinking about it and going away for a while, before he finally chose to do something about it beyond simply visiting his specialist and injecting insulin to combat his diabetes.

It got me thinking though, and made me wonder about why we all get so defensive about what we eat.

Is it because we think we eat well?  Or maybe because we know we don’t really and don’t want to get caught out?  Or is it because if someone tells you that you need to eat better it means you might actually have to do something about it?

I think there is some complex psychology going on here and I am not trained in psychology so I am not even going to head down that road.

In my friend’s case, he just wanted whatever he was eating to be easy and changing what he ate meant that he needed to do something different and think about his food.

So, for example, if he wanted to have pizza for dinner, instead of simply picking up the phone and ordering the same pizza he always had, he needed to think about a whole lot of new things:

  • Whether pizza was a good choice for dinner. Maybe depending on how often and what it is made of.
  • Whether the toppings he usually chose were healthy. Mostly not.
  • Whether he could order from his usual shop or another one which was slower but made better food. Good idea! Start with that.
  • Whether he should make it himself. Probably but that seems hard when you first start to change.
  • Whether he had the ingredients to make his own. Not right this minute.
  • Whether he could order the ‘meal deal’ with the garlic bread and drink. He knew that was not a good choice but it was cheap.

In the end he would throw his hands in the air decide it was all too hard and order his usual pizza from his usual shop and damn the consequences.

Even with me nagging and explaining, it was difficult for him to start to change.

When he finally did have a diagnosis which pushed him to change, he did it and discovered that it wasn’t as difficult as he had first thought.

The reality is, that once you start to make one decision and change one thing, you discover that it is not too bad. 

Then you can make another and the second one is easier, and so on.

My friend made a lot of changes to his diet without dieting and, although his new diet was more restrictive than his old diet, he was not really restricted in what he ate.

We need to start more conversations about what we eat, our ‘diet’, and change to better options so we don’t have to diet.

If you have had a similar experience please comment below or email, I would love to hear your story.