Healthy Eating

Faceoff: “Diets” vs. Nutrition

diet vs nutrtitionWhat’s the difference between a “diet” and healthy nutrition habits?

We talk a lot about “diets” on the IdealShape blog (namely how they usually end in tears and regained weight). So I realized it’s probably a good time to clarify the difference between “going on a diet” and “adopting healthy nutrition habits.”

The biggest difference between a diet and nutrition habits has nothing to do with the type of food you eat. Rather, it’s the approach to making the changes.

To Taper, or Not to Taper?

A diet usually implies a complete overhaul of your food choices. “Going on a diet” is a concrete decision. It’s a fell swoop action, and you start today (or maybe tomorrow).

Adopting healthy eating habits, on the other hand, is a measured process. Instead of getting a whole new set of food rules to follow, it’s above all a commitment to eating healthy. While it, too, can be an overhaul of your food choices, it usually happens by changing a little each day.

Some people find it easier to make all radical changes at once—to “cold turkey” it and let the body adjust.

Others, however, rebel. While the body is incredibly adaptive and strong, it generally can’t wait to revert back to a state of comfort.

So while you may be amazed at your ability to suddenly cut out caffeine and sugar and eat totally clean—and still be breathing—your body is probably plotting an overthrow.

That’s why adopting one new eating habit at a time usually delivers more lasting results than a weekend’s worth of diet revolution.

“Summer Body” or Body for Life

Another big difference between a diet and healthy nutrition habits is the goal.

Do people really find it easier to make a 180-degree food turn at once? Probably not. More likely, the appeal is the fast results.

Not only is the goal a very immediate one, but it’s usually short-term, too. (Who ever talks about “going on a diet” permanently?) If someone really wanted to create a set of permanent healthy eating habits, they probably wouldn’t be in such a rush—and wouldn’t adopt drastic rules they hated.

As IdealShape’s research shows, you have to be able to practice a behavior in everyday life, every day, in order for it to become a “habit” that sticks.

The Magic Food Group

Finally we get to the question of what you eat.

Diets are usually centered on one food type or theme that is supposed to be the healthiest: low carb, low fat, raw, veggies only, meat only, or only what our caveman ancestors ate.

Could any of these diets help you to lose weight? Probably. And that may be for no other reason than that most diets involve cutting out sugar and refined carbs, which are pegged as the top contributors to fat gain.

So if you do choose to build your nutrition habits around a certain type of food, if you can stick with it long-term, there’s probably nothing wrong with that. In the end, it’s all about finding out what works for your body and mind in the long run.

Yet for those who worry about which food is best, it may be OK to think of nutrition habits like an investment portfolio: a diverse mix is a safe way to go. That way, no matter what scientists discover is the super-food of the hour, you’re sure to have it in there somewhere.

So, question for you: Have you ever adopted a diet and stuck with it? (Or turned some elements of a diet into long-term nutrition habits?)

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Chelsea Ratcliff

Chelsea Ratcliff

Writer and expert


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