What Is a Diet?

In the broadest sense, a diet is simply whatever an animal eats. The diet of penguins is krill, fish, and squid. The diet of humans includes thousands of items, many of them replete with harmful chemicals and/or empty calories. An impoverished person might live for weeks on a diet of pasta and popcorn. The four-letter word itself implies neither health benefits nor choice.

In the healing realm, medical science has devised an array of special diets to treat, or at least to avoid worsening, various conditions. The cardiac diet, the GI soft diet, the renal diet, and the diabetic diet are designed for the benefit of specific body parts or systems. The clear liquid diet, the low fiber diet, the cleansing diet, and the vegetarian diet all have their functions.

The doctor might order a specific diet to restrict the intake of salt, carbohydrates, or fat. In a hospital setting, the patient has little choice. When it comes to compliance at home, some patients observe the rules more diligently than others.

Reducing diets and other body mods

Then there are diets whose point is to restructure the body, for purposes of weight loss, increased strength, and general fitness. When experts condemn diets and dieting, this is what they are talking about. Thousands of influencers, all over the world, believe they have the true answers, and most are not shy about denouncing others in their field who have different answers. As fitness expert Sean Croxton has said,

Everybody talking trash about everybody else’s diet and we just need to reel ourselves back in… I think we need to just go back and focus on what real food really is and that’s when we came up with the slogan of “Just Eat Real Food.”

One of the registered dietitians of NourishColorado.com wrote:

Dieting is the act of restricting the amount and/or type of food you eat in order to lose weight. Going on a diet entails demonizing a food, food group, or macronutrient. Diets ignore hunger/fullness cues, and take the pleasure out of food…

But making a choice from a place of “I should eat this to be healthy” is the diet mentality… All foods fit into a healthful relationship with food when we don’t rely on diets to tell us what to eat…

This writer branches off into yet another tangential issue: Where is the borderline between a diet and a full-blown lifestyle?

You can’t make this stuff up

During a recent year, 42% of American adults went on some kind of diet for some period of time. And yet, the weight of an average American grownup increased by 4.6%. Rami Bailony, M.D., has seen enough to know that people can “do everything right” and still keep gaining weight. He adds his voice to the ever-growing chorus who use the term “multifaceted,” because…

The cause of the obesity epidemic is far more complex than a calories equation. It is the result of interactions between environmental, behavioral, psychological, medical, genetic, and microbiomic factors.

Sometimes, the headline tells the whole discouraging story. For example: “Study Shows 1 In 4 Kids Have Dieted By Age 7.” In Dr. Pretlow’s experience, dieting generally leads to a vicious cycle, as he discusses in his book, Overweight: What Kids Say. For more details, visit the Weigh2Rock website, and to learn how the concept of diet meshes with the W8Loss2Go program, check out the “Approach” page.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Dark Side of Fat Loss with Sean Croxton,” DaveAsprey.com, undated
Source: “What is a diet, and can a lifestyle be a diet?,” NourishedColorado.com, 01/20/18
Source: “Obesity Is About So Much More Than Diet and Exercise,” Medium.com, 01/08/20
Source: “Study Shows 1 In 4 Kids Have Dieted By Age 7,” HuffPost.com, 03/17
Image by Marco Verch/CC BY 2.0

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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