Every day, another new diet or superfood craze takes hold of the population. Whether it’s the Raw ‘Til 4 style of veganism or the low-carb Atkins lifestyle, diets nearly always restrict intake of some sort of food or food group, labelling them “bad.”

But diets were not always these restrictive constructs humans followed in order to fit into a smaller dress or enhance their fat loss. Before Crossfit or SoulCycle hopped onto the scene and before Instagrams of açaí bowls swarmed everyone’s newsfeeds, the word “diet” held a different meaning.

With many people struggling with an obsession over their food choices and restrictions (myself included), I set out to examine what the word “diet” really means rather than what the media today tells us it should be.  

The Definition Behind the "Diet"

Jane Asher

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "diet" has been around since the 13th century. At the time, the definition meant, "food; provisions or victuals in daily use, viewed as a collective whole, especially in relation to their quality and effects." Your diet consisted of all of the foods that you ate and didn't require a set of rules. 

Surprisingly enough, the definition shifted to include those limits as early as the 1500s. The word was most often used in relation to what was fed to prisoners — the "bread and water diet." Most people struggled to produce enough food, let alone enough to become unhealthily overweight.

From Balance to Weight Loss

The idea of your diet as a tool for weight loss didn't take hold until the 19th century, when Rev. Sylvester Graham and William Banting started the modern movement. Graham invented the first diet food, the Graham cracker, after white bread gained popularity with the middle class. 

Banting wrote a pamphlet in 1863 with a guide that reads like a direct predecessor to the Atkins diet of today. Readers were told to eat four meals a day consisting of protein, greens and fruits. Meat and dairy products were allowed, but starches and sugars were to be avoided. 

egg, vegetable, tomato, huevos rancheros, egg yolk, fried egg
Hana Brannigan

The 1900s became the age of calorie counting, which continues today. In her book Diet and Health, with the Key to the Calories, California doctor Lulu Hunt Peters said that "food, and food only, causes fat," encouraging her audience of married women to follow her 100-calorie portion system to achieve their ideal weight. 

Getting Back to the Basics

Graham, Banting, Peters and others changed everything about "diets" over the last two hundred years, and not for the better. Rather than enjoying their food, people are spending more time poring over food labels than preparing their body's fuel. Restrictions have created a culture of poor food relationships, resulting in more cases of eating disorders across the globe. 

Returning to the earlier definitions of "diet," centered on food as a way of nourishing your body in a balanced way, could change the entire conversation.

pasta, vegetable, spaghetti, sauce
Alex Frank

Eliminating the worry of a treat or going out for a meal means becoming an overall healthier person, versus one too afraid of the societal consequences that come with gaining one extra pound.

I'm learning not to feel guilty for grabbing another scoop of quinoa or slabbing a little extra peanut butter onto my toast in the morning. It isn't always the easiest choice to let yourself indulge in something that isn't "diet-approved", but the peace that comes with listening and caring for your body is worth so much more than any weight-loss plan.