Is diet just a 4-letter word?

The first definition of the word diet I think of—the first one I learned—is “the food we normally eat.” And that’s still what I think of first when I see the word.

But I recognize that there are many people who hear or say the word diet and think deprivation, discomfort, agitation, punishment . . . .

Does it really have to be that way?

I started thinking about this when I read about a recent study (reported in Science News) of 5000 people which looked at a gene related to carbohydrate digestion.  People with fewer than 4 copies of the gene were 8 times more likely to be obese than people with more than 4 copies of the gene.

As is the way of science, this confirms something we know from experience.  If you don’t feel well when your diet (my first definition) includes high carb meals, you probably already know you don’t digest carbs well, without necessarily knowing about AMY1, the gene that produces an enzyme called salivary amylase.

Which brings me back to my original topic: is diet a 4-letter word?  Well, yes, it can be—the old-school calorie-cutting diets truly are about deprivation.  And they don’t work long-term, either.

But I believe a temporary restrictive diet can be a useful tool, not just to lose a few pounds of unwanted weight, but to bring awareness to our habits with food. I mean a diet that includes lots of real food with real nutrients, one designed to give our bodies what they need for health.

For example, if you think you might be unable to digest carbs, or you suspect gluten in your diet is causing problems, you could cut out carbs or gluten for a week or so, making sure you are still getting all the nutrients you need, and see how you feel.  (Or, in the first example, you could spend $1000 or so to have your genes sequenced and find out how many copies of AMY1 you have.) I’d rather experiment on myself and see how the change in diet makes me feel.

That to me is the point. Yes, society tells us that we need to be thin to be attractive, successful, happy, etc.  But well-being is so much more important: the positive energy to do the things we want to do, the clarity of mind to deal with life’s challenges, the good health to enable us to enjoy each day.  It’s well worth our attention and time to learn what we can do to foster our own well-being.

Besides, when we feel good, and our minds are clear, it’s easier to recognize—and resist—the pitfalls of processed foods and sugar and all the other “discomfort foods.”

By the way, the study authors estimated that the effect of the lower number of copies of AMY1 accounts for between 1.73 and 7.94% of obesity.  It’s too early to know the full effect of the gene, or how it works with others, but isn’t it interesting?  So much great research going on in this field!


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