Don't call it a diet
When friends declare, “I’m going on a diet” we respond with equal parts excitement and fear. To hear, “I’m going on a 30 day juice cleanse” or “I’m forgoing all carbs” is like hearing “I’m going to climb Everest... alone...in my bermuda shorts.” We admire their determination and their thirst for extreme living, but we can’t help but wonder, why in heaven’s name? And will they make it? Perhaps with a bit of voyeuristic fascination, we eagerly await reports of their dieting adventures. We delight when we learn about their personal victories (a 5 pound weight loss over two weeks!) and empathize with their struggle to stick to their dieting itinerary (the hot cakes detour was regrettable but forgivable). So it’s when they return from their extreme dieting adventure defeated and weight unchanged that we embrace them and gently suggest a healthier, more sustainable option. We understand our friends want a quick fix for whatever is ailing them but rather than going on a reckless adventure, perhaps what is really needed is a lifestyle change. Here, we’d introduce them to the Mediterranean way of eating.
To entice our friends, we’d show them photos of typical Mediterranean meals. Their eyes would feast over images of spicy shrimp puttanesca, grilled oregano chicken kebabs with zucchini and olives, lemon farro bowl with avocado. Their mouths would water as they imagine the flavors of a prosciutto-lettuce-tomato-avocado sandwich, finished off with a bar of pomegranate-quinoa dark chocolate bark. And the best part, we conclude, is that this way of healthy eating has relatively few restrictions so long as we abide by the few basic principles of the Mediterranean way of eating:
Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats
Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs
Moderate portions of dairy products
Limited intake of red meat and sweets
Be physically active and enjoy meals with others
As our friends’ imaginations are running wild with the meals they can concoct with whole grains, rice, cereal, pasta, olive oil, fish, poultry, beans, herbs, spices, served alongside fruits and vegetables with every meal, we try to make an even more compelling argument for the Mediterranean way of eating. We pull out the Seven Countries Study of farmers from Crete, who despite consuming some of the largest amounts of fats among the observed countries, had the lowest cardiovascular mortality rate. A familiar pattern begins to emerge: the Cretian diet emphasizes an abundance of plant foods, olive oil, moderate amounts of fish, poultry, wine, fresh vegetables and fruit daily, and low amounts of red meat. We show them study after study affirming that the Mediterranean way of eating is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular death, coronary disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
“Alright, we’re going on the Mediterranean diet,” our friends say. To that we respond: don’t call it a diet. Call it a healthy, delicious way of eating and living.