What Does The Word “Diet” Really Mean?

Continuing my quest to answer all of #TeamHooman‘s Twitter questions (see Gym Bag Essentials for the first in this series of articles), I have another one to tackle:

@Bvrdan“Recently came up with me. The difference between diet weight loss and the importance of diet for weight gain?”

This is a confusing, and extremely important, topic!

So many incorrect, preconceived, notions pop into people’s mind when they hear the word “diet”. So let us take a few minutes and clear up any confusion, and then look at the specifics of his question.


What The $!%@ Does “Diet” Actually Mean?!?


The word “diet” is a noun, and actually comes from an ancient Greek word meaning ‘a mode of living.’

It refers to the overall sum of the food consumed by an organism or group.

Even though the term has been co-opted by the weight-loss industry, it has nothing to do with weight loss/gain. The word, as a noun, has nothing to do with how many calories you eat, the ratio of simple to complex carbohydrates on your plate, or how much sugar you shovel into your cake-hole…

A diet is just what you eat during the day.

For instance, certain cultures have diets that are based on the foods readily available to them. The most common one you may have heard of is the “Mediterranean Diet.” Essentially it is a diet based around:

  • Eating lots of – vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, seafood and olive oil.
  • Occasionally eating – poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt.
  • Almost never eating – red meat.

Almost every region of the globe has its own unique diet.

They are not inherently good nor bad, and won’t generally contribute to weight loss or weight gain.

It is simply a word to describe your regular eating habits.

Altering Your Diet To Affect Change

By changing what, and how much, you eat you can definitely bring about positive (and negative) changes in your body and health though.

Let’s start here – No matter what your goal, the basis of your diet should be full of clean foods.

Once you clean all the crap off of your daily menu, and you are eating a reasonably healthy diet (and please remember that eating healthy doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorite foods, it just means you do it in measured moderation), then you can start thinking about adjusting things based on your long-term goals.

Once you have what you are eating under control, getting the result you want is all about how much you are consuming.

Are you looking to just feel a little healthier? To lose some weight? To pack on some muscle?

Want to just feel a little better?

Even if you are happy with how much you weigh, if you make significant changes to the quality of the food you are eating on a daily basis you are probably going to want to at least take a quick glance at your daily caloric intake.

Clean, healthy, foods tend to have fewer calories than processed junk… so a little re-calibration of the size, or number, of your meals might be in order.

Want to shed some unwanted pounds?

Make sure you are avoiding low-quality foods, start grocery shopping like a champion, learn to cook your meals at home, and develop the willpower to eat less than you have been.

Oh, and of course, get thee to the gym. But that’s a different article all-together.

What about if you are tired of being skinny, and you want to bulk up?

Eat more food and lift heavy things repeatedly.

That’s honestly all there is to it.

I mean, like I mentioned above, healthy foods tend to pack fewer calories than calorie-dense junk food; so you are probably going to be eating more than you are accustomed to, but after a while you won’t even notice that extra helping of baked sweet potato, cup of steel-cut oatmeal, or grilled chicken breast.

(Pssst, in case there was any confusion, those are my top three suggestions to what to add to your diet if you are trying to muscle up.)

Basically, what I am saying is, you have to figure out how many calories to eat.

I know I have talked about it before, but let me lay it out for you again. If you want to change the way you look and feel, you have to do a little work:

  1. Spend a week and keep a food journal. That way you really know what your beginning “diet” really is.
  2. Determine how many calories your body needs on a daily basis by following the steps in this three-part series of articles.
  3. Adjust that number based on your goals.
  4. Devise the contents, and number, of meals to eat daily that gets you to that number.

If you want to lose weight, reduce your daily caloric intake by 300-600 calories a day (or whatever your personal calculations support.)

If you want to gain muscle mass, increase your daily caloric intake by 10-12% a day.

The reason I suggest only a small increase in calories for those that want to gain weight is that muscle growth is a very slow process, much slower than gaining or losing fat, and we don’t need a lot to fuel that. Any more and we are just going to be padding our fuel-stores aka fat.

Finally, no matter what your specific goal, remember any real change is going to take time… Be patient with yourself!

To Diet, Or Not to Diet, That Is The Question

Since I know that, no matter how much I yell the contrary from the rooftops, people are still going to go on temporary diets…

So fine, use the word as a verb if you must… just do it intelligently? For me?

We’ve already discussed ad nauseam how verb-dieting generally leads to failure; but if you don’t fall victim to a fad diet, it isn’t necessarily a terrible thing.

I get it, life can get away from you and things can creep up on you. You blink and:

  • You realize your class reunion is only two months away and you want to strut your stuff.
  • San Diego Comic-Con (or your favorite con of choice) is right around the corner and you need to rock your new, bad-a$$ cosplay.
  • Summer sneaks up on you and you realize your bathing suit isn’t fitting the way you want.
  • *Insert any other life-event you want here*

If that’s the case, by all means clean up your diet temporarily.

As long as you aren’t severely cutting calories (not dropping below 1300-1400/day is the general rule-of-thumb for most body-types,) and are eating quality clean foods, then have at it!

I will just sit back and hope that you reconsider your decision to make this change a temporary thing, and that you adopt healthy foods and eating habits as your new noun-diet.

All that being said, I wanted to say a huge thank you to @Bvrdan for the great article suggestion… as well as all the other #TeamHooman members who participated. I will be continuing to answer your questions into the New Year!

Editor’s Note – If you don’t know what #TeamHooman is, it’s a seriously awesome Internet community that sprung up out of Ryon Day’s awesome Twitch channel. If you’re looking for a supportive and positive community, what is unfortunately a rarity on the Internet these days, then you should check them out!

So, does that clear up what the word “diet” actually means?

Do you have any questions?

Let me know in the comments below!

(Photo credit #3, Photo credit #4)

PS: If you want help becoming a real-life superhero, then make sure to get your copy of “The Heroes’ Transformation Guide and support the site. Don’t wait!

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1 reply
  1. David - Durban
    David - Durban says:

    HOORAY for this webpage ! ! !
    “Diet” = ‘what you usually eat’ NOT something you go on ! ! !


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