Well, friends - here we are. Happy 2022, in spite of it all.
For those of you resolving to do anything more than outliving this pandemic, let’s talk about diet. Diet, inevitably, perennially tops the list of this season’s resolutions.
There is generally little good in that, both because the popular dietary choices tend to range from dubious to dreadful, and because the resolutions rarely harbor any true resolve. Few of them survive nearly long enough to welcome harbingers of spring (or fall, for friends Down Under). Dietary resolutions are, generally, misdirected, misguided, frustrating, fleeting, and futile.
Don’t hate on me; you knew that already. I’m just an honest messenger.
But, actually, applying your resolve to diet need be none of those. It could, genuinely, help add pleasure to your days, and years to your life. It could nourish a more vital, and more contented version of you.
Yes, there’s more. It could emanate kindness and decency out to our fellow creatures living here with all the same inalienable rights of existence we assume for ourselves. Biology is big on diversity. Our dietary choices impact a community of life well beyond the bounds of our butts and bellies, our cholesterol and CRP.
And most importantly: the calendar turns again to find us fretting on an ever more imperiled planet. The resolve we direct to diet redounds as well to rainforest and rivers, glaciers and oceans, aquifers and fields. With our forks, each day, we wield a power to wound or succor the planet itself, and the essential treasures of its biodiversity and fecundity. Absent that fecundity, rooted in sea and soil, we will have devoured the planet’s capacity to feed us- and it will, dispassionately, cease to do so.
Diet is perfectly innocuous as a noun, denoting a particular dietary pattern, or way of eating. It is, however, utterly pernicious as a verb, connoting “dieting,” a cycle of recurring and brief deprivation to the limits of tolerance, followed by compensatory mayhem. The cycle repeats indefinitely, casting a pall over quality of life, degrading self-esteem.
John Mayer said love is a verb. Well, I say “diet” is a noun.
Diet as verb- dieting- really ought to die, because it is no way to live. We “diet” alone, briefly, recurringly, and unhappily. We “live it” together, however: permanently, and with the promise of genuine contentment. We live it as a family, with loved ones, bounded by shared values. In that unity is not just strength, but solidarity and support, comfort and consolation, resolve and resilience; and joy. Do-it-by-yourself asceticism loses at every metric.
Diet as a verb is about what is lost: weight. Diet as a noun is means to what is found: more years in life, and more life in years. Pleasure from good food in good company, aligned with pleasure from good health- and the further pleasure of doing well by doing the world some good.
How to gather this all up into a genuinely actionable resolve? By choosing a dietary pattern that both works for you, and appeals to you. By deriving pleasure from doing good, feeling well, and loving food that loves you, your health, and the planet back. That is truly all possible- and that’s a bit of truly good news with which to start this year.
There are really just two ingredients in the recipe for a dietary resolution that can enhance your interactions with food for the rest of your life. First, accept that no new, single, shiny, best-selling crock of malarkey is “the” best diet. There is no “the” best diet for everyone. There are, however, principles of eating well that pertain to us all, because <" target="_blank" rel="noopener">we are all the same kind of animal. Michael Pollan beautifully summed those up with “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” I, among many others, have embellished on that theme, many times, but not improved upon it.
Second, while we are the same kind of animal, we don’t all have the same tastes. To borrow from my wife’s country of childhood: Vive la difference! You should choose of way of eating that serves your personal objectives, and satisfies your personal tastes. That is personalized nutrition, and it has been the better option all along. The basic theme of eating well we all have in common; the details are as diverse as the cultures and cuisines that span the globe.
This is the real message in this year’s much anticipated release of US New & World Report’s “best diets,” for which I am privileged to serve among the judges- and have done for more than a decade now. Quite true- the best “diets” aren’t diets at all; they are dietary patterns, ways of eating for a lifetime. These have stood the tests of not just science, but also sense and seasons, rhyme and reason, taste and heritage. Think Blue Zones, and you will be on the right track. No one enjoying Blue Zone blessings is awaiting instructions on a new best way to eat this year.
In , I am inexpressibly proud of the work my team at - a company I founded- has done. In a nut shell, we have ‘exploded’ every diet type imaginable, including a long and ever-growing list of ethnic diets, into multiple tiers of quality- using a unique-in-the-world method we call “culinary cartography,” and scoring each using the robustly validated Healthy Eating Index-2015.
The result is an inventory that includes very high-quality versions of whatever kind of diet is truly “just right” for you, based on both your personal health objectives, and your personal preferences of taste and culture. This is bone fide “personalized nutrition,” delivered by means reliable and ready for prime time, unlike the shiny but inchoate nutrigenomics, and related forays into prematurity. Looking at a literal diet map that shows a diverse expanse of dietary patterns all at the top tier of objectively measured quality is a vivid illustration of the opportunity to renounce one-fad-for-all diets forever, and instead find your way to a way of eating that can enhance your vitality for a lifetime. Learn more at Critically, at this juncture, we should pause our customary chewing long enough to chew on this: we will be healthy vital people on a healthy, vital planet or we will not be healthy, vital people at all. On a ruined planet, inhospitable to our kind of animal, and made so by ourselves, we will suffer every manner of existential blight from remorse to dread; from hunger, thirst and homelessness to pestilence, pandemonium, and decay. We should be eating as if the world depends on it- because with nearly 8 billion of us seeking sustenance daily, it does.
Diet is a good noun, and a bad verb. Let “dieting” die its much belated death. This year, resolve to evolve your relationship with food. Let this be the start of what you find instead of what you lose. By all means, make how you eat the priority it deserves to be. Just don’t diet; live it, instead.
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, FACLM, is the Founding Director (1998) of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, and current President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. He has published roughly 200 scientific articles and textbook chapters, and 15 books to date, including multiple editions of leading textbooks in both preventive medicine, and nutrition. He has made important contributions in the areas of lifestyle interventions for health promotion; nutrient profiling; behavior modification; holistic care; and evidence-based medicine. David earned his BA degree from Dartmouth College (1984); his MD from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (1988); and his MPH from the Yale University School of Public Health (1993). He completed sequential residency training in Internal Medicine, and Preventive Medicine/Public Health. He is a two-time diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, and a board-certified specialist in Preventive Medicine/Public Health. He has received two Honorary Doctorates.