Diet: Verb vs. Noun

Like many dietitians, I often rail against diets. You may hear things like - diets don’t work, skip the fad diet, or simply don’t diet from myself or other like-minded Registered Dietitians (RD). At the same time, however, we may use the word diet in describing a particular way of eating that we feel is sensible or medically necessary. We often endorse a certain way of eating or "diet". To some, this can be confusing.

So what gives? How can dietitians tell you not to diet while encouraging you to adjust your way of eating (or “diet”) to be more healthful? The answer really comes down to semantics. Is diet being used as a verb or a noun?

Diet: The Verb

The diet that so many dietitians are opposed to is when it is used as a in “to diet” or the action of dieting.

Diet, the verb, brings up images of:

  • An action that has a beginning and an end (as most diets do). The action of dieting is rarely sustainable. Complicated food rules and restrictions make fad diets unfeasible in the long term.
  • An action that is often synonymous with deprivation. Most diets are fueled by a desire to lose weight or to gain a particular body form. Dieting means taking foods away and making eating less enjoyable.
  • An action that uses a great deal of energy to keep motivated. Sticking to restrictive diet rules takes mental energy that could be used elsewhere.
  • An action that can generate negative emotion. Often times guilt and shame are associated with an inability to follow a diet correctly.
  • An action that may distance you from friends and family. With all the rules associated with dieting, you may feel distanced from loved ones when eating together.
  • An action that sucks the enjoyment from your life. No one should let their eating habits take over their life. There is so much more to life than what is on our plate.


Diet: The Noun

When most Registered Dietitians use the word diet it isn’t in the action-sense of the word, “to diet”, but rather naming a way of eating. Diet, the noun, is simply a way of saying what you eat in a general sense. Simple as that.

When we talk about your diet, we are talking about what you are eating or, perhaps, what you should be eating to be as healthy as possible. There are no strict rules in this type of diet. You CAN deviate from the health-promoting foods we RDs recommend, if you want to treat yourself. Diet, the noun, isn’t a hop-on, hop-off type of thing. It’s a lifelong way of healthy eating.

Remember, a healthy diet does not look the same for everyone. What is healthy for one, may not be healthy for others (especially when we take into consideration individual health concerns). Although science tells us that there is no one perfect way to eat, we do know that certain eating patterns correlate to health. Dietitians want to guide you towards a healthier, evidenced-based way of eating (or diet) to optimize your health. We don't want to "put you on" a restrictive, unsustainable diet that will set you up to fail. 

We need to ditch using the word diet as a verb and hold on to it as a descriptor of what is being consumed on the whole. Diet should be a noun, not a verb.