As a kid, my perfect diet could easily have been ice cream and frosted flakes and peanut butter. As a teenager, it would have been salads (iceberg lettuce with either French or Thousand Island dressing), Chinese food and my mother’s shrimp cocktail. For a while as a pastry chef who imbibed sweets all day long, it was Chinese Chicken Salad, cheeses from around the world and espresso. Later on in life, my perfect diets had names such as raw food, macrobiotic and ovo-lacto vegetarian.
My concept of the perfect diet—and probably yours, too—has changed throughout the years along with changes of address, schools, friends, jobs, children and activities.
In 1975, a pivotal moment occurred while spending the summer on Cortez Island off the coast of British Columbia during a week-long yoga workshop with Joel Kramer. This was also my first introduction to yoga. Joel said there was no one diet or special food that he would recommend; rather just through practicing yoga our diet would change to reflect our practice. Through the years I have observed this wise concept in action in my own life.
When we alter our life choices, we change our way of life, we change our diet
A few years ago I came across diaita, the ancient Greek word at the root of the word diet. Translated, diaita means “way of life.” This long-forgotten meaning of diet confirmed what I learned in the summer of ’75. Diaita acknowledges the unique life of each individual and of how our diet reflects our way of life. Thus all of our life choices, including our careers, how we exercise, our relationships with friends and family, our spirituality or lack of spirituality, and even our sleep habits are important aspects of our “diet.” By altering any of our life choices we change our way of life, we change our diet.
We’ve all had the experience of feeling hungry and wanting we know not what. We take a bite of this, a bite of that. We open and close the refrigerator door yet nothing seems right, we just don’t find what we need to feel satisfied. This continues to happen as long as we expect food to both nourish our bodies and fulfill our emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual needs.
Take a close look as this brilliant food pyramid from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. They understand the concept of diaita with their inclusion of “primary foods,” our way of life, in the outer ring along with “secondary foods,” the foods we physically consume, including water, in the center. When we have balance in our outer ring, so goes the inner ring. This pyramid truly expresses diet as a reflection of our way of life.
The Perfect Diet
I so prefer diaita as a meaning of the word “diet.” I better understand the effect of my life choices and my own responsibility for my life—rather than expecting a particular food or way of eating to be the “perfect diet.” There is no one perfect diet, no one way of life for everyone. Instead, the perfect diet is the diet that brings joy and comfort and health for each individual. Each individual is as unique as their way of life, as is their perfect diet.