The original meaning of diet stems from the Greek word diata, which means way of life. Diata acknowledges the influence of the environment and lifestyle — eating, exercise, sleep, relationships and work — on physical, mental and spiritual health. Eating is central to our health but we need to assess the impact of other lifestyle factors as well. We often eat to gain energy, but stress, poor breathing and inadequate sleep and exercise also affect our energy levels.
As scientific research advances we learn more about the interrelationship of lifestyle factors on our health and wellbeing. We have known for several decades that exercise (movement) and nutritious foods are a powerful combination for body and mind fitness. For example, research has uncovered the importance of muscle strengthening exercises for bone strength and blood glucose metabolism. Regular exercise is also important for the regulation of body weight, digestion and sleep.
More recently we have learned that the amount and quality of sleep has a large impact on our health. Lack of sleep interferes with our hormone balance. This influence directly alters what we feel like eating, driving us to eat higher fat and sugary foods. Insufficient sleep has been linked to insulin resistance, overweight, type 2 diabetes and other lifestyle diseases. Insulin resistance occurs when the cells of our body become less sensitive to insulin. Even with higher levels of insulin in our blood, our body fails to control the amount of blood glucose. Insulin resistance is the precursor to type 2 diabetes.
To gain the full nourishment from what we eat I believe that we need to take care of our mind and body through lifestyle choices that support our individual needs.
Our relationships with others impact on our total health through our lifestyle choices, such as what we eat. Our eating habits are formed in our family. We learn to eat in a certain way due to our early childhood experiences. In our adult years we may continue to eat the way we did in our family of origin, or we may modify our eating for health and ethical reasons. We may also adopt eating habits from our spouse and friends. Often what, how and when we eat is influenced by our relationships. Supportive relationships are crucial for optimal health.
The quality of our physical, mental and spiritual health is primarily based on our own assessment, but we can look to Western and Eastern medicine for guidance. The link between the health of the mind and body is very clear in Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine. Ultimate health is defined as self-relisation or enlightenment with Eastern cultures emphasising the health of the mind.
The World Health Organisation promotes: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” In reality though, Western health systems generally focus on the absence of disease. There are examples of holistic approaches in the West such as the practice of mindfulness and meditation. Meditation has gained acceptance through research demonstrating that certain practices lower blood pressure and increase concentration span. Psychological approaches are also applied to improve mental and physical health.
I embrace the essence of diata. The modern definition of diet is too narrow and restrictive in nature. I encourage you to reflect on how you can embody the original diet – diata.