What is a diet? Does a diet really help you lose weight? Are they healthy? Why would anyone want to go on one?

These are questions that almost everybody is asking these days.

First of all, despite my normal advice against “diets”, I do have to admit that in some circumstances, for some people, they can help a person’s weight loss program. Let me explain a couple of things, however.

People today get confused when they hear the word “diet”. They usually think that it always applies to some special plan of eating which is intended to help people lose weight. This isn’t always so, and there was a time when the word was simply used to indicate a list of what a person ate. Scholars would, and still do, talk about the “diet” of a tribe, nation, or cultural group. Doctors would prepare a list of foods intended to accomplish some goal other than weight loss, and the word would be applied to that list of foods. Heck, I was placed on one as a small child in order to determine what food might be causing an allergy I had at the time.

Today the word has come to mean a special list of foods you can or cannot eat if you wish to lose weight. Many of these have achieved almost mystical status and many have their own followings. Just witness how far the Atkins and South Beach Diets have extended themselves in our society.

Before Dr. Atkins came along and South Beach was discovered, I am sure you remember such exciting diets as those centered around specific foods which practically guaranteed weight loss success. You could eat grapefruit, cabbage soup, or you could enjoy the promised effects of the negative calorie diet. Most have these have faded away for three basic reasons:

1. People got tired of eating the same thing meal after meal.

2. They were unrealistic in their expectations. How could you get cabbage soup when on vacation, or at a business luncheon.

3. Most of the time, they simply didn’t work.

While “going on a diet” for a short period may produce a small loss for some people, dieting is simply not the answer to a lifelong weight loss problem. If you are just a few pounds overweight and want to drop a few dress sizes by the wedding in two weeks, a diet just might do the trick, and, for that short time, you will probably be able to stick with it as long as you keep your goal in sight.

The downside of a diet is threefold:

* The effects are not permanent or life changing

* It does not contribute to health and vitality

* It may actually contribute to weight gain

I have covered these subjects in more depth in other articles I have written, and, because of limited space, I will just provide a quick overview of these topics.

Most people will not stay on a diet for a myriad of reasons, and it normally cannot be adapted to a new style of eating – a lifestyle change. Admittedly, some people have hereditary or genetic situations that they cannot overcome, but which cause them to become overweight. However, for anyone, at least a portion of what made someone overweight is a part of their life choices, and it is these choices which must be changed in order for permanent weight loss to occur.

Limiting nutritional intake or restricting one’s access to a wide selection of nutritional options, such as in the grapefruit or cabbage soup diet, also limits the individual’s access to nutrients necessary to normal health. Eating some foods, or types of foods, in excess may contribute to other health problems in some people.

Our bodies have been designed to operate and react in certain ways, and this includes how they react and function when changes occur in our diet. One of the effects of a failed attempt is that the body may actually put back on more weight than it originally had to contend with, and may even continue to gain over a prolonged period of time following coming off the program.

True, permanent weight loss for health and fitness hinges on three central points:

* Regular physical activity

* Periods of rest

* A sensible diet

Diet if you must, but realize that for your health and for permanent weight loss, you must do more. One last point. If you do choose to go on a diet, please take a daily multivitamin to help replace the nutrients you are missing.