Professor Henry FraserArchitecural Historian / Heritage Consultant
Chairman, Sentinel Committee, Barbados National Trust
Writer, TV Presenter, National Orator & Motivational Speaker
Professor Emertius, Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology.
Immediate Past Dean, Faculty of Medical Sciences.
University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados.


Article Index

COMMON SENSE & EVIDENCE # 69, for September 19th

Diets – a dime a dozen

Professor Henry Fraser

“Diet: a short period of starvation followed by a gain of five pounds” (Anonymous)

“Diet: a systematic way of starving to death so you can live longer” (Anonymous)

“If you wish to grow thinner, diminish your dinner” (Henry Leigh, d. 1883)

Diets really are a dime a dozen. They’ve become an obsession with women’s magazines, and there are as many fads out there as people wanting “to diet”. Every other film star seems to get in on the act, not to mention endorsement of best seller diet books by past Presidents. So what’s it all about, and is it good or bad?

The most commonly accepted definition of a diet is “a planned or prescribed selection of food” (Chambers’ Dictionary) or “special, limited food and drink, chosen or prescribed for health or to gain or lose weight” (Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary). In other words, it’s a limited selection of food and drink, self determined or prescribed by a doctor or dietician (or taken from the latest magazine) with a specific goal in view (usually loss of 10 pounds in a week to look good at a wedding). As the quotations above suggest, in the popular imagination it’s an imposed period of deprivation and distress, for some close to torture, and with dubious benefits. It may be associated with feelings of guilt or virtue, or alternating guilt and virtue, depending on the individual’s upbringing, relationships, self esteem, sweet tooth, sex (and frequency of sex).

But this is a great pity. Often the etymology of a word helps us to understand it better, and might even help us to return to the original meaning. The word “diet” comes from the Greek word diaita, meaning “mode of living, or diet”, so why not let’s return it to its original meaning, mode of living? Then my Editor would not have to suffer guilt, disappointment or fatigue (See Editor’s Diary, Daily Nation, Thursday August 26th, Page 9). We can all enjoy the fruits of a HEALTHY mode of living, while coping with all 10 of the challenges Roxanne has to face every day:

-If a friend brought you a pan of hot bread pudding, and a bowl of warm rum sauce, have some and share the rest with the headline writers (keep them happy but sober).

-Grandmothers said “Eat, eat, eat up all your food”, because in those days they didn’t know where the next meal was coming from. They sacrificed so we could eat, and some of them lived to a hundred (our research evidence shows that most centenarians kept active and slim and avoided diabetes and high blood pressure).

-Surveys: in fact the evidence shows that not 5% but 15% of people in weight loss programmes lose weight, and maintain weight loss (median 11 kilograms). These figures come from a systematic review of the 17 most rigorous long term weight reduction studies, published in Obesity Reviews. That amount of weight loss has a massive impact on diabetes and heart disease.

-Life is short so eat the chocolate – But make sure it’s the dark one, full of healthy flavoproteins, and savour that one mouthful!

-Who cares what people say if you know you’re more healthy slim?

-A hot cuppa – savour the flavour of the coffee and leave the cream for the fat cat.

-Don’t crunch popcorn in the cinema – it disturbs your neighbour!

-Hire that personal trainer, pump that iron and enjoy those endorphins!

-God did mean us to be thin. And we were, until 40 years ago, when the Devil invented Hell’en Devil’s ice cream.

-Don’t diet on holiday – go back to that Greek (Olympic?) definition and enjoy a healthy “mode of living” – pump some iron, savour some dark chocolate and share the bread pudding!

Nearly a hundred years ago, one Dr. Robert Hutchinson said of diet fads: “One swears by wholemeal bread, one by sour milk; vegetarianism is the only road to salvation for some, others insist not only on vegetables alone, but on eating those raw. At one time the only thing that matters is calories; at another time they are crazy about vitamins or about roughage. The scientific truth may be put quite briefly; eat moderately, having an ordinary mixed diet, and don’t worry.” (Newcastle Medical Journal, Vol.12, 1932).

So the simplest answer is “All of the above”; roughage, wholemeal, vegetables and vitamins, and go easy on the calories. Hippocrates said much the same thing 2000 years ago, based on his observations of the clinical evidence. But some of us love a little snake oil.

Henry Fraser Historic Houses Of Barbados Book CoverHistoric Houses of Barbados
Written by Henry Fraser & Ronnie Huges.
Available at all book leading book stores in Barbados.

Henry Fraser Treasures Of Barbados Book CoverTreasures of Barbados
Written by Sir George Alleyne and edited by Henry Fraser.
Available at the UWI Bookshop the publishers.

Henry Fraser Chattle House Book CoverBarbados Chattel Houses
Written by Henry Fraser and Bob Kiss.
Available at all leading book stores.

Henry Fraser A-Z Barbados Book CoverA-Z of Barbados Heritage
Written by Sean Carrington, Henry Fraser, John Gilmore and Addington Forde.
Available at Days Bookstore Barbados and

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