Monday, November 9, 2009

Fighting Food Fads

“Eat cookies! Lose weight!” proclaimed an advertisement in a magazine I was recently flipping through. In spite of myself, I hesitated. I didn’t care about losing weight, but the eating cookies part? That sounded pretty good…

No denying it, I have a weak spot for cookies. I sometimes wish I could eat them for every meal. So then, a diet explicitly encouraging me to do just that was quite alluring. I soon snapped out of my fantasy and reminded myself that there is a reason cookie gluttony should remain distinct from reality: the only healthy and sustainable diets are those composed of a variety of real, healthy foods.

The “Cookie Diet” is not the first of its kind. For generations diets have risen to popularity, each claiming to have a magic fix for weight-woes.

My mom told me about her attempt at the “Scarsdale Diet” during college. The diet consisted of eating grapefruit, lean meat, vegetables and two slices of toast a day for two weeks of fast weight loss.

Because of the extreme calorie restriction, the diet seemed to work and my mom quickly shed pounds.

However, after returning to a normal, and nutritionally healthier, way of eating she soon gained back the weight. After this experience, my mom realized something many others fail to grasp: Fad diets don’t work.

Scientists have worked for decades to come up with vitamin and mineral replacements. They have isolated individual nutrients from healthy foods, believing they can replicate the natural benefits. However, there has been a baffling lack of success. Only now are many scientists admitting there are truly no substitutes for whole foods.

This revelation explains the major problem with fad diets: Dieters’ bodies crave natural nutrients. No amount of pills or vitamins will ever be able to replace the benefits of the real foods that dieters are often deprived of.

While the greatest consequence of most diets is disappointment and weight regain, some of the more extreme fad diets may actually have health risks. The only fortunate thing about fad diets is that most of the negative side effects don’t have time to set in, as dieters quit the programs before serious damage is done.

There are healthy and effective ways to approach weight-loss. Eating well is about combining a lot of common sense and a little nutritional education. This doesn’t have to be difficult. It simply comes down to energizing and rewarding the body through well-balanced meals rather than denying it essential nutrients.

Any diet that severely restricts or eliminates food groups is cause for concern. The best way to ensure long-term weight loss is to pursue a diet that fits naturally with a healthy lifestyle.

A good rule of thumb in detecting fad diets is to consider what it permits eating on special occasions. I find it hard to imagine anyone saying on Thanksgiving, “No, I’ll pass on the turkey. I’ve got a package of cookies waiting for me … ”

A Brief History of Modern Fad Diets
• “Vinegar Diet”, circa 1820s: Popularized by British poet Lord Byron, dieters would supposedly shed pounds by drenching food in vinegar.
• “The Great Masticator Diet”, circa 1903: Participants chewed food 32 times before spitting it out. John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of corn flakes, was a devoted follower.
• “The Cigarette Diet”, circa 1925: Spin-off from a Lucky Strikes marketing campaign, dieters reached for a cigarette whenever they craved a sweet.
• “Cabbage Soup Diet”, circa 1950s: Dieters ate unlimited amounts of cabbage soup and a few low-calorie “treats” for one-week of rapid weight loss. Program found a new generation of followers through the Internet in the 1990s.
• “Sleeping Beauty Diet”, circa 1974: Dieters would be heavily sedated for a few days of sleep, supposedly waking up a few pounds lighter. Reportedly followed by Elvis.
• “The Atkins’ Diet”, circa 1994: Encouraged eating high-protein foods, but essentially eliminated all carbohydrates.
• “Maple Syrup Diet”, circa 2006: Acclaimed by the singer Beyonce, this diet calls for drinking a mixture of syrup, lemon juice, and spices for a quick detoxification.

As seen in the University Daily Kansan.

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