Chuck, I was with some girlfriends the other day, and one asked, “So is your body beach ready?” As much as I want it to be, I’m more concerned that June represents the time when most of my friends are starving themselves or are on some fad diet to get super-skinny super-fast. ‘Tis the season, or is this summer cycle a diet death trap? – Kim B., New Jersey
Marci E. Anderson, who is a registered dietitian and a personal trainer, explained: “As the weather grows warmer and people begin shedding layers (of clothing), it’s common for body dissatisfaction and anxiety to grow. A recent Glamour magazine psychologist-designed poll states that 97 percent of women experience ‘I hate my body’ thoughts on a daily basis, with an average of 13 negative thoughts each day.”
Anderson added that 67 percent of women ages 25 to 45 (excluding those with eating disorders) are seeking to lose weight, with those numbers peaking in the summer, according to various health studies.
What’s alarming are their methods of weight loss: “37 percent of women regularly skip meals, 26 percent cut out entire food groups and 16 percent have consumed 1,000 or fewer calories per day in an attempt to lose weight,” Anderson explained.
The Irish Times reported this past week that, according to Kellogg’s research, half of women ages 25 to 44 have tried a fad diet and that roughly 83 percent of 500 women surveyed tried up to four fad diets, such as the maple syrup diet, the Atkins diet, the cabbage soup diet, the acai diet, the 5:2 diet, the blood type diet, the Dukan diet, the Zone Diet, the all-juice diet, the HCG diet, the three-day diet, the 17-day diet, et al.
The newspaper also reported that a new survey of 185 dietitians in the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute revealed that 96 percent of dietitians believe that “fad diets could have significant health risks.” Those include vitamin and mineral deficiencies, kidney malfunction and long-term weight gain. (Yet the same study showed that only one-third of the 500 women surveyed think their health has suffered as a result of a fad diet.)
Richelle Flanagan, president of the institute, explained to the newspaper: “Fad diets tend to focus on cutting out major food groups or very low-calorie diets that are often imbalanced and lacking in key nutrients.”
And as far as weight gain is concerned, the truth is that among the fad dieters surveyed who had lost weight, 71 percent of them didn’t maintain the weight loss.
Stefanie Mendez, a clinical dietitian, clarified that fad diets often lead to yo-yo dieting – trying diet after diet and watching one’s weight go up and down and up again with each new attempt.
Mendez elaborated in an article for Metro: “Fad diets tend to be very low-calorie, which results in rapid weight loss. This may sound like a good thing, but it’s actually harder to maintain your weight this way, as compared to losing it in a slow and steady manner. With a healthy weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week, it is easier to stick to the changes you’ve made in your lifestyle and maintain your new weight. Fad diets are also usually very specific and limiting. These diets are almost impossible to maintain over a lifetime, so once you’ve had enough of the fad, you go right back to eating like you used to.”
The latest diet craze to hit U.S. shores is the 5:2 diet, which is based upon the British best-seller “The Fast Diet,” by Dr. Michael Mosley. It’s currently among Amazon.com’s top 10 health books.
The diet’s popularity is likely because of its simplicity. One eats normally for five days a week, but on two nonconsecutive days, one radically reduces what he or she eats – to 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men.
No doubt there are benefits to periodic fasting. They were published again in this month’s edition of The British Journal of Diabetes & Vascular Disease: memory preservation, risk reduction for cancer and neurological disorders, and, yes, weight loss and maybe even extending one’s life.
In spite of fasting’s advantages, however, one must be extra-careful that deprivation doesn’t lead to overconsumption or justification of bad health habits on non-fasting days. And fasting’s benefits and sacrifices must be held up in the light of one’s personal health status, medical conditions and daily necessities.
Sheah Rarback, a registered dietitian, wrote in The Miami Herald this past week: “If one’s diet five days a week is rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains, severe calorie restriction two days most probably will not cause a nutritional crisis for a healthy adult. The bigger question is if intermittent fasting has greater benefit than traditional weight-loss strategies such as changing eating habits, reducing portion sizes and increasing activity. Even author Mosley, who trained in psychiatry but has made his career in television, admits this is a work in progress.”
I’m not a big believer in a one-diet-fits-all-people philosophy. But I’m firmly convinced that there are three staples of dietary health that fit absolutely everyone and could allow for you to reach your optimal weight, too. They are improving eating habits, reducing portion sizes and increasing physical activity. Most humans would benefit greatly and reach optimal weight levels by merely consuming a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains.
What about just knocking off some junk foods and reducing your high-caloric intake items? I know a woman who cut out refined sugar and alcohol. She lost 30 pounds in less than four months.
That is why Flanagan admonished: “For those who are looking to lose weight, it’s about watching portion sizes, reducing snacking on higher-fat foods, minimizing takeaway-style meals, keeping the alcohol calories in check and choosing whole-grain foods at all meals to keep fuller for longer.”