Our country’s obsession with thinness has made for a literal feeding frenzy – of diet books, diet foods and nutritional supplements. Kavita Poddard, a UW Health clinical nutritionist, is concerned with how these tempting quick fixes impact people’s health.
She says, “Research shows that biggest influence on a person’s desired goal weight is appearance and physical comfort rather than change in medical condition or weight suggested by a doctor or health care professional.”
She adds, “Almost two thirds of women say they are not happy with their shape, with 77 percent saying they have been on a diet at least once.”
Poddard wants women to realize that it’s more important to focus on healthy lifestyle behaviors rather than on an unattainable body image that is promised by fad diets and rapid weight loss.
How to Spot a Fad Diet
Fad diets represent a form of behavior that develops quickly among a large group of people, is followed enthusiastically for a period of time because it is promote by the media. It becomes popular as the number of people adopting the behavior increases and quickly tends to disappear as the novelty fades.
Most fad diets share the following characteristics:
- Rapid weight loss claims
- May allow unlimited quantities of certain foods (grapefruit/cabbage)
- Specific food combinations and rigid menus
- Billed as cure-alls and use testimonials – including skinny celebrities!
- Recommend expensive supplements
Poddard says, “Overall, fad diets are naturally inadequate because they lack a balance of vitamins and minerals and dietary fiber.”
The top types of fad diets include:
• Low Carb, High Protein diet
• Low-fat and Very Low-fat diets
• Unlimited quantities of certain foods diet (cabbage, grapefruit, etc.)
• Raw food diet
• Gluten free diet (when not medically necessary)
These diets don’t meet your body’s basic nutritional needs and can lead to:
- Preoccupation with food
- Increased cravings (especially for high-fat and high-sugar foods)
- Inability to concentrate
- Increased fat storage
“The problem,” says Poddard, “is that when you follow a fad diet, you deny your body a basic need and as a result, it sends powerful hunger signals, making it hard to concentrate on anything BUT food, and creating cravings for high-fat and high-sugar foods.”
In addition, once people stop dieting, they no longer have a “plan” to keep that weight off because they’ve been sticking to such a strict eating schedule, so they tend to lose any sense of control and gain the weight back quickly.
Keep Calm and Eat Healthy
So what should you do? A poor diet and sedentary lifestyle can lead to heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes, among other health risks. On the other hand, maintaining a healthy weight can promote longevity, quality of life, and general well-being, but it takes work and commitment.
Poddard notes that even small changes like a 5-10% weight loss can result in significant health improvements. This can be achieved through slow, steady weight loss and regular physical activity.
She says, “When it comes to fad diets, there are no foods or pills that magically burn fat. No super foods will alter your genetic code. No products will miraculously melt fat while you watch TV or sleep. Some ingredients in supplements and herbal products can be dangerous and even deadly for some people.”
She also notes that there is no evidence that combining certain foods or eating foods at specific times of day will help with weight loss. Eating the “wrong” combinations of food doesn’t cause them to turn to fat immediately or to produce toxins in your intestines, as some plans claim.
Poddard says that following an eating plan that promotes slow, steady weight loss is more likely to last than dramatic weight changes. She explains, “Healthy plans aim for a loss of no more than ½ pound to 1 pound per week. If you lose weight quickly, you’ll lose muscle, bone and water. You also will be more likely to regain the pounds quickly afterwards.”
Regular physical activity is also essential for good health and healthy weight management. The key to success is to find physical activities that you enjoy and then to aim for 30 to 60 minutes of activity on most days of the week.
Your “diet” is formed by the everyday food choices you make throughout your life. An ideal diet for weight loss is also balanced in nutrients and moderate in fat, carbohydrates and protein. This type of diet should provide the greatest range of food choices, allow for nutritional adequacy and will therefore increase compliance, and aid in a slow but steady rate of weight loss/maintenance.
The optimal diet for weight loss will:
- Maximize loss of body fat and minimize loss of lean body mass
- Promote a sense of being full
- Reduce the risk of chronic disease
- Be convenient and inexpensive
Diets that follow these principals include USDA MyPlate, DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stopping Hypertension) as well as Jenny Craig, Nutrisystems and Weight Watchers.
Ultimately, Poddard says, “Don’t focus on losing weight. Focus on being healthy!”
If you have health or weight issues, seek support of your health care provider and guidance from experts that can steer you from fads and provide you with a lasting, healthy way of eating.
University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority