Fad diets offer no real solutions

BY AMANDA SHAPIN
Daily Arts Writer
Published January 20, 2005

Walk into a Barnes and Noble or Borders and undoubtedly you will run into a table solely devoted to diet and nutrition. Filled with books claiming that you can eat more and lose more or ensure that following simple guidelines will reduce your pant size, there is quite a lot of information to take in. However, many of these diets hold empty promises and lack actual health value.

Beth Dykstra
Fad diets, such as the Atkins diet, often allow fatty foods such as bacon. Tony Ding/Daily)
Beth Dykstra
Followers of fad diets that shun carbs often forget alcohol is also loaded with carbs because it usually originates from fermented grain. (Tony Ding/Daily)

“Although the low-carbohydrate diet is still a popular fad diet, its use has drastically declined over the past months” said Marilyn DeMuth-Nakamoto, a registered dietician and counselor with the University’s Nutrition Services, a division of University Health Service. “It was a ‘fad’ followed feverishly for a short period of time, but not lasting as a lifestyle.”

Below are four different diet plans promising quick weight loss, and why you should beware of their claims.

 

The Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet focuses on cutting out carbohydrates from meals and suggests eating foods that are high in protein, according to “Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution” by Robert C. Atkins. In turn, many of these foods have a higher fat content. While OK for short-term weight loss, the Atkins diet can become dangerous if dieters keep up high fat consumption over a long period of time. One study done by Tim Crowe, a reseracher from the Deakin University Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, came to the conclusion that low-carb dieting is not the correct way to lose weight. “Serious complications such as osteoporosis, kidney damage, cholesterol, cancer, heart rhythm disturbances and sudden death can all be linked to long-term restriction of carbohydrate foods.” Crowe said.

Other problems with this diet, according to Atkins’s book, are symptoms some followers have reported, including the shakes, fatigue, lightheadedness, headache, leg cramps, irritability and cold sweats, all due to sudden carbohydrate withdrawal.

The South Beach Diet

This diet is also based on a low-carb lifestyle, yet not as extreme as the Atkins diet. South Beach is broken down into three phases, beginning with no carbs, and then slowly re-introducing good carbs back into the diet, according to “The South Beach Diet” by Arthur Agatston. The book comes with an easy-to-follow guide, complete with meal plans, recipes and lists stating what is acceptable to eat and what is not in each phase.

This diet does have its good side. While it seems that carbs are now being seen as the most evil food group on the planet, this diet emphasizes that not all carbs are bad; some are good and should be kept in your everyday diet.

However, many meals recommended on this diet are highly involved and hard to keep up with, practically impossible for a busy college student. Additionally, while many have succeeded on this diet, others find it hard to transition through the phases and simply get stuck in the first stage, which cuts out all carbohydrates and can be harmful to your health. This stage does not allow for any fruits, which are an important part of a healthy diet. Following stage one too closely and for too long can lead to disordered eating.

“I was on South Beach for about two and a half months and at first it was easy, but once I stopped, it was really hard to get back into it,” LSA sophomore Elizabeth Hunt said. “The main problem was I had no energy, making it harder to work out, which really is the best way to stay fit.”

 

The Abs Diet

Consisting of a six-week plan, the Abs Diet promises a flatter stomach through special dieting and exercising. The key to supposed success on this diet is to eat six meals a day, all based on 12 groups of foods (almonds, green vegetables, eggs, lean meats, to name a few), allowing yourself to cheat one meal a week and participating in at-home workouts displayed throughout the book, “The Abs Diet” by David Zinczenko. A downfall of this book is its singular focus toward male readers. Because this is only a six-week plan, there are no significant findings as of yet on long-term effects.

 

The Zone Diet

Basing daily intake on 40 percent carbohydrate, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat (known as the 40-30-30 plan), this diet is another plan focusing on cutting out bad carbs and increasing meats, fruits and vegetables, according to “The Zone” by Barry Sears. The diet claims to help burn excess body fat through the regulation of blood sugar. Many celebrities have sung praises for this diet, including Jennifer Aniston and Demi Moore. However, with private chefs preparing meals, the Zone diet would be easy to follow. Unfortunately, for the average person, the guidelines of this diet are extremely hard to keep up with. Bettye Nowlin, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association expressed concerns with the Zone Diet: “The diet scheme relies too heavily on multiple complex charts and calculations of an individual’s dietary needs and could potentially confuse even the most dedicated dieters.” Additionally, the diet is expensive to follow, inconvenient, eliminates certain essential vitamins and minerals and has not been proven for long-term weight loss.

After reviewing some of the most popular fad diets, it is clear that while these may seem like an easy way to lose weight, there are many health precautions to keep in mind. It is important to realize that they are called fad diets for a reason; they are not long-lasting. Most importantly, they are not healthy to stay on for long-term weight loss, DeMuth-Nakamoto said.

“The students I see who come in on fad diets are mainly restricting carbohydrates and sometimes fats to unhealthy levels,” DeMuth-Nakamoto said.

For those looking to lose weight in a healthy way, and keep it off, DeMuth-Nakamoto has a number of helpful guidelines to follow. Daily, one should eat about 1,500 calories of nutrient dense foods. To lose approximately one pound per week, one must either eat 500 calories less each day or increase exercise to mirror the 500 calorie deficit. Keeping a food diary is recommended to see where appropriate cutbacks can be made.

Only for short-term weight loss are fad diets a good idea. “I wouldn’t recommend the South Beach diet, there are much better, longer lasting ways of staying healthy,” Hunt said.

“In my practice, I highly encourage clients to follow the ‘2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines,” DeMuth-Nakamoto said. “It is important to eat from all food groups; grains, fruits, vegetables, calcium-rich foods and protein-rich foods.”

While it can be easy to fall into a fad-dieting routine, it is healthier in the long run to stick with a fully balanced diet and regular exercise.

To make an appointment with the Nutrition Services at UHS call 764-8320.