Fad Diets: Why Is Fad So Bad?
No Fad Diets
The Fad Diet Trap
Every time I sit down to eat a meal I wonder to myself how the savory morsels of carefully prepared food are going to nurture by body. I’ve never been “obese”, but I am clearly overweight according to accepted standards. As I ponder this habitual routine of evaluation and judgment upon what I’m about to put in my body, and the potential effects it may have on my health, I wonder if I, along with so many other Americans have fallen for the fad diet trap. Swinging like a pendulum to the whims of the so called “experts”, we abandon our own inert sensibility and natural God given instinct about what we should eat.
Fad diets are ineffective in the fight against obesity because the over saturation of “expert” advice prevents us from understanding the benefits of each approach, and because we try to use fad diets as a “quick fix” solution; to remedy this we must actively engage in research to educate ourselves on the useful aspects of various diets by evaluating each approach against our individual needs. We must also be willing to employ a permanent lifestyle of exercise along with healthy eating habits.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , obesity in the United States has continuously increased over the last 20 years to more than 20% in every state (Trends by State 1985–2010, 2011). This alarming statistic is still in spite of the parallel increase in the number of “fad diets” that promise to produce amazing results in an unreasonably short period of time. Perhaps the reason why fad diets (or any diet for that matter) are ineffective in the fight against obesity is because we are bombarded with so much information from the so-called experts that we fail to take the time to really understanding the useful benefits of each diet approach. It stands to reason that when the people put so much trust in scientists, government, and the media, they cease to use their own sense of reasoning when it comes to dieting.
To get a historical perspective we need to realize that diets didn’t just pop out of nowhere. The concept of dieting has been around for many years. In a Time Magazine Health article Dan Fletcher writes about “William the Conqueror [who] devised an alcohol-only diet in 1087.” This didn’t end well for the king as he later died after falling from his horse still no less obese than when he started his fad diet. Fletcher goes on to chronicle several other diets including the original “low-carbohydrate” diet created by William Banting in 1864 from which he lost 50 pounds. This madness continued on even to modern times when in 1972, Dr. Atkins reincarnated Banting’s low-carb diet with the addition of an increase in protein and fat. This spurred a modified version called the “South Beach Diet”, then the “Cabbage Soup Diet”, and many others (Fletcher, 2009). This long history of sometimes bazaar remedies has produced negative effects on our perception of diets and their success. One of the negative effects of this proliferation of fad diets is that with so many so-called “experts” out there telling us what will magically vanquish the fat, making us look like models, is that the concept of understanding what really does work has become an elusive ghost.
The United States isn’t the only place where the lack of knowledge about dietary facts causes a great deal of confusion. Based on a 2004 survey in Australia, more than 53% of the respondents could not correctly identify foods that were, or were not carbohydrates. These results reveal a serious lack of understanding of what a “high-carbohydrate” food really is (as cited in Crowe, 2008). With this much confusion about a fairly simple attribute of the foods we eat every day, it’s no wonder obesity is so out of control. How can we eat the “right” foods and avoid the “wrong” foods if we don’t even know the makeup of the foods we have at our disposal? Before we can ever get obesity under control as a nation, education has to begin with the individual citizen.
Even if you do have a good understanding of how food works, the indirect effect of the general population lacking these essential facts is that the obesity epidemic will still continue on, costing the tax payers an unacceptable amount of money through government health programs. On their web site, the Centers for Disease Control and Preventio n states that “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded more than $119 million to states and U.S. territories to support public health efforts to reduce obesity, increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and decrease smoking (State-Based Programs, 2011).” This is only the tip of the iceberg in the national cost of dealing with the obesity epidemic. There shouldn’t be any reason why this much of the tax payer’s money should be used to take care of an issue that individuals can easily take care of themselves if we just make a deliberate and conscious choice to change.
As if it’s not bad enough that we don’t understand the foods we eat, we continue to exacerbate the problem with our obsessive desire to get thin fast. Over the years technology has brought us many marvels and wonderful advancements that help us do things we never thought possible even 30 years ago. There is a double edge to the technology sward though. As aptly put in a web article titled “Why Diets Don’t Work” from EditorsWeb.org , we have come to expect “instant gratification” in everything we do. Instead of growing our food with hard work in the fields, we drive cars to work (instead of walking) where we sit in front of a computer all day, and use microwave ovens to instantly cook a meal in minutes (Why Diets, 2012, para. 2). Then we sit down and use cell phones to talk to our friends and neighbors without ever having to get up off the couch. This easy access to instant food, transportation, and communication robs us of the regular daily exercise we used to get not so long ago. In our journey to lose weight, we scour the web, drink in TV ads, and chase after every “quick fix” we can think of to shed those pounds in a hurry. The problem is that these fad diets only lead to unhealthy temporary results that can’t be maintained (para. 3). There has been a great deal of evidence suggesting that when you deprive your body of essential nutrients, your body will respond by storing fat causing weight gain rather than weight loss. Your body can’t put up with that kind of abuse for very long.
Inevitably, the technology that we so much depend on will become the source of our untimely demise if we don’t get up and move our bodies. Not only are we shortening our own lives, but we teach our children through the indirect massages of the way we live our lives. They too, will go through life with high expectations of the quick fix which will always lead them down the slippery path to obesity.
Despite the grim appearance of the way we’ve been dealing with obesity in the past, there is hope for the future. There are a couple of simple solutions to this ravenous epidemic; things that we can do for ourselves without government intrusion.
The first thing that we can do is to “man-up” and take our health into our own hands. We must actively engage in research to educate ourselves on the useful aspects of fad diets by evaluating each approach against our individual needs using common sense. Michael Pollan’s book Omnivore’s Dilemma covers many aspects of our relationship with food, how we perceive it, and where it comes from. In regard to how we have abandoned common sense and thrown in the towel for whatever fad that comes along, Pollan writes “Instead of relying on the accumulated wisdom of a cuisine, or even on the wisdom of our senses, we rely on expert opinion, advertising, government food pyramids, and diet books, and we place our faith in science to sort out for us what culture once did with rather more success” (Pollan, 2011, p. 303). This elegantly stated depiction of our state of mind about food is a very disturbing reality of the mindset we Americans have allowed ourselves to descend to. This being the case, we can begin the process of overcoming obesity by exercising our individual right and ability to investigate the facts, and find out what works best for your own body.
A very popular example of gross miss-perception about certain diets is the relentless bashing of the Atkins Nutritional Approach (ANA). Of all the research I have done on the topic of dieting and specifically the low-carbohydrate approach, I have yet to find any “expert” who has actually considered the entire Atkins approach in whole. Every one of them describe the Atkins diet as one in which you are encouraged to gorge on as much meat and fat as you wish while denying your body essential nutrients from fruits, vegetables, and grains. This couldn’t be further from the whole truth. While it is true that in the first of four phases of the ANA you are encouraged to eat primarily protein based foods such as meat, eggs, and dairy products, you are still expected to include lots of leafy green vegetables and certain fruits and grains (Atkins Nutritionals, 2012, para. 3). The main objective in the first phase referred to as the “induction” phase, is to reduce your carbohydrate intake to a necessary minimum in order to “jump-start” your body back into processing energy the way it was intended to; through the burning of fat, not sugar (Atkins Nutritionals, 2012, para. 3). This is an indication of how by trusting whatever the media and the so-called experts tell us, we lack vital knowledge and miss out on something useful. Armed with all of the real facts about the Atkins diet, you would easily see that this approach is extremely effective and easy to participate in. After all, the original “low-carb” diet was published by William Banting in 1864 after he successfully lost 50 pounds (Fletcher, 2009). Furthermore, Jaleh Dehpahlavan shows us in an article form Today’s Chiropractic that a study was conducted to compare two types of diets. One was a “very low carbohydrate diet” and the other was a “caloric restricted low fat diet”. The study revealed that not only did the people participating in the low-carb diet lose more weight, but it also indicated that the low-carb diet had no “adverse effects on health”, and was “more effective in initial weight loss (Dehpahlavan, 2004).”
All though the ANA is very effective, it is worth noting (as Dr. Atkins has always advised), consult with your doctor before going on any diet. While this particular diet may work well for me, or the guy down the road, it may not be the best solution for you or someone else. This, in fact is the main point I am making here; that you think for yourself. To sum up this solution, the time honored and tested facts are out there if we are willing to stop listening to the hype, stop depending on the so-called experts, and stop letting the government dictate how we should eat and live, and actively seek out the truth about what really works. This solution works because nobody knows your body any better than you do. Furthermore, history speaks for its self when you see that obesity continues to increase parallel to the increase in our dependency on government programs, media messages, and misleading information by the experts. This is far better than continuing down the same path we’ve been going because what we are doing so far is making the matter worst. As long as we continue to depend on government programs to do everything for us, we will continue to get the results we have now. Throwing more money at the problem won’t change anything until you chose to change yourself.
Another solution to the problem is that we must also be willing to employ a permanent lifestyle of exercise along with healthy eating habits. The one factor that has become a very clear reality in America is that with all of the wonderful technology we enjoy, we just don’t get enough physical activity. This isn’t a new revelation though. For thousands of years, people have lived long healthy lives directly related to regular physical activity. As I have talked extensively in this article about fad diets, Dehpahlavan reminds us that “…weight management requires deliberate action of balancing energy intake with energy expenditure” (Dehpahlavan, 2004, p. 57). Food is intended to be fuel for our bodies. When we eat food it contains a portion of energy measured in units called calories. When we use our bodies especially in exercise, we burn up those calories just like putting gas in your car and driving down the road. The problem with food though, is that what we fail to burn up gets converted into fat and stored in our body for later use. Unfortunately, if we continue to consume more calories than what we burn off, we will continue to get fat and gain weight. Dehpahlavan tells us that some of the ways to reduce caloric intake is to eat smaller portions, eat more often – not just once a day like we so often try to get away with, and reduce the amount of “simple carbohydrates” we consume (Dehpahlavan, 2004, p. 57). These simple steps will work without fail. The reason why is because the reduction of carbohydrates will reduce the amount of sugar and fat that gets stored in your body. This way, your body will burn off its existing fat when you exercise resulting in weight loss. You are the only one who can take charge of your weight. It must be a deliberate action on your part to commit to a permanent lifestyle change that will include a conscious awareness of your dietary behavior, and most importantly, regular exercise. The more you do, the more you’ll lose.
Exercise is clearly a critical player in the fight against obesity. The government is forking out millions of dollars to each state to deal with the problem (State-Based Programs, 2011), but they can only do so much before the cost outweighs the benefits. In my own state of Minnesota there are many programs established to help fight obesity. “In July 2008”, Minnesota received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which includes funding for physical activity programs (Roberts, 2011). The way I see it, this is evidence that exercise is extremely important in the role of weight management. Notice also, that I called it “weight management” and not just “weight loss”. This is because it is not only necessary that we lose weight, but we must manage it as well. This requires a complete, deliberate, and permanent change in the way that we live. Another reason people don’t succeed in fad diets is because they get distracted or lose focus. We must remember that there is more to “the prize” than just losing a ton of weight. It is far more important to go the distance and keep on keeping on.
Call To Action
I can’t stress enough how important this issue is. If we don’t get this obesity epidemic under control, millions more will die needlessly because of heart disease, diabetes, and many other weight related illnesses. Our children will carry on our legacy and suffer the same fate with greater numbers and severity. With the passive surrender of our individual rights and common sense, we stand to be subjected to a national health mandate that will strip us of all rights, and cost taxpayers trillions of dollars. We must stop the madness and stand up for our own health. The only way this will work is if each one of us takes the initiative to do the necessary research, and test for ourselves what works best, and most importantly, get up off our collective backsides and exercise every day. Even if just a small amount, we must start somewhere. Why don’t fad diets work? Because we don’t think for ourselves and we chase after the “quick Fix” instead of doing what we know is the right thing. Exercise your mind and body!
Why Diets Don't Work. (2012). Retrieved February 04, 2012, from EditorsWeb.org: http://www.editorsweb.org/nutrition/why-diets.htm
Atkins Nutritionals. (2012). Truths & Myths. Retrieved February 04, 2012, from Atkins: http://www.atkins.com/Library/Truths---Myths.aspx
Crowe, T. (2008, May). Nutrition Messages Given By Fad Diets Can Alter People;s Food Perceptions. (cover story). Nutridate, 19(2), pp. 1-4. Retrieved February 04, 2012
Dehpahlavan, J. (2004, March/April). Fad Diets Analyzed. Today's Chiropractic, 33(2), pp. 53-57.
Fletcher, D. (2009, December 15). A Brief History of Fad Diets - TIME. Retrieved from Time Magazine Health: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1950931,00.html
Pollan, M. (2011). Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, 1/e for Devry University. Pearson Learning Solutions.
Roberts, M. (2011, March 03). Overweight and Obesity. Retrieved February 08, 2012, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/stateprograms/fundedstates/minnesota.html
State-Based Programs. (2011, March 3). Overweight and Obesity. Retrieved February 11, 2012, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/stateprograms/index.html
Trends by State 1985–2010. (2011, July 21). U.S. Obesity Trends. Retrieved February 9, 2012, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html