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Avoiding Diet Pitfalls

Updated on May 5, 2009

Beware of Dieting Fads

Fad diets are risky business. Without longer-term changes in your lifestyle (exercising more and eating better), quick weight-loss schemes can be counterproductive.

In a country that produces about half of all the food in the world, we Americans are obsessed with starving ourselves. The drive to be slender has led 65 million hungry, diet-crazed adults — and a large number of adolescents, as well — to turn to the myriad slimming techniques that have become big business. Every year, tens of billions are spent in the attempt to chase away bodyfat, and the cost is soaring. Alarmed by the exploitation of fat-conscious dieters, Congress is conducting hearings on diet-industry abuses.

Vanity has always been the main staple of the diet pushers, but more recently a growing body of scientific evidence is leading consumers toward a more health-oriented rationale. People are beginning to accept the fact that healthy eating is the best preventive medicine, besides being the surest assist to achieving the kind of body everyone dreams of.

The pageant of weight-loss diets marches on, leaving a trail of broken dreams and promises. All fad-diet approaches tamper with the natural nutritional requirements of the human being as a creature belonging to the earth. We are inclined to think the earth belongs to us and that we can manipulate it to suit our needs. The delicate balance between food and us is upset by fad diets that seem to be created more by whim than wisdom.

Starvation Diets

The dangers of diet pills and dieting by-near starvation are well established. Any diet that overemphasizes one particular food or eliminates one or more of the basic nutrients can be categorized as a fad. Any induced imbalance of protein, fat, carbohydrate, water, vitamins and minerals is an invitation to nutritional problems. The inevitable loss of energy leads to a loss of lean body tissue, and not necessarily fat.

Such dieting can be particularly hard on bodybuilders attempting to get ripped by cutting calories and fats below the level of their high energy requirements. The nutritional deficiency can cause hair loss, skin problems and digestive disturbances.

Bodyfat loss of more than 2 pounds a week is next to impossible for the average overweight person. The calories contained in 2 pounds of fat (total 7,000) easily support two weeks of intense training by an in-shape bodybuilder. The average person can burn little more than 1,000 calories a week with exercise. That's less than a third of a pound of fat. Imagine a fad diet promising 8-10 pounds of fat loss a week!

Different fad diets earn1 different risks for the bodybuilder. A subminimal calorie intake — under 800 calories a dajj — can lead to a condition called catabolism in which muscle tissue is decimated. Insufficient carbohydrate causes ketosis, which disturbs the mineral electrolytes needed to regulate the heart and maintain the body's fluid balance. In that case, the body will convert its own protein to energy, thus diminishing lean body tissue. Nor is the heart muscle exempt. Lacking sugar for fuel, the body will consume itself. Compounding the problem is the vitamin and mineral deficiency from lack of fruits, vegetables and grains.

The high-protein diets that also limit carbohydrates add a second problem — the fat content in red meats.

Fruit and vegetable diets mean limited protein intake. Protein is essential for growth and repair of body tissue.

Do you really need to diet away your body-fat? Perhaps you have tried and failed on your own. Of the many good options, one should suit you, whether it be a weight loss group or a hospital-based program.

Weight Loss Groups

If you are less than 50 pounds overweight and have no health problems, you can join a weight loss group. If you are grossly overweight, you need medical supervision.

At best, weight loss programs are risky. The industry is not regulated. For one thing, weight tables and charts are too general and are not based on age, height, frame size, average weight of the individual and activity level.

Legitimately, any diet program without medical supervision should supply at least 1,000 calories a day, with 1,200-1,400 often better for the active dieter. Food choices should provide all your nutritional requirements without the need for further supplements. That means a variety from all the basic food groups: protein (lean meat, fish, poultry); grains; fruits; vegetables; nonfat and low-fat milk products; and fats (very limited amounts, of course). The main consideration is limiting fat intake to 25-30% of your daily calories, with less than 10% from saturated fat.

Whatever program you adopt, make sure your diet is designed and supervised by a registered dietitian. Take a dim view of a program that doesn't emphasize exercise. Be sure you are supervised by a fitness specialist.

You gain weight mainly because you overeat and under-exercise. The slothful life is hazardous to your health. So are boredom, stress, loneliness and other psychological factors that trigger eating binges. Top-rated weight loss programs offer help in dealing with such problems. Any worthwhile program should be staffed by pros in behavior modification, nutrition and fitness.

Studies show that most dieters regain lost weight within five years. That's because they revert to old habits once they leave the program. Any worthwhile program will include a backup program to keep you on track.

Studies have shown that regular exercise on its own, without reducing food intake, will take off pounds. But exercise may be just as difficult to continue as dieting unless it becomes an entrenched part of your lifestyle.

Liquid Diets

A proliferation of prepackaged, low-calorie foods on the market tempts and confuses dieters. The low-cal liquid diets — providing less than 800 calories a day and intended for the obese — are a popular promotion, and the moderately overweight are going for them. Medical experts warn that misuse of these products can lead to heart problems and damage to other organs.

In their confusion people overlook the fact that the diet business is more profit-oriented than consumer-health-oriented.

Vanity aside, body shape, rather than image, may be a critical factor for losing weight. Research indicates that people who gain weight in the upper abdominal area are more at risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes than those who gain more in the hips and thighs.

The public has become aware that drastic diet methods often do more harm than good. This trend is reflected in the publishing business, which automatically used to sell millions of copies of the quick-weight-loss diet books. The exaggerated claims are out today as emphasis is placed more on healthy lifestyle changes in eating and exercise.

The conflicting information by experts leaves people in a state of confusion. Scientists themselves are confused by continuing dietary contradictions. Still, the bottom line is that with a combination of changes in eating habits, psychology and exercise, people can lose weight and keep it off.

Fast Weight Loss Hazards

Today's liquid diets are an improvement over the nutrient-deficient protein formula of two decades ago that led to many deaths. The drinks today are more balanced nutritionally, but some incomplete formulas are still being sold.

Losing weight too fast can result in dehydration, catalytic imbalance and possible gallstone formulation. Supermarket liquid diets are not designed to serve as the sole source of daily calories. Over-the-counter liquid plans, used as directed to replace one or two solid meals a day, are generally safe, according to some experts. The problem is, they usually have no backup program, and when the dieters return to regular, solid foods, they pile on weight again. Mildly overweight people are more likely to lose muscle tissue along with fat when they severely restrict calories. That condition seems to invite cardiac problems and organ damage.

So why the large initial weight losses that inspire dieters to continue with a program? Rapid weight loss is mostly the result of water loss, not reduction of fat. The National Council Against Health Fraud alerts dieters to the risks associated with dieting and with particular programs and products being promoted. It also advises against unproved or gimmicky methods such as body wraps, starch blockers, diuretics, hormones and "special" ingredients in pills or products.

Lifestyle change is the key to real weight loss. There are no panaceas. Forget the fantasies about fast results.

There is a right way: Launch into an exercise program and sensible eating,

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