Losing weight. It’s what every celebrity accomplishes so easily, what every other woman dreams of, and what every trashy tabloid profits off of. From a very young age, we are all programmed to think that there is only one acceptable type of body
but a thousand ways to acquire this body. Magazines and publications trash the idea of “fad diets,” but turn right around and encourage the best juice cleanse Gwyneth Paltrow is doing these days.
What is a fad diet?
A fad diet is exactly what it says it is. It’s specific (often outrageous, drastic, or flat out dangerous) diet or eating routine that comes around, makes waves for a bit, and eventually fades in popularity. In the meantime, news of weight loss success spreads like wildfire. The thirst for a lower body fat percentage can’t be quenched fast enough, and motivation skyrockets. Humans are inherently impatient. We crave instant success almost as much as we crave cheeseburgers. So what’s the problem with a fad diet? If it’s fast, efficient, and effective, what’s the big deal?
When we witness it firsthand, the weight loss success of our peers is often too tempting to stay away from. Momentarily, logic is taken over by a spike in motivation and inspiration. The results are right there in front of you! Last spring, my friend began a program called Ideal Protein. This program is focused on a drastic reduction of carbohydrates, and an increase in protein
consumption. At first, I was skeptical. The body needs carbohydrates; they’re not all bad. Obviously everyone could cut down on their sugar intake, but how much is too much? Yet, Ideal Protein coaches are trained to counteract this skepticism. They present the science: This drastic diet change puts the body into a metabolic state referred to as “ketosis.” After the body no longer has enough carbohydrates to burn for energy, the body transitions into this ketogenic state. This metabolic process converts fat stores into ketones, which the body uses for energy instead. Then, the weight falls off. Easy, right? No more pasta, no more bread, no more sugar, period. Losing weight is finally made easy – no carbs, just protein
and healthy fats. The program makes money through pre-packaged foods that serve as a replacement for food items that are typically carb-heavy, such as chips, pancakes mixes, soups, shake mixes, jello, etc. Every week, the customer purchases 3 foods for every day of the week. The foods usually come out to around $100/week on average. However, the cost is outweighed by the results: 2-3 pounds lost per week is typical. My friend lost 20 pounds in two months.
So of course, I was in. I had never successfully lost weight in my life. I tried eating healthy and exercising religiously, but the slow (or non-apparent) results always left me discouraged until I tried all over again a few months later. It was a neverending cycle, and I was fed up. I always looked down at fad diets with a hefty dose of incredulity, but seeing my friend drop over 10% of her weight in such a short period of time changed my perspective completely.
Before I started the diet, I was so fed up with my appearance. I had reached a tipping point. I would do absolutely anything to lose weight, but I was also impatient. I wanted something that worked efficiently, and quickly. I was that typical “before” picture. Unhappy and clearly trying to make the best of a bad situation.
So, the first week of the diet was difficult, but my motivation was higher than it had ever been, so it went by quickly. All I had to do was tell myself that sticking to the diet now would pay off later.
And it did.
I lost 50 pounds over the span of 6 months. This wasn’t an unhealthy rate (sticking right at about 2 pounds/week), but my habits became severely unhealthy. I refused any carbohydrates that came my way, even at social gatherings or university events. Countless times I sat around my friends and drank water as they indulged in free pizza
or sandwiches. The only time I ever allowed myself to cheat was at parties, where 3 drinks (without any carbs in my system to soak up the alcohol) put me on the floor. One particularly bad night after a successful week on the diet, I couldn’t even finish one pitcher of Amber Ale before I was blacked out. This wasn’t a facet of a hidden problem or addiction to alcohol. The truth was, I was depriving my body of nutrients that resulted in dangerous situations.
I lost 20% of my body weight that semester. While it seemed like the happiest time of my life, I later realized that watching the number on the scale fall lower and lower became an addiction itself. It was the best feeling, but I started to realize it was dangerous. After I reached my goal of 50 pounds in December and decided to quit the diet, I immediately gained water weight from consuming carbs again. My body didn’t know how to react to the introduction of an entire food group that I had cut out for so long. I binged on all of the foods I hadn’t touched for 6 months. The overwhelming plethora of choices available to me made it almost impossible to make responsible, healthy decisions.
Luckily, I didn’t gain the 50 pounds back. I’m working on making healthier decisions overall, but since Ideal Protein, my entire relationship with food has changed–mentally and physically.
The issue with strict diets that cut out specific food groups, or even solid food itself (like a juice cleanse) is that our bodies were not made to live solely on protein, fat, or carbohydrates individually. Taking away certain food groups or drastically restricting food intake changes our metabolism. The human species has survived through famine and droughts. Our bodies have evolved to keep us alive through malnutrition, meaning
our bodies can and will adapt to a starvation trigger. An article in the Washington Post outlines an interview with Traci Mann, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied eating habits, self-control, and dieting for over 20 years. Mann describes how neurological, hormonal, and metabolic changes encompass the 3 major biological factors that affect our bodies while losing weight. “When you are dieting, you actually become more likely to notice food. Basically your brain becomes overly responsive to food, and especially to tasty looking food. But you don’t just notice it — it actually begins to look more appetizing and tempting. It has increased reward value. So the thing you’re trying to resist becomes harder to resist. So already, if you think about it, it’s not fair,” Mann explains as she describes the neurological aspect of dieting. She goes on to describe how hormones that control hunger and fullness are affected by changes in food intake. Thus, in the long run, diets only make us hungrier as we lose the ability to feel full. Lastly, the metabolism slows down as the body adjusts to use calories more efficiently. “Which sounds like a good thing, and would be good thing if you’re starving to death. But it isn’t a good thing if you’re trying to lose weight, because when your body finds a way to run itself on fewer calories there tends to be more leftover, and those get stored as fat, which is exactly what you don’t want to happen,” she says to finalize the biological issues of dieting.
However, the biggest issue within the diet/health community is shaming. Constantly, psychologists, dietitians, and nutritionists go back and forth about the right way to lose weight and be healthy. The problem is that the community making an effort to get healthy suffers the most when one side constantly shames the other. Ketosis, for example, is a metabolic process proven to treat seizure disorders as well as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar. Yet, drastic changes in food intake can still be toxic for mental as well as physical health. Now, the most necessary action to be taken is creating an open dialogue for fad diets without faulty motivations like making money (like diet programs Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem) or acquiring a specific body that is deemed essential for happiness (as persuaded by tabloids and media).
This long-form piece would be best for Women’s Health. Psychology Today would also possibly be a good venue, but Women’s Health would be best in my opinion since it does include a personal vignette within the article. Women’s Health has a fairly good reputation of promoting healthy lifestyles and not promoting fad diets, although, as this piece describes, it’s easy to fall victim to it. Although men also suffer from body image issues, I feel that women are targeted in tabloids and media, so I feel like this piece is directed more towards a female-identifying audience. I also think that it could be placed in a younger publication like Cosmopolitan or Teen Vogue, where it could portray some of the issues with fad dieting, especially from a college-age point of view.