Diets: Feeding Our Obsession
By Vanessa Alford
In our desperation to be forever beautiful, we
often turn to popular diet books for answers. These books are loaded
such as permanent fat loss with no hunger, increased energy and physical
performance, reversal of disease, and so on. It sounds so good, yet
impossible to know whom to believe. Each diet promises the answer,
backing up its claims with studies, testimonials, and citations from
of people whove allegedly turned their lives around with their program.
Lets look at some of the most popular at the moment.
The Atkins Diet, enshrined in Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution,
by Robert C. Atkins, M.D., claims, as many diets do, to have helped millions
permanently lose weight and turn their lives around. It argues that carbohydratesnot
fat intakeare the reason nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight
and one-fifth are clinically obese. Unsurprisingly, the Atkins Diet calls
for a radical restriction of carbohydrates. Eating fewer carbohydrates
and a larger amount of protein causes the body to lose watersomething
that naturally leads to an almost immediate loss in weight. Because the
diet is high in protein you initially feel less hungry and so eat fewer
calories. Due to the caloric and carbohydrate restriction, the body uses
its store of fat and converts it into energythus (at least temporarily)
allowing you to lose weight. Atkinss high protein diet has been
criticized for lowering carbohydrate intake to 40 grams a day, which many
doctors see as dangerously low. While Atkins does advocate different levels
of carbohydrate intake depending on your individual needs, he dismisses
those who suggest that putting the body into what some critics call starvation
mode at the beginning of a diet is dangerous.
The much-hyped Zone Diet of Dr. Barry Sears is similar to Dr.
diet. He suggests that we lower our intake of carbohydrates and eat more
balanced meals in what he calls the Zone 40 percent
carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, 30 percent fat. Both Atkins and Sears
specifically blame excessive carbohydrate intake for rapidly increasing
insulin levels, sending the body the message to store fat, thereby making
it harder to lose. They both back up their claims with numerous studies
of and citations from professional athletes and patients with disease
and obesity whove adhered to their diets and had remarkable results.
Both Atkins and Sears say weve been brainwashed into thinking that
fat is to be avoided at all costs.
Searss The Zone has become one of the more popular books
among fitness enthusiasts and others hoping to finally find the
answer. The back jacket of the book warns consumers in block letters
that EATING THESE CARBOHYDRATES COULD BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH,
and goes on to list such hazardous foods as carrots, cranberries,
bananas, orange juice and lima beans. Oddly enough, The Zones ideas
are fairly modest. Sears suggests we lower our intake of certain carbohydrates
and increase our intake of protein and certain fats (if
necessary) to achieve an even ratio at every meal. Sears isnt advocating
a high protein dietin fact he discourages itsince a diet
very low in carbohydrates and very high in protein puts strain on the
and liver and can cause permanent damage.
Some critics argue that diets such as Atkinss or The Zone are
impossible to maintain because they do not provide enough calories, making
it hard to maintain initial weight loss due to constant hunger
and the bodys craving for carbohydrates. As Dr. Samuel Klibanoff,
a Harvard Medical graduate and practicing internist for over 30 years,
says: Your body can only use so much protein, carbohydrate and
fat. So, these fad diets are really nonsense, and potentially dangerous.
protein diets can cause damage to the kidneys. Common sense is really
There are other diets that suggest we should eat fruit alone to achieve
its cleansing benefits. This is not good news for those in the Zone
since Sears believes eating fruit alone will escalate our insulin levels,
causing us to become fatter. Some diets advocate eating nothing but fruit
before noon, while others suggest starting the day with a high protein,
balanced meal because its the most important time to eat.... And
so it goes on.
What to Do
One thing all diets agree on is the importance of
exercise. But dont necessarily look for nutritional enlightenment
in the gym. The gym is a great place to go to get in shape and learn the
proper way to do it, but is not necessarily the place to go for answers
on diet. Trainers and other fitness enthusiasts often promote the latest
diet fads based on hearsay, often without all the facts. So be wary of
a personal trainer or fellow gym member who offers advice on diet.
If people were to get all the facts, and apply some of these diet plans
conservatively to fit their lifestyles, the diets might work. Unfortunately,
many people dont read the books. They hear they should eat a high-protein
diet and think that means binging on bacon and eggs and other unhealthy
foods. People may initially even lose weightas their internal organs
struggle to deal with the proteinbut this is something the body
cannot safely maintain. Ultimately, the body will move into starvation
mode, and crave carbohydrates as soon as the weight is lost. Usually the
body regains the weight it lost, and even adds a few extra pounds as it
stores carbohydrates in case you decide to starve yourself
So what should you do? The Zone diet is founded on balancing your
food intake based on regulating your levels of insulin and other hormones.
Searss diet also requires an elaborate system of counting out the
various amounts of carbohydrate, protein and fat in each meal. Even a
snack has to be in the Zone. In the early 1970s, Frances Moore
Lappé told readers of Diet for a Small Planet that it was
necessary to combine certain foods for the correct amount of protein.
Not only was this found to be unnecessary, butas with all these
dietsit seems unnecessarily complicated. It can also breed obsession.
The Zone has lists of bad carbohydratesmany of
which (such as brown rice and mangos) are rich in nutrients and vitamins.
What message does this control freakery send out to people who may have
an unhealthy relationship with food in the first place?
The Pritikin Diet, which claims to be the worlds most
respected diet program, is probably the one were most familiar
withif only because it was the first of all those low-fat diets.
It consists of a diet low in fat and high (perhaps too high) in complex
carbohydrates. This diet, started by the late Dr. Nathan Pritikin in the
early 1980s, is split into 10 percent fat, 10 percent protein, and a whopping
80 percent unrefined and complex carbohydrates (such as fruits, vegetables,
and grains). Dr. Pritikin and his son Robert argue that a diet high in
fiber and low in fat decreases the risks of heart disease and certain
types of cancer. Indeed, Dr. Pritikin claims to have reversed his own
heart disease using his diet.
In the nearly 20 years since the Pritikin diet, increasing evidence suggests
that eating a diet low in fat, high in fiber, and rich with nutrients
from plants and vegetables is healthy. These are the claims of Drs.
Dean Ornish and Neal Barnard. Other dietary recommendations,
by Terry Shintani and Dr. Michael Klaper, similarly advocate
a plant-based diet. If you cut out the dairy and exercise moderately you
are not only likely to radically reduce the risks of heart disease and
certain cancers, but you will probably lose weight. This loss may well
be over a longer period of time than weight-loss under the Atkins or Zone
diets, but it will be sustainable, less potentially damaging to your internal
organs, andmost importantlyoptimal for long term health.
That said, there is simply no miracle cure to melt fat away. You need
to use your common sense, and take your specific needs and lifestyle into
consideration. Everyone has different nutritional needs. Those of us who
work out heavily have different caloric and nutritional requirements than
those who are more sedentary. Those with certain health problems should
be careful to stay away from certain diets and supplements. My suggestion?
Go to a licensed nutritionist or consult a reputable organization for
advice. Exercise regularly, and gradually introduce healthier habits as
a part of your lifestyle. Anyone can write a book, and as we know, many
have conflicting ideas and data. Be careful who you listen to, and get
all the facts if you decide to change your eating habits.
Vanessa Alford is Editorial Assistant at
Satya and a personal trainer.
© STEALTH TECHNOLOGIES INC.