15 Apr Fad Diets, weight loss and the true meaning of health
By César Lara, M.D.
Last month we talked about the importance of meditation, not only in shedding excess weight, but in shedding mental and emotional baggage as well. I mentioned the 21-day challenge spearheaded by Deepak Chopra and Oprah, which focuses on releasing weight of all kinds, as a great introduction to meditation.
If Oprah can eat bread and lose weight, why can’t I?
Oprah is still in my sights this month, this time in the context of her new Weight Watchers campaign. The ads have made quite a splash, with Oprah enthusiastically proclaiming “I LOVE bread…I eat bread every day.” She tells us that Weight Watchers has helped her lose 26 pounds. Seems too good to be true, right?
As a healthcare professional and a weight management physician, these commercials make me uneasy. I know that sooner or later, a patient who has been captivated by the promises of these ads will walk through my doors. When I prescribe a diet that does NOT include bread, I may face resistance and pushback. “If Oprah can have bread and lose weight, why can’t I?”
This phenomenon is by no means limited to Oprah or to Weight Watchers, and it is not my intention to single either of them out. They are merely two of-the-moment examples in a long line of advertising claims. Most of these claims come from fad diets, some of which you may have tried throughout the years: South Beach, Atkins, Grapefruit, and Cabbage Soup are a few examples. There have been low-calorie diets, low-fat diets, raw diets, juices, cleanses, and just about anything else you can imagine.
The problem with dieting to lose weight
The problem with these diets is that they will help you lose weight, often very quickly. You might be wondering what, exactly, is so bad about that? Unfortunately, with many of these diets you are not losing weight in a safe way, and you are certainly not losing weight in a meaningful way. These diets teach you how to deprive yourself, but they don’t teach you about your relationship with food and how to improve it. A fad diet provides a quick-fix solution, but it is an unsustainable way of eating in the long run. As soon as you return to your old habits, you will probably return to your old weight, often picking up a few extra pounds along the way. This is the phenomenon known as yo-yo dieting.
The other problem with fad dieting is that it is narrowly focused on weight loss as the end result. While healthy weight is one very important factor in overall health, it is only part of the picture. One major consequence of fad dieting is that it causes you to lose a disproportionate amount of lean body mass, or muscle, which directly impacts your metabolism. This is why the upswing on the yo-yo cycle often leaves you weighing more after the diet than before you started it.
Exercise plays a key role in maintaining your healthy weight
Exercise, also plays a critical role in overall health, helping maintain a strong heart and lungs. Normal readings for cholesterol and blood pressure, balanced hormones, and low stress levels are also vital to optimal wellness. When we fad diet, we focus only on the external outcomes of success: the size of our jeans, the number on the scale, the measurement around our waist. True health comes from within, and fad dieting has little impact on the other aspects of finding your best self.
Conclusion: Look past the fads and concentrate on your health
Is it possible to eat bread every day and still lose weight? Yes, it’s possible. But it’s also possible to bread every day and not lose weight, because the gluten in flour has an inflammatory effect on the body. It’s not a question of whether Oprah’s claim is technically true, but a matter of what it leads us to believe. Fad diets tell us there is an easy way out. We are always looking for the next quick fix, the next life hack, the next way to avoid doing the hard work of changing our eating habits for good.
What we find, time and again, is that there is no silver bullet to becoming healthy. Good health requires that you invest time and effort- and no small amount of discipline. It requires un-training old habits, and learning to think beyond thinness as a measure of success. Like it or not, health requires continuous maintenance. Even as you long to believe the promises of the next fad diet, remember that health is a simple equation: good choices and hard work go in, and the results you want to see come out.
Published in Panache Vue’ Magazine delivering the best that Tampa Bay has to offer.