Friday 15 December 2017

Give up the fad diets -- they'll only make you fat

Caitriona Palmer

It's the end of January and you still haven't got rid of that Christmas flab. You're clearly in need of a sure-fire dieting quick fix.

But before you adopt the latest diet du jour, consider this warning from a leading health expert: fad diets can make you fat.

"Food has been shrouded in myths since time immemorial as people argue over what is good for you, what should be avoided or eaten to your heart's content," says Professor Chris Hawkey, the president of the British Society of Gastroenterology.

"But what's important is to recognise that despite the popularity of fad diets, we are losing a grip on the fight with obesity. We need to do away with quirky diets and make people realise what will keep them healthy in the long run."

Hawkey warns that people should avoid extreme diets based on "theory rather than evidence", including the much publicised Hollywood Grapefruit diet and the Max Gerson Diet, which includes coffee enemas and a daily extract of raw calf liver.

But with a long procession of slim Hollywood celebrities extolling the virtues of fad diets as a sure fire way to lose weight -- and with a €30bn global dieting industry profiting off the proceeds -- such warnings are likely to fall on deaf ears.

"There are so many people desperate to lose weight and to believe what others say these diets have done for them," says Andrew Hill, a dieting expert and professor of medical psychology at Leeds University.

Actress Megan Fox and Black Eyed Peas singer Stacy Ferguson have been cited as the worst celebrity offenders for their enthusiastic praise of quick-fix dieting solutions such as the drastic cleansing vinegar diet.

"It just cleanses out your system entirely," said Fox recently. "For women who retain water weight from their menstrual cycle, it gets rid of it really fast.

"I'm not one for dieting or exercising, because I'm lazy and I have a really big sweet tooth, so I have to do cleanses every once in a while because of the amount of sugar I take in," she says.

But experts warn that many of these extreme diets are doomed to end in failure, urging dieters to eat too much of one particular food and ultimately causing them to put on weight. Others are too difficult to follow, sending humiliated dieters back into the arms of the unhealthy food that got them into trouble in the first place.

"As attractive as it sounds, there is no magic pill or potion for a quick fix to weight loss," says Lucy Jones, a dietitian with the Whittington NHS Trust in London.

"The body, including the liver, is a well oiled detoxing machine, which will not be improved by vinegar, whether it be organic, apple cider, unfiltered, or your bog-standard malt vinegar."

Health experts point out that despite the overwhelming popularity of fad diets, obesity levels are continuing to rise and more people are expected to die of obesity-related deaths in the future.

Almost two out of five Irish adults are overweight and more than one in five is obese.

A new report issued this month in Dublin about the health dangers of visceral fat -- a hidden fat which increases the threat of heart disease and diabetes -- found that over 90pc of Irish people are unaware of this danger.

The same report found that 77pc of Irish people vowed to lose weight this January yet, of the people who had dieted the previous year, almost half admitted to failing.

"Fad diets, which usually promise quick-fix weight loss, are unsustainable," says Professor David Haslam, an author of the report and chair of the UK's national Obesity Forum. "They can actually do more harm than good. Invariably weight is put back on, with some of the weight regained accumulating as visceral fat."

Among the popular fad diets blacklisted by health experts are the Hallelujah diet, which only allows the consumption of fruits and seeds based on the teachings of Genesis 1.29; raw-ism, which promotes the benefits of eating only uncooked food; and the Hollywood Grapefruit diet, reportedly beloved by Australian pop princess Kylie Minogue.

Hawkey also dismissed the popular 'chewing movement' -- the centuries-old principles of which claims that chewing each mouthful of food 32 times aids digestion.

For those looking to shed a few pounds, a short-term diet may work for a very small percentage of people, says Hill. "But for the majority of people, that approach is doomed, he adds.

"All the analysis on weight loss diets keeps coming back round to sensible and healthy eating," he says. "It may be seen as boring but sustained weight loss is a slow and steady process.

"Actually, losing weight is not necessarily a problem. It's maintaining that loss that is difficult."

Nutritional experts say that there is only one way to stay healthy and to maintain weight loss: adopting a balanced diet, regular exercise, and staying away from booze and cigarettes.

And to make good on their New Year's resolutions to lose weight, people should just ignore fad diets and instead concentrate on longer term weight management goals.

"Ask people to come up with their own solutions to changing their own behaviour -- and the resources they think they would need," Hill says. "And remind people that a diet is for life, not just for Christmas."

Irish Independent

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