With so many fad diets and diet plans why are there so many overweight people? The short answer is that diets of the
past several decades were diets based on bad science and bad thinking.
An amusing but accurate quote from Totie Fields goes like, "I've been on a diet for two weeks and all I've lost is two weeks."
Low-fat diet, low-carb diet, Low-cal diet; with so many different fad diets out there, why are Americans so overweight and outright obese?
There wasn't any "one" thing that happened, it was a confluence of several things. The first was that the medical community became concerned about a rise in heart disease and cited a study concluding that the cause was high blood pressure, cigarettes and high blood cholesterol.
The next was a growing belief that since cholesterol was fat and if we went on low-fat diets we could better control cholesterol levels. It became common knowledge that if we ate fat, we got fat; an erroneous belief still taught in many medical schools.
The third thing was the introduction of cholesterol lowering drugs from the pharmaceutical industry which started generating huge profits. As long as the profits kept coming in, the drug companies kept promoting
cholesterol as the single largest risk factor. Thus the stage was set for the explosion in obesity.
Let's take a look at some of the most popular fad diets over the past few decades and see why they didn't work.
Before proceeding, let's define what is meant by "fad diets".
There is no scientific criteria for fad diets; it is mostly related to timing. Fad diets typically come into vogue very quickly, pick up a following, get some ink in the popular press and then fade away just a quickly as they came.
Whether or not an eating plan is one of the fad diets doesn't have much to do with the quality of food, its health properties or even its success or failure. Timing and acceptance seems to be the main criteria.
Some fad diets are easily recognized because they are just so over the edge. Examples of these fad diets are the tapeworm diet (enough said), the lemonade, pepper and maple syrup diet; the chew your food but don't swallow diet; the cabbage diet; and on and on. Fad diets have no staying power for obvious reasons.
The reason fad diets fall out of favor is mainly because they don't work over the long haul. With most fad diets, rapid weight loss is seen in the early stages but then a rebound occurs and more weight is gained back than was originally lost. This will be explored in coming paragraphs.
Looking back over history, there have literally been hundreds of fad diets that could not stand the test of time. We will take a look at several of them as well as three that seem to be the real thing and should be around for years to come.
Ask most people about low carb fad diets and you will likely hear that Dr. Atkins was the pioneer of this type of dieting. Actually the Atkins diet should not be referred to as a fad diet since it has stood the test of time very well. We can date the low carb diet back to the 1860's in England but it took a hundred years for it to take hold in the U.S.
"Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution" published in 1972 and Dr. Atkins "New Diet Revolution", 2001 and the latest "Atkins for Life" in 2004 show the evolution of the Atkins diet as new understandings emerged regarding
fat burn versus fat storage.
The more recent iterations incorporate glycemic indexing and make it much easier to stay the course which is another reason that it is not a fad diet. The Atkins people have been very good at adjusting this diet in response to new findings.
The Atkins diet is probably the most misunderstood diet of all time, mostly due to sensational but wrong media reporting. Many people who thought they were on the Atkins diet had never actually read his books, got it wrong and ended up with weight gain and health issues.
The original Atkins diet involved a strict regimen that required discipline to follow but it was never an "all-the-fat-and-steak-you-can-eat" diet. Much like the South Beach diet, Atkins used a phased approach to weight loss.
His first phase was called "the Induction" phase wherein rapid weight loss occurred because the low levels of carbs (20 grams/day) put the body in a state of ketosis. That just means that a state of metabolism was reached where the liver was forced to convert fat to fatty acids and other compounds that can be used by the body for energy.
One side effect of over-doing it in the induction phase is ketoacidosis, usually just referred to as acidosis. Ketoacidosis occurs when too many ketones are produced as a result of a loss of homeostasis in the acid/base balance, the blood pH range.
A sure sign of ketoacidosis is that it produces a foul smelling breath that is way beyond the fruity smelling breath that accompanies normal ketosis. Besides the breath issue, ketoacidosis can be dangerous and one needs to know what they are doing when adjusting carb/fat intakes.
Subsequent phases of the Atkins diet are "Ongoing Weight Loss", "Pre-maintenance", and "Lifetime Maintenance". More carbs are phased into the diet during "Ongoing" and "Pre-maintenance" until the weight level and mindset is reached for "Lifetime maintenance".
As in the South Beach diet, there is no "end-of-diet" point which can
trigger a mindset like, "thank God, that's over, now I go back to eating what I want". Looking for an "end point" is another indication of a fad diet.
Dr. Atkins died in 2003 from a head injury after a fall on ice. He also struggled with cardiomyopathy, a viral infection of the heart that causes deterioration of the heart muscle. Detractors of the Atkins diet spread false rumors that his death was the result of a heart attack from following his diet. Shame on them.
That is one headline you'll never see in the news. The erroneous belief that if you "eat fat, you get fat" is still too widespread and even taught in some medical schools today. Science is chipping away at it but it will take a lot more time before the stake is put in the heart of "low-fat" dieting.
Statistics and charts from the CDC show that the inexorable rise in obesity across the U.S. began in the early eighties' about the same time as the low-fat diet craze started taking hold.
People who go no-fat or low-fat diets are setting themselves up for failure and the onset of some very serious health issues. The body needs fat to stay healthy. The brain and nerve cells need fat. The key is in knowing what fats to consume; not all fats are created equal.
Essential fatty acids, like omega-3, are fats and they actually help the body convert stored fat to energy.
Transfat and Saturated fat are the bad guys. Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol while transfat raises only the LDL (bad) cholesterol. Both should be avoided.
The "Mono-uns" and "Poly-uns" are the good guys. That's as in "mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated". Both of them lower total blood cholesterol but mono-unsaturated fat has the effect of raising HDL cholesterol (that's good). The Mono's are prevalent in nuts, avocados and canola and olive oils to name just a few.
The poly's are also found oils such as safflower and sunflower, as well as fish oil. Omega-3 is a "poly".
Photos: Olive Tree to Olive oil...
Go for Extra Virgin, First Cold Pressed!
One major problem with a no-fat or low-fat diet is that most of these diets recommend high glycemic foods that raise blood sugar and cause the liver to make triglycerides; blood fats that end up in our arteries. Cholesterol is about 70% triglyceride. Most pre-packaged foods tend to be high glycemic.
Baked or mashed white potatoes and most refined breads and cereals are low fat but high glycemic. Both will increase blood sugar and push the pancreas to release more insulin and, depending on your metabolic type, can get stored as fat instead of being converted to energy.
Let's start out by saying that a calorie is just a unit of energy. Physicists and other scientists use it to describe how much energy it takes to raise the temperature of a gram of water by one degree centigrade.
For food purposes, most commonly used is the kilocalorie, (kcal) or 1000 calories; enough energy to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree centigrade.
Well, food contains an energy potential that is measured in calories. Our bodies take in food and turn it into energy through a process called metabolism. Our bodies need energy to do things like breathing, keeping our hearts pumping, repairing cells, adjusting hormone levels and all that small stuff that keeps us alive.
That "small stuff" collectively represents the basic needs of the body and is logically called our basal metabolic rate (BMR). Believe it or not, BMR calories represent about 66% to 75% of the calories used per day.
It also takes energy to make energy. All that digesting, absorbing, transporting and storing the food we eat takes energy, about 10% of the calories we use each day are for food processing.
Some of us actually like to move around. Playing golf, chasing the dog, chasing the wife, whatever. Physical activity accounts for the rest of the calories (energy) we use. This is the only one of the three that is
under our direct control.
The total energy expenditure is the number of calories our body burns each day and consists of the three elements above; basic needs, food processing and physical activity.
Calorie counting is an exercise in futility and low caloric diets usually fail because weight and metabolism aren't hard wired. Weight is dependent on the amount of calories we take in and how much we burn. Popular thinking is that If we take in more than we burn as our total energy expenditure, we gain weight.
The assumption that the excess of "calories in" minus "calories burned" equals weight gain as fat is too simplistic. It does not recognize that not all calories cause the same reaction in the body.
It's true that a calorie from broccoli has the same amount of energy as a calorie from chocolate cake BUT the hyperinsulin response of the body is vastly different.
Consider that 1000 calories from broccoli is low glycemic and triggers no hyperinsulin response while 1000 calories from chocolate cake is high glycemic and does create a hyperinsulin response.
The "so what" is that the nutritional values from the 1000 calories of broccoli or chocolate cake are greatly different. In order to reduce weight or lose fat, the calories we cut out have to be from the right food which is high glycemic food.
Most vegetables, fruit, and whole grains fall into the low glycemic end of the index so they provide better nutrition per calorie as well as providing healthy fiber and do not contribute to blood sugar imbalances, diabetes or heart disease.
The conclusion is that it is possible to be on a low calorie fad diet and still gain weight if the low glycemic foods are cut out in favor of high glycemic foods.
There is! There are a couple of other factors that work against us if we don't approach weight loss properly.
If we cut calories without taking the glycemic index into account the body will burn muscle as food before it burns the fat. This is simply because muscle tissue has more nutritional value than fat. Starvation will cause anyone to lose weight but we don't want to starve ourselves on a diet and sacrifice muscle to keep the fat.
There is another thing called the "weight set Point" which is a survival mechanism built into our brains. It is a type of sensing system that monitors both caloric input as well as nutritional input. If it senses a
food shortage (nutrition), it will reduce the rate that we convert stored fat to energy in an effort to hold onto that fat as long as possible to use when starvation becomes life threatening.
Part of this mechanism is genetic, maybe. There is a theory developed by geneticist James Neel in 1962 titled, "Diabetes Mellitus: A 'Thrifty' Genotype Rendered Detrimental by Progress".
His theory is that diabetes is the result of a rapid insulin response that allowed hunter-gatherers to store fat in times of plenty and use that stored fat for survival in times of famine. A gene has been identified that plays a role in diabetes and obesity and may be the theorized "thrifty gene".
All was fine in the ancient hunter-gatherer cultures since their diets were low glycemic. Now, with the introduction of modern, processed, convenient, high glycemic foods into these cultures, the thrifty gene kicks in full bore with insulin spiking and resultant fat storage.
Two cultures, the Pima Indians of the U.S. southwest and groups of Micronesians, have been studied extensively and seemingly verified the Neel theory.
For those of us not of the Pima or Micronesian persuasion, we still may carry a thrifty gene in us. The result would be that if we dieted to extreme and the body sensed nutrient deprivation, the thrifty gene could kick in and prevent us from going below the weight set point no matter what we tried.
So when dieting, take it easy and don't go to such extremes that genetics locks in your set weight for good.
Two diets that have received a lot of attention actually work; they take off pounds and keep them off if the routine becomes a health-choice-for-life. They work because they are built around the principles of low glycemic eating and portion control.
It doesn't seem right to call them "fad diets" because they are
more a change of habit and lifestyle than food restriction; they have already outlasted many fad diets.
So what are they already!
They are the Mediterranean diet and South Beach diet and they have a lot in common.
The Mediterranean diet is sometimes referred to as the Cretan diet since it mimicked the food patterns typical of Crete, but also is typical of Greece and southern Italy. It is too early to tell if this is one of the fad diets but it seems to have staying power. It looks like this one has moved out of the fad diet category and has long-term value.
It is centered on plant foods, fresh fruit, olive oil, cheese and yogurt, fish and poultry, moderate consumption of eggs, small amounts of red meat and wine in low-to-moderate amounts.
This diet keeps total fat between 25% to 35% of calories of which saturated fat is around 8%.
Photo: Classic Greek Salad
The Mediterranean diet has relatively high amounts of fat yet people living in the Mediterranean area and eating this diet, have lower incidences of cardiovascular disease than in the U.S., where similar levels of fat consumption is found.
This is likely due to the olive oil used in the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil lowers cholesterol levels in the blood and is also known to lower blood sugar levels and blood pressure but it only does that if you don't heat it; just drizzle it over the food. The higher consumption of red wine in the Mediterranean countries may also be a possible factor due to its flavonoid content and powerful antioxidant properties.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, in a recent appearance on Oprah's afternoon TV show, recommended starting a meal with Extra virgin cold pressed olive oil and whole grain bread. Besides the nutrition it provides, it tends to dampen the appetite and slow digestion. All in keeping with good glycemic dining and <em>very</em> "Mediterranean".
The south Beach diet, also not among the fad diets, is a three-phased approach to weight loss wherein the first two phases are focused on losing pounds and inches and the third phase is intended to be a lifetime maintenance phase.
Phase one is a relatively short two week period where food intake is almost identical to the Mediterranean diet including the olive oil. It combines portion control, timing of food intake including a couple of snacks, and all the principles of low glycemic eating.
Phase two is variable in length in that it lasts as long as it takes to reach your desired weight. The difference is that in phase 2 you are allowed to have some of the forbidden foods but only occasionally. Otherwise the diet is the same as phase one.
Phase three begins when you reach your desired weight and lasts the rest of your life. It works because by now your new eating habits are your normal, accepted routine and your body chemistry has changed for the good in the way you respond to food.
At this point, you can indulge yourself but will have the discipline to stay at the desired weight and if your weight does start creeping up, you will have gained the knowledge as to how to correct it.
This one works because it does not involve food deprivation or hunger and is based on sound life-changing choices.
Possibly better than either the Mediterranean diet, the South Beach diet or the Atkins diet is the Genetic Key Diet advocated by Dr. Steve Nugent is his book "The Genetic Key Diet"; "The Key to Unlock a Lean Body & a Long Healthy Life".
Dr. Nugent has developed a method to determine in which of five metabolic types a person belongs. Each metabolic type processes food a little differently. For example, a Genetic Key (GK) type 4 or 5 who eats our highly processed, high glycemic food is doomed to a life of obesity and diabetes while a GK type 1 or 2 can get away with quite a bit without gaining weight. Regardless, he proves that low glycemic eating is the best approach for everyone.
Dr. Nugent tailors the glycemic index to each genetic key type, taking the glycemic load into account.
In his book, he includes a short test to identify which genetic type a person is and provides daily menus based on the genetic key diet for that metabolic type. He has also developed a set of seven "G Factor Rules for Success" which he lists as:
Sounds simple, right? It is, check it out.
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