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Health, Nutrition

Isn’t it time that fad diets went out of fashion?

Family Plates by Mountainbread, on FlickrChannel 4’s Supersize vs Superskinny is back on the telly. The long-running health show, which challenges two ‘extreme eaters’ to swap diets for a week, used to be my TV-watching guilty pleasure. Previous series’ were known for the infamous ‘feeding tube’ – a huge Perspex cylinder into which a week’s worth of food is emptied. It was a startling and vulgar visual representation of how much (and how little) some people can eat. And while Supersize vs Superskinny has been widely criticised for trivialising serious eating issues, it nevertheless reveals just how topsy-turvy attitudes to food have become. We now live in a world of extremes – and extreme times call for extreme weight loss diets.

Fad diets – usually promoted by skinny celebrities – always promise quick results. There is now a food plan so suit every palate. If you like meat then try the Atkins. Love vegetables? Go Detox. Hate solid food? Do the baby food diet. Want to eat like a caveman? Eat Paleo-diet.
The truth is that there are very few (if any) instances when going on a faddish diet is a good idea. At best, these trendy diets offer little more than a cleverly disguised way of cutting calories. At worst they are just plain dangerous. From the abundance of dodgy diets, here are just three that should never be tried:

Three Fad Diets not to try

The cabbage soup diet is an ever-popular choice for both celebrities and regular folk. It is a ‘crash’ seven-day diet involving lots of green soup and not much else. The cabbage soup diet is essentially a week of little sustenance – slurping a meagre 800 calories each day, which is less than half of what is needed. Yes, the pounds will definitely fall off, but much of it will be water and muscle. Any weight loss will almost certainly be short-lived. Plus, if you’re really unlucky then the abrupt change in eating will give you gall stones or even a heart rhythm abnormality.

A similarly voguish diet is the lemon detox diet. It has been around for fifty years and like the cabbage soup ordeal, its adherents are required to get rid of solid nutrition. (Because, who really needs to eat anyway!?) Food is instead replaced by a lemon ‘detox’ drink made from lemon juice, expensive maple syrup and cayenne pepper. It is a ten day starvation plan (sorry, diet) that is deficient in practically all the core nutrients. Lemon doesn’t ‘detoxify’ anything, and neither will the two litres of water you down help rid you of much. It is an unsafe and punishing diet: even 24 hours without protein or calcium will start to cause muscle and bone damage.

Finally, the newest and hippest kid on the block is the ‘Six Weeks to OMG” diet. (OMG being text-speak for ‘Oh my God!’) Designed by gym instructor Venice Fulton (not his real name), this regime is supposed to make you “skinner than all your friends”. Heavily marketed toward self-conscious young women, the OMG diet involves skipping breakfast, exercising on an empty stomach, drinking excesses of black coffee, taking cold baths and remembering to not eat certain fruits. It is so at odds with healthy living and common sense that the Dietetics Association of Australia have condemned it as being one of the three worst diets ever. OMG, indeed.

These extreme diets demonstrate that just about anyone can write a lose-weight-fast book or invent a ridiculous eating plan. It is sadly the hour-long shows like Supersize vs Superskinny that cannot help but give the impression that there are fast fixes. Really there are none. Making a lasting change to weight and health takes time. There are no miracle diets, only sensible choices. Perhaps it’s time a celebrity wrote a book about that.

Thanks for reading – all opinions expressed are my own. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.



Read More:

10 Ways to spot a fad diet

NHS Choices – Healthy eating and weight loss

British Dietetic Association – 5 worst celebrity diets for 2014

Dangers of Cabbage Soup Diet

References:

Roberts DC (2001). Quick weight loss: sorting fad from fact. The Medical journal of Australia, 175 (11-12), 637-40 PMID: 11837873

Image source: Moutainbread on Flickr

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About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...

Discussion

One thought on “Isn’t it time that fad diets went out of fashion?

  1. Hi Dr Stu – I recently had to quit work at a certain educational establishment because I found I had chronic fatigue syndrome. I.m wondering if you can throw any light on what the attest science about this syndrome is ? ( I have had a lot of viruses due to working with young children )

    Posted by Ruth Behan | February 13, 2014, 1:50 pm

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