From the semi-reasonable to the ridiculous, fad diets make promises that are simply not sustainable for long-term health: Melt away the pounds with the miraculous acai berry diet, devour spare ribs and cheese on Atkins, or live it up like a Neanderthal on the Paleo diet.
“Fad diets are extremely restrictive, requiring a large reduction in calories, and they remove healthy foods from the diet,” said Ellen Bauersfeld, a registered dietician with the Klotz Health Center at CSUN.
Losing weight is consistently on the list of top 10 new year’s resolutions. It is difficult to determine the success rates of those who attempt diets, although an oft-cited statistic is 95 percent, based on the 1984 book “The Psychology of Ideal Body Image as an Oppressive Force in the Lives of Women” by Barbara Cohen, PhD.
“Every January, we get a new spokesperson or star that makes it [dieting] look easy,” Bauersfeld said.
But only a very small percentage of the population could ever reasonably achieve the results many of these spokespeople promise, she added.
Truly desperate dieters have gone to extreme lengths to lose weight with tapeworms. Illegal in the U.S., the tapeworm diet involves ingesting the intestinal parasite to lose weight and then killing it off with antibiotics once the desired weight is reached.
Carol De La Sotta, a graphic artist from Malibu, said she has tried virtually every diet in existence.
“The only one that worked was the cabbage soup [diet],” she said. “But after eating that soup for a week, I was ready to throw it against the wall.”
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders, or NIKKD, warns Americans that fad diets can be dangerous. The high-protein/low-carbohydrate diet that has become so popular during the last decade, for example, can lead to nausea, fatigue, weakness, constipation and even heart disease and kidney stones.
Despite the potentially negative health consequences of many diets, the industry is enormous.
A Google search for “weight loss diets” retrieved 146 million results, and Marketdata Enterprises Inc. reported in a 2010 study that U.S. weight-loss market revenues totaled nearly $61 billion.
So, what exactly is fueling this massive industry?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report two-thirds of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese. Diet-related diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, have reached epidemic proportions and account for a huge percentage of the nation’s health care costs.
But avoiding sweet, salty, high-calorie processed foods can be difficult, especially when such foods seem to be around every corner.
“It’s sort of like a carnival atmosphere with food,” Bauersfeld said. Our bodies are biologically and genetically programmed to seek out high-calorie foods, making it especially hard to resist them, she added.
And with the advent of modern technology, fewer people are physically laboring (and burning off excess calories) than ever in history. This has been both a blessing and a curse.
“Our culture over the past several decades has become extremely sedentary,” Bauersfeld said. “We are not designed to sit 10 hours a day.”
Lack of physical activity coupled with the near ubiquity of processed foods has led to serious health problems in America. Processed foods are particularly problematic because they have been broken down to such an extent from refinement that they lose many of their nutrients, according to Michael Pollan, bestselling author of several books on food and food systems, including “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”
Food Network personality Paula Deen recently made headlines when she announced that she has Type-2 Diabetes. It seems that the pork ribs and skillet-fried apple pies the charming star so lovingly cooks up on her show have finally taken a toll on her health.
Navigating all of the inaccurate and misleading information about diets and health can be overwhelming. For those struggling with where to begin, Bauersfeld advises, “In general, a really good place to start is with the USDA’s choosemyplate.gov.”
In 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture replaced its confusing Food Guide Pyramid with the Food Guide Plate, which graphically divides a standard-size meal plate into balanced portions of grains, fruits, vegetables, protein (meat, beans) and dairy.
In addition to adopting a more balanced diet Bauersfeld said many of the people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off have done so by dropping perfectionist black or white thinking. “Successful people will push on even after a bad day and not focus on failure.”
CSUN students have several resources on campus to help them reach their health and fitness goals, including the Student Recreation Center and nutrition counseling at the Klotz Health Center. Private appointments are available with registered dietitians and peer nutrition counselors (PNCs) to discuss weight loss or gain, healthy eating, sports nutrition, and more.
To make an appointment, call (818) 677-3666 or (818) 677-3692.