March 26, 2013

Same diets come back with different names


---- — March is national nutrition month, and I wanted to talk about the subject but not the same old eat-more-vegetables message I’m consistently bringing up. 

I was looking at, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website, and found a neat fad-diet timeline tool. I was surprised at how often the same types of messages came up. 

The recurrences probably should not have shocked me, however, since many fad diets are based on a little sound science and most fail to look at the long-term sustainability of the diet and, more importantly, the weight loss. Following these fads often results in frequent and significant weight loss and gain, which we know is unhealthy for your body and tends to damage your metabolism over time. 

As a disclaimer, I should mention that I work for a grant-funded program through which we promote the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. I have heard arguments against what we teach and recognize that every individual has unique needs and may find that other eating patterns work for them. What I do like about the guidelines, though, is that they promote basic healthy eating and being active as part of a healthy lifestyle. That said, here are some of the more interesting fads I saw:

Low-carbohydrate diets started back in the 1820s. Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin hypothesized that since carnivores and herbivores did not become overweight — unless herbivores were fed grains — that it was the starchy substances that cause humans to gain excess weight. This diet appears again and again, I think showing that we do tend to eat excessive amounts of carbohydrates, but this first argument oversimplifies the differences between human and animal eating patterns. 

Fletcherizing, a term I had heard before, got started in 1903 and promotes chewing your food 32 times. Literally counting out chews between bites seems a little excessive to me, but surely eating slower has been found to benefit weight loss. It takes some time for your stomach to communicate to your brain that it is full.

Some diet aids were found to be detrimental to the user’s long-term health, weight loss aside. Cigarettes were once promoted as a diet aid, and in the 1960s, “The Drinking Man’s Diet” was created, offering low-carb foods and daily alcohol allowances. These two examples are not even as grim as many of the weight-loss drugs that have been on the market and found to be dangerous, if not deadly. 

Many fad diets involve eating a very limited diet for a set amount of time, such as the grapefruit diet or the cabbage-soup diet. These are really just examples of limiting calories for a few weeks in a monotonous manner. Another way to limit caloric intake would be the “Sleeping Beauty Diet” of the ‘70s, where the dieter was heavily sedated for a period of time; the idea was that you cannot eat if you are sleeping. 

The current dieting trends lean more toward monitoring rather than dictating what to eat. The monitoring is mostly in the form of apps, which is indicative of our technological consumption. If you are looking to take this a step further than your smartphone, I just saw a new set of utensils that monitors how fast you are eating and will vibrate if you are surpassing the speed limit. You can, of course, plug these into your computer once you are done eating and register your meal. 

Whatever you do to get into shape or stay in shape, remember that adjustments should be seen as lifestyle changes. Anything temporary will produce temporary results. When considering a change, start small, think of your long-term health instead of your weight, and choose something you can do for the rest of your life.

Jordy Kivett is a nutrition educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. For more information, contact her at 561-7450.