This month, respected British medical journal The Lancet released a report on global obesity trends. The upshot – overweight and obesity is a serious worldwide health epidemic. While the USA, China and India are tipping the scales in a big way, South Africa is not far behind – with the highest overweight and obesity rates in Sub-Saharan Africa, an alarming 69% of South African women are overweight or obese and 42% obese.
With such staggering statistics, it’s no wonder many a desperate South African woman is resorting to bizarre weight loss methods. Here, we take a look at some of the more popular diet trends of recent times, and unpack why they’re not as effective as they claim to be…
The clue’s in the name – this diet is all about consuming liquids only for a period of time, usually a week to ten days. The extreme version sees soups, smoothies or shakes replacing all meals; the lesser version two meals, with solid food being eaten for the third meal. Liquid diets are low-calorie – by eliminating proper food, calories are slashed to just 400-800 per day.
The short-term – Dramatic weight loss…What could be easier than ‘drinking yourself thin’?
The long-term – A low-calorie liquid diet has nasty side-effects – constipation, fatigue, dizziness, hair loss, gallstones and heart damage. Then there’s the weight gain as regular eating is resumed.
Also known as the Caveman Diet, this one claims to approximate the diet our Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) ancestors would have eaten. This is a high-protein, high-fat, low-carb diet to which proponents argue we’re genetically adapted (South Africa’s Professor Tim Noakes is an advocate of a moderate version of this diet, often referred to as the Banting Diet). The Paleo Diet is touted as a lifestyle change, rather than a crash diet – there’s an emphasis on organic meat, eggs, seafood, vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts, whilst grains, sugars and processed foods are a no-no.
The short-term – Some people experience what’s called ‘The Low-Carb ‘Flu’ – lethargy, fatigue, irritability and shakiness associated with eliminating sugars and starches from the their diet.
The long-term – Gradual weight loss, the longer one embraces the diet’s eating habits, until one’s own optimal ‘natural’ or ideal weight is reached. Says Noakes, this diet will reduce insulin resistance, which means it’s good for people who are pre-diabetic or diabetic or who have metabolic syndrome, and will produce feelings of greater energy and better athletic performance.
The basic premise of the Whole30 diet is detoxing the system. This is a highly restrictive, no-carb, super-strict diet – no sugar, honey, grains, dairy, legumes, caffeine or alcohol for thirty days straight. And if you slip up? You have to start all over again! What is allowed on this thirty-day extreme diet? Meat, seafood, nuts, seeds, eggs, veggies and fruit.
The short-term – fairly drastic weight loss while you maintain the stringent eating regime
The long-term – weight gain, as normal eating habits are resumed. For some people, bingeing on bad foods is the inevitable result of such extreme self-denial – with the result that they gain even more weight than before they started Whole30.
Devised by a business executive, rather than a medical doctor or nutritionist (by what the designer of the diet refers to as ‘self-experimentation’), this one again takes the Paleo diet to the max, i.e. a high-fat, high-protein, no-carbohydrate diet. Also forbidden – preservatives, colourings, flavourants and food additives; legumes; pasteurised dairy and honey. Unplug that microwave while you’re at it, as well – no microwave cooking allowed. In fact, the more raw food eaten, the better, says the Bulletproof Diet’s designer, who also promises weight loss without exercising.
The short-term – like Whole30, weight loss while you maintain the stringent eating regime
The long-term – it’s an unsustainable long-term diet, which means binge-eating, and therefore weight gain, becomes a likely scenario.
With celebrity endorsements like Madonna and (until recently) Gwyneth Paltrow, the macrobiotic diet has drawn something of a cult-like following for those looking for the elixir of youth and fitness. The emphasis here is on organic whole grains, vegetables and beans – meat, poultry and dairy is eliminated or kept to a minimum, but fresh fish and seafood is allowed twice a week. On the no-list – processed and refined foods, tropical fruits, spices, tomatoes, spinach, alcohol and caffeine. On the to-do list – chewing each mouthful 50 times before swallowing.
The short-term – Dizziness and fatigue as certain foods are eliminated from the diet
The long-term – Whilst the macrobiotic diet will result in gradual weight loss, eliminating strong sources of iron, calcium and vitamin D from the diet – like meat, spinach and dairy – can have negative effects on long-term health. Gwyneth Paltrow has had to re-asses her dietary habits after eleven years on the macrobiotic diet left her with anaemia and osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis.
To stay healthy and at an ideal weight, remember:
- Your body needs energy and nutrients from all the food groups to stay in good working order
- onsuming more calories than you use up will lead to weight gain
- It’s good to eat a variety of fruit and vegetables each day
- Cooking whole foods from scratch is healthier than processed or fast foods
- Lower your sugar and salt intake
- Consume alcohol and caffeine in moderation
- Drink plenty of water
- Exercising three to five times a week will help maintain a healthy weight
- Before you embark on a fad diet, check with your doctor!
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