It’s a new year and everyone is talking ‘new me, healthier me’ and the works. Popular diet programmes are popping up everywhere you turn on social networking streets, from detox to keto. Should you enrol yourself or nah? HARRIET JAMES explores
Losing weight, dieting or eating healthier and exercising are the most popular new year resolutions according to various polls, including a recent one by international research firm ComRes. A quick search of “how to lose weight” on Google offers many variations such as “how to lose weight fast” and “how to lose weight in a day”.
The lure to lose weight overnight has catalysed the emergence of a plethora of fad diets, making weight loss a fad in and of itself. Many look out for the latest diet programmes that will get them the red carpet-ready bodies usually flashed on their TV screens.
Similar to fads in fashion, a fad diet is a momentary and sporadic craze that in most instances promises rapid weight loss or other health advantages such as long life or younger looks.
In most instances, the diet is characterised by highly restrictive or unusual food choices, which health practitioners warn can cause serious concerns in one’s wellbeing. Nutritionist Kepha Nyanumba says research has shown that only two per cent of dieters lose weight and manage to keep it at bay.
The rest of the flock loses it, only to gain it back a couple of months later, and then some. To mention but a few, programmes that have been alleged to be fad diets include various detox programmes, ketogenic diets and the Atkins diet.
Historically, fad diets emerged in the 1930s as traditional foods began getting eroded by more modern lifestyles and health consequences of pleasure-based menus became obvious.
Earlier in 1864, William Banting’s Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public had become the first book to be published on dieting. It was all about his successful weight loss journey where he replaced an excessive intake of bread, potatoes as well as sugar with mostly fish, meat and vegetables.
A few decades later, fad diets continued taking root. In 1941, health enthusiast Stanley Burroughs created the Master Cleanse, or lemonade diet, to get rid of cravings for tobacco, junk food, alcohol, as well as drugs.
All a person had to do was drink a mixture of lemon or lime juice, maple syrup, water and cayenne pepper six times a day for at least 10 days. This diet became popular in 2006 when super star Beyoncé claimed she lost 20 pounds (9kg) in two weeks by following the regimen.
This encouraged other celebrities such as TV physician Dr Oz to promote their own versions, which mostly comprised a daily laxative and copious amounts of water. Famous fitness and nutrition coach Jane Mukami, narrating her weight loss journey in her blog that began in 2008 when she was 27, admits that after struggling with her weight for some years, she tried various fad diets which proved to be unsuccessful.
One of them consisted drinking a concoction made from cayenne pepper, maple syrup, lemon juice and water, which she tried for 30 days with no food.
“I lost 18 pounds (8kg) in 30 days and was over the moon! But… by day 33, the weight was back… Not just the 18Ibs but 22Ibs (10kg)! Lesson learned was that I was obviously not Beyoncé, and I needed to try something else,” she confessed.
In the 1970s, the ‘sleeping beauty’ diet followed Burroughs’ lemonade diet in popularity, and it involved the use of sleep to avoid hunger, with some users going as far as sedating themselves.
The chewing diet was another diet invented by Horace Fletcher, who made dieting a pop culture by advocating that people chew food until it became liquid to prevent overeating.
The tapeworm diet is another programme that was popular in decades gone. It involved an individual swallowing tapeworm pills or a tapeworm, for it to consume some of your food by just making a home in your stomach.
The zone diet then emerged in 1995, attracting a large number of celebrities. Invented by biochemist Barry Sears, it placed emphasis on low carbohydrate consumption.
Today, as the quest for rapid weight loss proves to be potent than ever, fad diets continue to increase in popularity. They include;
A detox diet is meant to give your digestive system a brief ‘pause’ from its regular activities, to give it an opportunity to heal itself. In some instances, a detox diet may require an individual to give up most solid food in favour of regimen drinks, while for others, it’s merely a strategy of adding gut-healthy foods into the diet.
And while a detox diet gives the body an opportunity to feed on some nutrients it requires while temporarily cutting out the potentially harmful ingredients such as sugar, simple carbs, sweetened drinks and processed foods, Kepha warns that this can be dangerous. “Detox programmes lead to nutrient imbalance due to lack of proteins and starches. It also promotes food cravings, increasing the risk of obesity,” he says.
Mukami also tried out expensive detox programmes and says they never worked for her. “Colon hydro therapy: Forget enemas – I paid a hefty $850 (Sh86,000) for a three-week detox and cleansing programme that included colon hydro therapy, liver cleanse and mouth to intestine cleanse.
During the three weeks, I was supposed to eat only raw vegetables and homemade vegetable + fruit juices. And why did I think this would work? Because it had the aspect of a lot of money… smdh,” she shared. As the fitness enthusiast explains, the colon hydro therapy is a 45-minute process which entails sticking a tube up a person’s rectum and pumping water.
She says she eventually regained control of her weight through proper nutrition and working out, and today, sells her own 10-day detox programme on her website janemukami.com, which promises to get rid of toxins that cause weight gain and disease through a total internal body cleanse.
“Cleansing helps get rid of toxins from every organ in the body from a cellular level. One of the best ways to cleanse your body is by drinking green smoothies,” she says of the programme.
Developed in the 1970s by the late cardiologist Dr Robert Atkins, this diet advocated a low carbohydrate approach, which resulted in the development of low carb choices in restaurants as well as grocery stores.
According to the late doctor, limiting carbohydrate intake would result in improvement in health and also assist in weight control. However, it is classified as a fad diet and according to a study titled Efficacy of Commercial Weight Loss Programmes: An Updated Systematic Review published by PubMed Central, there is no proof of the diet’s effectiveness in achieving durable weight loss. Kepha says that this kind of diet may increase the risk of heart disease due to high cholesterol levels.
Currently riding high in health-conscious circles, keto diet is similar to Atkins, as they both follow carbohydrate restrictions. The diet was developed in the 1920s as a way through which children with epilepsy could be treated. It is also said that very low carb and high fat diet is effective for weight loss, epilepsy, cancers and diabetes.
The nutritionist explains that keto is very strict and can lead to deficiencies and health issues, as it puts an abrupt change to one’s metabolism. “A ketogenic diet is high in fat and low in carbohydrates, which makes the body break down fat into molecules called ketones.
The ketone bodies replace glucose as an energy source. The risks of ketogenic diets include persistent headaches, migraines, fatigue, digestive disorders and high cholesterol levels,” says Kepha.
While some follow a largely vegetarian diet simply because they can’t afford meat, losing weight and religious convictions are some of the reasons going vegetarian has become more appealing in today’s society.
Kepha warns that while it is touted as a healthier lifestyle, this diet eliminates vitamin B12, which is gotten from animals. A research by BBC indicates that diets which cut out dairy food could be a ticking time bomb for young people’s bone health.
The research recommends taking three portions of dairy a day to have the required calcium intake. PD Wikendi sub-editor Stephen Mbuthi, a vegetarian by choice for eight years, advises vegetarians who don’t eat eggs to take milk and milk products such as cheese and butter, which are a source of vitamin B12. “Milk is the reason one should not meat. If you forego milk, then you’re losing out,” he says.
To prevent vitamin B12 deficiency, Kepha advises vegetarians to seek professional advice on food combination or get Vitamin B12 injections as lack of the same affects the metabolism rate.
According to Reader’s Digest, some of the common risks of fad diets include fatigue, dehydration, digestive problems as well as malnutrition. “These diets don’t work, since an individual will lose a few kilogrammes by breaking muscles, and this slows down their metabolism rate. That is why they regain all the weight within a short period of time,” explains the nutritionist.
Also, due to their restrictive nature, fad diets attract natural cravings, making individuals ‘cheat’. Consequently, this usually sets them in a cycle of tossing back and forth between sticking to the diet and surrendering to their cravings. This can even grow into binge eating.
Just as a vehicle needs the proper fuel to run, health experts say individuals should focus more on making healthy changes to their eating habits such as taking out processed foods and eating more vegetables, and being patient with weight changes, as opposed to jumping on fad diets to gain quick results.
“When you go on a fad diet and exclude necessary nutrients, you’re putting yourself at risk of falling ill. Getting too little of any nutrient may not cause an immediate problem. But if it’s lacking for a long time, you may find you have health problems,” warns Kepha.
Mukami advises people to avoid shortcuts and to think twice before taking up regimens deemed to be a fad, or any crazy restrictive diet. “Making small changes that you can sustain throughout your life is the only way to go about this.
You will also need to be dedicated to making the changes as well as being patient, because the extra weight did not show up overnight,” she advises.
Kepha adds that it is vital for those seeking to lose weight to seek professional help from nutritionists registered by Kenya Nutritionists and Dieticians Institute, and not the Internet. How the weight loss happens is what determines whether a given diet plan works or not.
“People should understand that weight loss is a process not an event! The process starts by seeking professional advice to get a personalised weight loss programme. This programme is like a roadmap that shows you how to get to your final destination from the starting point,” he explains.