The Skinny on Fad Diets

Since reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan over summer break, I began to think about a question he asks in the beginning of the book; “How did we ever get to a point where we need investigative journalists to tell us where our food comes from and nutritionists to determine the dinner menu?”

It seems we have lost the ability to eat responsibly, becoming ignorant consumers in the process.  Our money no longer goes to a grocery bill, but instead into the pockets of some “expert” who wants to teach us about eating.

According to The Straight Scoop about Dieting by Sharon Greene Patton, Americans spend over 60 billion dollars on dieting books and products every year. Despite the amount of money wasted trying to fit into our skinny jeans, 60 percent of Americans are overweight and an estimated fifty million of us have eating disorders.

It seems like every day you come across a new way to “drop 10 pounds in a week” or “drop 5 jean sizes in a month.” These messages seem to spill over every magazine cover and shout at us from our TV screens. The worst part about all of these messages is that we seem to be listening to them.

Two years ago, I experienced the reality of fad diets at the lunch table. It seemed like almost everyone was either following some trendy diet, supplementing meals with chemical injected shakes, or eating nothing at all.

Not everyone was fad-dieting, but like the ever popular Ugg boots, people caught on.

Overtime, my lunch table turned into an exclusive dieting community where brown-bagging with typical lunch foods was frowned upon. My PB and J was an outsider, unwelcome to Mary Adele’s 48-hour Miracle drink and Katherine’s Atkins Advantage bar.

The food restrictions of my lunch table seemed to get crazier, but the girls always had some sort of health claim to back up the lunacy.

For example, the mini-Snickers bar diet (which lasted a total of four days) was supposedly waistline friendly. Apparently, the nuts in the chocolate balanced out the sugar, which in turn made the candy bar a low-glycemic index food. Healthy? I think not.

What we must understand is that a candy bar is a candy bar–which at the time may seem like a good idea, but like with most diets, you cannot eat the same thing forever.

In a generation of high-speed internet, texting, instant messaging and DVR, teens are used to a world of instant gratification. We fall for fad diets because we want a quick fix.

When we fail at the first attempt to lose four pounds in a week, we choose a different approach—usually more extreme and idiotic than the first. Then, after winning the battle of skipping the breadbasket, we lose one with the bag of Lays potato chips…and the BigMac …and the McFlurry. A pint of Ben and Jerry’s, anyone?

Here at Leesville, many students welcome greasy pizza, french-fries and Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate-chip cookies. We even choose to slip change into the vending machine with the sign on it warning us of the many pounds we can gain each year from drinking the soda we have just selected.  It is no wonder our clothes are fitting a little more snug these days.

We are stuck in a vicious cycle of crash dieting, where we shift from one extreme to another. The same person who chooses to nosh on a “colossal burger” and cheese fries at lunch will easily start The Cabbage Soup diet the next week.

With all of these fad and crash diets, we are wreaking havoc on our bodies, destroying our metabolism for many years to come.

Fad diets stun the body, sending it into starvation mode. Rapid weight loss is expected, but you’re not really losing any fat.

According to Women’s Health Magazine, you’re “using your body’s stored supply of the carbohydrate glycogen. As your body burns glycogen, you lose water as well, making it seem as though you’re losing a lot of weight.”

Optimum health may seem like an overwhelming task, but in reality, being healthy is rather simple.

Later in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan lays out the perfect solution to our eating conundrum. He advises Americans to “avoid eating anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

Most likely, your great-grandmother would choose brown rice, vegetables and lean protein over a chemically injected Slim-Fast shake.

Your great-grandmother would also advise you not to eat anything larger than your head—a great lesson in portion control.

Living a healthy lifestyle is laughably simplistic and we do not need rigid fad and crash diets to achieve nutritional wellness.

All we need to do is make the simple decision to make healthy decisions. If we take the initiative to treat our bodies well, our bodies will return the favor.

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