Spilling the juice on fad diets

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I recently got a juicer. It’s really cool — it takes seconds to juice two carrots, two apples, some pineapple and a little ginger to make a delicious, healthy drink. It’s easy to clean and, although it might be a bit bulky, it’s totally worth it. But there was one flaw – the little book I found at the bottom of the box.

The text on the book’s cover shouted out that with the help of the juicer I could lose nearly 10kgs in seven days! Pictures and testimonies within it showed the incredible, miraculous change in peoples’ bodies in just 7 DAYS! It’s called the Jump Start Programme. It gives 15 reasons why you should try it, including natural, dramatic weight loss, renewed sex drive, no need to count calories and no drastic energy loss.

It sounds really amazing, I must say. But I didn’t buy the juicer for that – I just wanted to make nice juices which are relatively healthy and easy to prepare. But I’ll admit that I did think, “Wow, that’s pretty amazing”, as I paged through the book. My thoughts then turned to all the diets that are touted to make you lose weight, which got me thinking about how people are so obsessed about weight loss programmes and how much money people make from creating them.

Why are we so obsessed with following a diet other than what has constantly been repeated by nutritionists over the years (i.e. eat healthy foods, don’t eat too much, exercise regularly)? There are a few reasons for this. In an article on WebMD.com, Robyn Osborn, a dietician and educational psychologist, speaks about our need for a ‘quick fix’ so solve our problems. She says, “most people are put off by the fact that what we usually promote is life-long change”. Instead we opt for something that may be a quick fix solution – like the ‘7 Days to Success’ diet above. Following a diet for just a few weeks is a great alternative to changing your lifestyle completely. Osborn states that people don’t want to give up their lifestyle which they need to change, so the psychological cost of a quick fix diet is great. However, there are many diets which are quite intense in terms of changing your lifestyle. So, what other reasons are there?

A spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, Lisa Dorfman, states that people want to look like a person they look up to. Dorfman, who is also a mental health counsellor, states that “they just identify with the individuals who wrote the book”. The logic behind the diet may be flawed, but they just want like the way the photos look and want to look like that too. This shows that diets are not so often about becoming healthier. We know that being overweight can lead to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, but this is not what most people want to lose weight for. This article suggests that people are more inclined to diet because they want to lose kilos and pant sizes, not because they are concerned about their health.

The 13th Annual Food and Health Survey, commissioned by the International Food Information Council Foundation, looked at the eating habits of a broad range of Americans. In this 2018 study, an online survey showed that 36% of people had followed a specific eating pattern in that past year. The most common diet was Intermittent fasting, followed by Paleo diet, Gluten-free diet, low-carb diet, Mediterranean diet, Whole 30, high-protein diet, vegetarian or vegan diet, weight-loss plan, Cleanse, DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), Ketogenic or high-fat diet, among others. Those are a lot of diet plans! And although these are lifestyle changes, the biggest motivation was that the person wanted to lose weight, followed by wanting to feel better and have more energy.

The problem with diets is not that the people want to look good or feel nice. I want to look good and feel nice too. It’s the confusion we have around food and our bodies that is worrying. Osborn suggests that there’s a kind of mystery as to how we lose weight. She states, “People are very much intrigued by those things that seem to demystify the whole thing – there’s some magic hormone, or there’s something in your blood type, you have to eat certain foods together because of how they’re metabolised. That has to be it. It couldn’t be something as simple as I need to eat less and I need to exercise more.”

In Grade 8 Life Skills we look at the body, body image, and nutrition. I really like to guide my pupils to TedEd. It has the most amazing resources for everything, basically, but for this topic I show them two videos. The first is about calories and what a calorie is (I’m not sure if you knew this, but a calorie is the amount of energy it takes for 1kg of water to rise up by 1 degree). The second video I show is about fad diets. The basic idea I want the kids to get out of that lesson, though, isn’t about calorie counting or that diets are bad. The most important issue is that we are all unique. Our bodies vary in shapes and sizes, and what’s good for the goose may not be good for the gander.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to have our health, both physical and emotional. The amount of pressure that body image puts on us is tremendous and can be a whole column in itself. But how we get to how we want to feel is a tricky road, which requires a lot of knowledge about ourselves. I don’t have all the answers yet, but I’m pretty sure that a delicious mix of carrots, apples, pineapples, and ginger can help in the process!

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