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On Nutrition

Crash Diets Are a Road to Failure

January 07, 2002|AMANDA URSELL

The big temptation after a holiday season of overindulgence is to head straight for the latest quick-fix weight-loss scheme.

But if you want to start 2002 as you intend to live it--by getting a grip on a weight problem--then the best resolution you can make is to not "go on a diet."

Why? Because "going on" a diet immediately implies that you will be "coming off" it. The more stringent the diet's rules and the more draconian its restrictions, the sooner this is likely to be. Also, sudden and severe calorie restrictions are bad for your body. They lower the metabolic rate--the speed at which you normally burn calories--which in turn makes weight even harder to lose.

So-called crash diets have other side effects as well. When weight reduction is rapid, you lose more than fat. Water constitutes some of the total loss, but, more important, so does muscle tissue, further reducing the metabolic rate. And the leaching of calcium and phosphorus from bones increases the risk of fractures and osteoporosis.

Also, coming on and off diets can leave you feeling like a failure, lowering your self-esteem, sparking bouts of bingeing.

To safely lose weight in 2002, you must learn to separate fact from fiction, distinguishing slimming fads and scams from those methods that will work long-term.

First, be wary of anything that claims to be "new" or "revolutionary." Most diets are simply rehashes of previous ones, because ultimately, calories come from just four sources: carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice, fruits, vegetables and sugars; protein such as meat, fish, eggs and chicken; fats such as butter, cream and oils; and finally alcohol. Whatever the author of any diet claims, you put on weight if you eat more calories than your body needs; you lose weight if you eat fewer. Regardless of hype, no foods have any special weight-reducing properties. Any food eaten to the exclusion of others (such as consuming protein at the expense of carbohydrates) can lead to dropping pounds, but this is because you eat fewer total calories.

The problem with such plans is that chopping out a food group chops out the nutrients they supply, which in the case of carbohydrates include B vitamins, the minerals zinc and selenium, plus fiber.

Also, be wary of diets that claim our blood types determine which foods we should eat to burn off the blubber. There is no documented mainstream scientific literature to back up such a theory. Nor is there evidence for the premise that certain foods should not be eaten at the same meal for fear of "confusing your enzymes." Foods are meant to be combined within mealtimes, with the vitamin C in an orange, for example, improving the absorption of the iron from meat and cereal foods.

Americans currently spend more than $23 billion a year on weight-reducing programs, products and services. This year, make a new type of New Year's resolution and instead of adding yet more to this colossal revenue, just be honest with yourself.

Write down everything you eat for a week and how much you exercise. Reduce the former a bit, increase the latter a bit and do this for the rest of the year. You'll lose weight, and it won't cost you a cent.

*

Amanda Ursell, a dietitian and nutritionist, is a London-based freelance journalist. Her column appears twice a month. She can be reached at amanda@ursell.com.

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