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We know that they affect women’s health; yet many Indian women succumb to fad diets for weight loss. Why?
Reema Dutta*, a 29-year-old nurse, is appalled with her sister for going on a grapefruit diet to quickly lose weight for the New Year’s party. “I mean, come on, she’s doing her masters in biochemistry, so you’d think she would know better!” she says, shaking her head.
This is not uncommon. Most of us know our body needs a fine balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and micronutrients for staying healthy. Even those of us who know very little about the intricacies of nutrition know that fad diets are not good for women’s health. But crash diets have always had their proponents and continue to do so even in these days when ‘healthy’ is all the rage. What’s so alluring about these diets? Here’s a look at the top reasons why we still succumb to the temptation of indulging in them.
This is probably the most attractive feature of any crash diet. The idea that you can lose all the excess baggage you’ve been lugging around for years in just a month or so is enough incentive for anyone. And there’s always some event around the corner to get in great shape for – a birthday, a new job or a party. In India, it’s weddings. Brides-to-be often look for quick fixes so that they can look their best on the big day.
In contrast, most exercise routines only achieve slow and progressive weight loss and also require tremendous discipline for any obvious results. 34-year-old homemaker Sandra D.* is a veteran dieter who has tried every known fad diet in the market. “I can’t wait for months and years to shed a few kilos,” she says. “When I go on a diet I want to see some results and quickly.”
But quick results are also the reason why fad diets are not safe. They cause weight loss at a rapid rate that is not good for the body.
The idea that you can lose all the excess baggage you’ve been lugging around for years in just a month or so is enough incentive for anyone.
Fad diets usually tell you exactly what to expect. You know how many kilos or pounds you can expect to lose if you strictly adhere to the diet. “I love knowing that I’ll lose 10kgs in a month,” says Priyadarshini Raju*, a 32-year-old lawyer, who has been on a strict soup and herbs diet this past month or so in a bid to greet the new year with 10 kgs less of herself. With healthy diet and exercise programmes, the promises are vague – you can hope to get into shape, get a healthy glow, avoid diseases associated with obesity and things like that. But the appeal of numbers – 5kgs in a week, 2kgs overnight – is much greater and tempts you instantly.
Fad diets don’t come with fine print that says ‘works best when combined with exercise’. Fad diets don’t ask you to change your eating habits, your attitude towards food or your lifestyle in general. Of course, they are often very demanding, you may have to subsist on just soup or boiled vegetables for days, you may have to entirely give up some type of food, say carbohydrates. But whatever the compromise, the silver lining is that it’s only for a short period after which you can go back to being who you were.
But the downside is that, while you lose weight after a month on just cabbage soup, you may gain it all back with the binge eating you are likely to indulge in the moment your diet is done with. Look at Sandra, for instance. She loses weight every time she goes on a diet, gains it right back thanks to her bad eating habits and is ready for the next diet in a short time.
Reshma N.*, a 30-year-old secretary, is very clear about why fad diets work for her. “Have you tried eating healthy?” she asks and her tone suggests it may be easier to build a rocket. “There’s a whole lot of information about proteins and fibre and what not. Then there are lists about which food contains what, but nobody tells you exactly what to eat and how much to eat.” The problem with healthy eating plans is that there is no one-size-fits-all. Your diet has to be tailor-made for you taking into account your lifestyle, family history, occupation and needs.
But fad diets are easy. The diets are often as simple as ‘7 glasses of pumpkin juice a day’. Even the more elaborate diets come with clear instructions of precisely what to eat or complete menus that go ‘one slice of multigrain bread and a glass of orange juice in the morning’ or ‘snack on a cup of sprouted lentils’.
The problem with healthy eating plans is that there is no one-size-fits-all. Your diet has to be tailor-made for you…
Let’s face it, for many of us, weight loss is more about appearances than good health. We are more tempted to lose weight to fit into the little black dress or the jeans from college than the dull promise that losing weight can keep us healthy. This is what fad diets usually play upon. The celebrity promoting the diet has a figure to die for and you are tempted to try and look at least half as good. Or the person recommending it may have a story similar to yours, problems just like yours or may be a person you identify with. Things like these make people want to give it a shot.
Fad diets are often made to look like the result of a lot of research or extensive scientific analysis. But more often than not, they just turn out to be empty claims or overly-simplified inferences drawn from complex data. Remember that permanent weight loss requires commitment and a change in attitudes and lifestyle, not just shunning a type of food. There is, unfortunately, no magical method to shed weight. This year, resolve to lead a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle instead.
*Names changed to protect privacy
*Photo credit: just4you
Dr. Lakshmi Ananth is a doctor and a writer who wields both scalpel and pen
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