Ditch the Diet

Written by Mike Gill

Fad Diets

I can’t tell you how many times I hear people talking about carbs these days. I hear it in stores, in gyms, on the street, pretty much everywhere. The subject of their talk is always that carbs are bad; either that carbs are making them fat, or they are in the process of cutting out carbs, so they will feel better. In the short term, many people will feel better or even drop weight when they cut carbs (or protein, or fat). This does not mean that doing so is healthy.

As we’ve all heard by now, America has an obesity epidemic.  We also have a dieting epidemic. It is estimated that 45 million Americans will go on a diet in any given year. Studies indicate that most of those people end up heavier for having tried that diet. This seems strange, but what tends to be the most common result of diets is that the person will lose some weight initially. This is true for any diet that juggles the ratios of carbohydrates, protein, and fat; all of those routes can be used to restrict calories and cause weight loss. The problem is by cutting out broad areas of nutrition, we neglect important nutrients and create an eating program that is not sustainable. For most that start any given diet, when they go off the diet they not only gain the weight back, they gain additional weight. So if you must diet, choose your diet carefully. Find something that is more than just a fad. Find something you can enjoy; something you can stick to as a change of lifestyle into the future.

As I mentioned earlier, carbs are the hot thing to demonize in our diets. Are they really the problem though? Is cutting carbs the answer to a healthier lifestyle? We spent much of the 70s and 80s demonizing fats as the cause of our growing obesity, often substituting sugar into our ready-made meals instead. Hindsight being 20/20, we now see that this was not the answer. In fact, our obesity rates have been out of control ever since. We also know that sugar is the biggest culprit in our weight gain. Sugar is a carb, of course. We have also come to find that glucose-rich, fiber-poor foods like white potatoes and bread cause an insulin spike, leading to weight gain and high blood sugar. White flour and potatoes are almost entirely carbs. Case closed, or are we making the same mistake we made with low-fat diets?

What else changed in our diets during the low-fat craze? Processed foods were already on the rise, but the introduction of the microwave and the reality that cooking low fat meals were challenging for most Americans, caused a boom in pre-made foods. In order to turn natural foods into something that can sit on a shelf without spoiling, the chemistry of that food must be changed. Chemicals are added for stability, and to add the flavor that is lost in the refining process. The same is true for food that is canned or made to be palatable to the most taste buds possible. As much as 90% of what Americans spend on food is spent on processed foods (including restaurants and groceries which require little to no preparation).

I could spend pages breaking the down the specific things that are lost in processing, but right now I’ll keep it simple. For thousands of years humans subsisted on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and meat from animals that lived in natural environments. Right now, this makes up less than 10% of our diet. If you’re looking for a way to improve your health, bumping this 10% as high as you are comfortably able is a good place to start. Cut as much sugar and flour as you are able from your diet and find a way to get at least a little bit of exercise every day. Many people would do well to cut dairy and/or wheat as well. Many others will respond well to additional exercise. Still, let your first steps be simple ones and allow change to come into your lifestyle, rather than diving into diets which are more likely to harm you than help you.

Michael Gill is a Clinical Nutritionist and Massage Therapist. He has a BS in Health Sciences and has been in the alternative health field for 13 years. He also has a black belt in Poekoelan . To find out more, check out his website: www.pdxthaimassage.com