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Fad Diets and Obesity: Problem or Cure?

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Introduction

Before we discuss whether fad diets cause problems or serve as the cure for obesity, we must clarify what fad diets and obesity are. According to Daniels (2014:4), a diet refers to the type of foods that you eat. However, a diet seems to mean something different to each individual. To some, a diet is just simply eating healthy food choices while keeping unhealthy choices to a minimum. This does not fall into what a lot would call dieting, but it is still a diet. To others, though a diet is the latest fad on the market that promises to allow the individual to lose weight. This can take place in the form of diet drinks, limited food choices, pills and any other form that wishes to be used to promote weight loss. Fad diets have found themselves becoming more and more as dieters are seeking out the perfect way to lose weight. There is a reason they are referred to as a fad diet. Fads changes constantly and these diets will try to change to meet the latest fad that society is mostly following. Fads are not usually long term and most fad diets can not give you long term results.

On the other hand, obesity is majorly defined by the Body Mass Index (BMI). It is calculated by dividing the body weight (in kilograms) by the square of height (in meters): kg/m^2. While the standard classification for overweight and obesity differs from regions to regions, for Chinese adults living in Hong Kong, BMI from 23.0 to less than 25.0 kg/m^2 is classified as overweight and BMI 25.0 kg/m2 or above is classified as obese. The causes of obesity are complex, which involve individual factors such as genetics and personal lifestyle behaviors, environmental factors such as characteristics of the neighborhoods where people live, etc. In this paper, the focus would be put on individuals’ eating habit and proposing fad diets as problems.

Below three types of fad diets would be used as examples to illustrate why fad diets cause troubles more than a cure.

Fruitarianism

Fruitarianism is a subordinary of dietary veganism. If you adapt this kind of dieting, most of the consumable food would be fruits, nuts or seeds. Proteins such as chicken, beef, pork or fish are not considered for fruitarians. Applying fruitarianism as a eating habit might help ones lose weight in a short period of time, many of the nutritionists do not recommend it as a prolonged practice.

Consuming high levels of fruit might pose risks to gain weight. The very simple reason that we gain weight is that we intake more calories than we expend per day. Though fruits are generally deemed that to be low calories food, they also contain relatively high level of sugar compared to other whole foods. Take apples as the example, for each large apple (around 223 grams), it contains 116 calories. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are more that 25 grams of carbs in total and more than 19 grams of that are sugar. Indeed, ordinary people would consume an excessive amount of apples to a level that would cause problems. However, for fruitarians, fruits are the major source of food. It could be easy for them to intake too many fruits. A lot of evidence has shown that excessive intake of sugar is harmful. This includes table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup, both of which are about half glucose, half fructose. The extra sugar would be stored in our bodies to form fat if few physical exercises are done. The same concept applies to fruits, which also contain fructose. Although eating one entire apple is infeasible to consume enough fructose to cause harm, the case is different for fruitarians. As a result, fruitariansism is potentially a problem to cause obesity.

Furthermore, fruitarians are technically prone to intake too many fruits. Though fruits provide a source of carbohydrates, they have very little protein. As such, fruits could be digested very easily. Eventually, our bodies burn through the fruit meals very quickly and fruitarians could be hungry again soon after eating. If the fruitarians are not self-disciplined enough, it is not impossible for them to eat again and this goes back to the problem of consuming too many fruits as well as fructose. While on the other hand, if the fruitarians could control and restrict themselves from eating again, according to the Health Promotion Program at Columbia, it is reported that this might in general lead to food obsessions, social disruptions and social isolation. Researches have also shown that diet is associated with depressive symptoms or depression. This might further lead to an eating disorder or emotional eating, where the patients would eat food more than his or her normal habit. Again, this might result in the individuals intaking more calories and gain weight, if worse, causing a vicious cycle. Therefore, using fruitarianism does not seem to be an ideal solution to the problem of obesity.

Fasting

Fasting refers to the willful refrainment from eating food for a period of time. Papers have shown that fasting for a period no longer than a day could be effective for losing weight in both overweight and healthy adults to maintain lean body mass. Yet, the reasons why fasting could be a potential problem for causing obesity are similar to those of the fruitarianism.

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One of popular fasting methods would be juice fasting. It refers to a period of time when you only drink fruit juices and clear liquids such as water and tea. As the meals’ fiber level is extremely high while the calories are low, people who practice juice fasting aim at removing toxins from the body and lose weight. However, though it could be effective in losing weight in short term, we must bear in mind that it poses several risks. Drinking only juice might bring us rich vitamins and minerals, but it lacks protein. Our bodies use protein to build and maintain muscle. Indeed, if we drink only juice and clear liquid, we lose weight, but some that weight could be from our healthy muscle but not fat. Statistically, as BMI, the indicator for obesity, does not take fat percentage into consideration, with the weight losing effect from juice fasting, you might seem to be less obese. However, this does not mean that you are healthier than before as those “unhealthy fat” could still be there. Speaking of fat, like the problem of fruitarianism, juice fasting in contrast could lead to weight gain. The evidence is nearly the same as that of fruitarianism – juice might contain more sugar than we think. It might put us in a very dangerous position as we might drink too much juice if we misunderstood that we might intake juice unlimitedly. Therefore, juice fasting does not necessarily alleviate the problem of obesity.

Another well-known fasting method would be intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting represents various meal timing schedules that cycle between voluntary fasting and non-fasting over a given period. There are several ways to do intermittent fasting: 16/8 method (eating every day for 14-16 hours and restricting the daily eating window to 8-10 hours), 5:2 diet (eating normally for 5 days in a week while restricting the calorie intake to 500-600 for 2 days in a week), eat-stop-eat (involving 24-hour fast one to two times a week), alternate-day fasting (fasting every other day in a week), warrior diet (eating small amount of raw fruit and vegetables during daytime and eating a huge meal at night) and spontaneous meal skipping (skipping meals from time to time such as when you do not feel hungry or are too busy to cook and eat).

The rationale behind intermittent fasting is that after the body is out of carbohydrates, it starts to burn fat around 12-24 hours after starvation. As a result, starving our bodies for 12-24 hours would potentially lead to weight loss. According to JAMA Intetnal Medicine published in 1st July 2017, 100 overweight people were assigned to one of three eating schedules: limiting daily calorie intake by the same amount every day, fasting on the alternate days and continuing the usual eating habits. At the end of the 12-month study, both diet groups resulted in losing weight compared with the normal eaters. However, researches like this evaluating intermittent fasting are relatively short and included only a small group of participants. Sustainability is one of the concerns that researchers have on intermittent fasting. Studies have found that many people feel great while following an intermittent fasting plan but struggle when they try to stick with it for a prolonged period. It could be a big challenge for people to adapt 16:8 fasting if they have to wake up early and go to bed very late. Similar problems could emerge as well for people to do 5:2 diet if their jobs require high physical activity level. In fact, studies have also suggested that intermittent fasting has a very high dropout rate of over 35%. In summary, from a physical and practical perspective, not to mention resolving the problem of obesity, intermittent fasting itself could be difficult for people to keep it up at the first place.

While from a psychological point of view, intermittent fasting could be difficult to remain effective for a long period of time. Some researchers suggest that it is human nature for people wanting to reward themselves after doing very hard work, such as exercise or fasting for a long period of time. As a result, this poses dangers of indulging in unhealthy dietary habits on non-fasting days. Biologically, there is also a strong push for people to overeat following fasting periods as your appetite hormones could go into overdrive when you have been out of food for a period of time. In worse situation, this might cause a vicious cycle if the person is a perfectionist. After overeating, they might feel guilty and regret, so they simply give up on themselves. Eating disorder might be possible in worst cases. Therefore, one must be very persistent if they want to achieve weight loss through intermittent fasting. Otherwise, it might cause bigger troubles to themselves in terms of weight management.

Another fasting method is called the protein-sparing modified fast (PSMF). It is described as “modified” because it was originally designed by physicians to help their patients lose weight quickly. Yet, in the last few decades, it has gained widespread popularity among people who are looking for a swift and simple method to get slim. PSMF refers to a diet which is with very low calorie designed to assist weight loss and save healthy muscles. It greatly cut calorie consumption while increasing the consumption of food with high protein. To accomplish the goal of calorie cut, PSMF limits the intake of carbohydrates and fats in its diet. The diet could be separated into two major steps: the intensive phase and the refeeding phase. The intensive phase could last up to 6 months and limit calorie intake to less than 800 units each day. However, under this restriction, the intake of protein has to be remained approximately 1.5 grams per kilograms of the dieter’s body weight, in order to keep the amount of muscle or even help gain muscles. Generally, the required protein comes from food sources such as fish, pork, beef, chickens, eggs, bean-made products, low-fat cheese, etc. Added fats like oil or salad dressings and carbs are limited to around 20 grams or less per day. While in the refeeding phrase, carbs and fats are gradually added back into the diet and daily protein intake is slowly reduced by 7 to 14 grams per month. This period of refeeding could last for 6 to 8 weeks.

Studies have shown that PSMF could be effective for rapid weight loss as the meals contain extremely low calories and high protein. This promote weight loss and muscle gain. One study in 12 teenagers found that participants lost an average of 11 kilograms over a 6-month PSMF period, while another 6-week study points out that the 15 participants lost 14 kilograms of body fat without altering the muscle mass significantly.

All these data presented seems to shape PSMF as a pretty decent method of curing obesity. Yet, the long-term effect of PSMF remain doubtful and unclear. One study in 127 people found that a PSMF was more effective than a conventional low-calorie diet for short-term weight loss. Nevertheless, one year after the experiment, weight loss was similar among the two groups, implying that PSMF might not be as effective as we think for weight maintenance in the long run. On top of that, as diets with very low calorie often lead to extremely quick weight loss, the risk of regaining weight once we go back to ordinary diet is high. Therefore, when it comes to weight management, fasting might not be an ideal way to follow. It might bring glamorous results in the short run. Yet, slow, consistent weight loss such as through regular exercises is usually a much better option for maintaining results in long term.

Conclusion

In view of the above examples and discussion, though fad diets might seem to cause problems more than a type of cure, it is good for people to review the concept of “obesity”. As it is defined by BMI in most of the time, numerous studies have shown that BMI is not a perfect indicator. The major problem for BMI is that it does not differentiate muscles and fat. It only considers the person’s height and weight and overlooks how the body is composed. Mathematicians have also found the formula used to calculate BMI has made tall people more overweight and those vertically challenged not fat enough. Furthermore, being “fat” or heavy-weighted does not mean ones are unhealthy. The definition of a healthy person might include age, sex, bone structure, and fat distribution, etc. Several studies have stated that BMI is not an effective tool for predicting mortality from cardiovascular causes, diabetes, or as a pair. If so, being classified as “obese” because of BMI could also overestimate the harm that fat does to your health. As a result, we should not take shortcuts through adapting fad diets to pursue for unrealistic a low-fat-body.

Reference

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  18. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/psmf-diet
  19. https://spectrum.diabetesjournals.org/content/diaspect/30/2/118.full.pdf

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Fad Diets and Obesity: Problem or Cure? (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/fad-diets-and-obesity-problem-or-cure/
“Fad Diets and Obesity: Problem or Cure?” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/fad-diets-and-obesity-problem-or-cure/
Fad Diets and Obesity: Problem or Cure? [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/fad-diets-and-obesity-problem-or-cure/> [Accessed 1 Dec. 2022].
Fad Diets and Obesity: Problem or Cure? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2022 Dec 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/fad-diets-and-obesity-problem-or-cure/
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