The recent North American release of The Fast Diet, a bestseller in England, marks the latest fad diet to hit our shores. Also known as 5:2, the Fast diet tells people to eat whatever they want for five days and then fast — eating about 500 calories per day — for two. It’s based on a concept called intermittent fasting and actually is not that new. Canadian Brad Pilon wrote his own version calledEat.Stop.Eat in 2007.
Like many fad diets, IF is nutritionally unsafe, especially if you eat junk food on the off days. And the focus on restriction creates a situation where eating disorders can develop. There is no peer reviewed evidence to show this diet works at all and anecdotal reports link it to problems with irritability, anxiety, dehydration and daytime sleepiness. If can also be unsafe for people with medical conditions such as diabetes.
With its all or nothing mantra, it avoids the boring things that really work — healthy eating and moderation.
Ultrastrict diets are nothing new: I remember the cabbage soup diet. A close friend ate at my home for seven days straight as her mother refused to cook anything but cabbage. After that it was the grapefruit diet. Then the popcorn diet. Even the bacon diet!
While this seems crazy, there was some method to this madness, the idea being that your body would adapt to processing one food more efficiently. Of course, there is no evidence to back this up and what actually happens is you lose fluid during your diet week, as well as depriving your body of necessary nutrients. And it’s a pretty boring way to eat.
In my 20s, more formal diet plans became popular and the South Beach Diet was everywhere. Then there was the Atkins diet, which stated that a low-carbohydrate diet produces a metabolic advantage because “burning fat takes more calories so you expend more calories.” There is, of course, no scientific evidence to support this.
Recently, things have gotten stranger, as we’ve moved into even more intense, scientifically unproven and nutritionally unsafe forms of dieting. This craziness starts at cleanses, and goes all the way to the K-E diet, where dieters insert a feeding tube into their nose that runs to the stomach.
More recently, the AspireAssist lets people empty a portion of their stomach contents after each meal using a thin silicone rubber tube that connects the inside of the stomach to a discreet Skin-Port on the abdomen. To me, this sounds like a medical version of bulimia — and it raises the question, when exactly will we say enough is enough?
Clearly, given growing rates of obesity, traditional diet methods have not worked and instead of looking for increasingly invasive and unsafe methods of weight control we need to take both a step back and a deep breath. Most diets result in weight gain, not weight loss, as we create situations where our bodies go into starvation mode for a short time and then, when we fall off the wagon — as everyone does — our metabolism causes us to store fat.
They also never address the underlying behavioural, psychological or social factors that caused weight gain in the first place. Our obsession with food is matched by our obsession with extreme dieting. We need to break this cycle and stop dieting ourselves into obesity.
Food can be a friend, a constant support, a coping mechanism, an antidepressant or a drug and unless we focus on why we struggle with healthy eating and develop strategies overcome it, going cold turkey will inevitably fail.
We need to gradually move toward eating in a way that’s sustainable and don’t involve avoiding or restricting anything. It’s all about sensible amounts: You can have your cake and eat it too—just not every day.