Diets and detoxes can cause harm


Fair Use Image courtesy of The Paleo Diet

An example of a dish from the Paleo diet.

Boraan Abdulkarim, Editor-in-Chief

Television show host Doctor Oz smiles through the computer screen, promising to eliminate headaches and ten pounds, activate fat-burning genes, boost mood, and eliminate all health problems by rooting out the source of illness. He speaks of a ten-day detox, a snowflake in an avalanche of detox regimens, a subset of ever-changing fad diets.

Bloggers show off water bottles filled with colorful fruits and green mint, commenting on their revolutionized lifestyle and telling readers that they can feel the same way. But are these water bottle trophies, so to speak, anything more than eye candy?

A fad diet is considered a diet that somebody goes on to try to lose weight or feel like they are making themselves healthier.”

— Upper School Fitness for Life teacher Kaitlyn Frenchick

These two factors, however, conceal significant drawbacks and convoluted explanations for the apparent benefits. “A fad diet is considered a diet that somebody goes on to try to lose weight or feel like they are making themselves healthier. Basically, if you’re removing a food group from your diet or restricting something, it’s considered a fad diet,” Upper School Fitness for Life teacher Kaitlyn Frenchick said.

The person or people who dream up the fad diets are not usually doctors, although that is sometimes the case. However, the people behind them are always in it for the money. How can such a generalization be made?

Because none of the fad diets work.

Had anybody been able to find a fast and easy way to lose weight forever, everybody would do it, and it wouldn’t be a fad diet. A fad comes and goes. If a single one of these fad diets stood the test of time, it wouldn’t be a fad diet.

Then comes the question of the success stories. The before-and-after photos and the I feel better testimonies.

The weight loss is a partial truth: with any diet, weight initially lost is going to be gained back as soon as the diet is discontinued and the risk of gaining weight increases after dieting. Why? There are three main reasons according to Traci Mann, a  Psychology teacher at the University of Minnesota health and eating lab, and they stem from one central fact: dieting is starvation, and that’s exactly how the body reacts to it- as if the dieter were starving. The first reaction of your body is neurological: The hypothalamus, the part of your brain that regulates body weight, has a range of ten to fifteen pounds, called the set point, which it deems healthy and works to maintain. When dieters lose weight, the hypothalamus sends out chemical signals telling the body to gain weight at every possible opportunity, especially when normal eating habits are continued. Additionally, the brain increases reward value for the foods that are avoided on a diet, literally making it harder and harder to resist the foods that diets forbid.

The body’s second reaction is hormonal: When body fat is lost, the balance of hormones changes. The hormones that make you feel full decrease, and the hormones that make you feel hungry increase.

The final reaction of the body is metabolic: the body learns to run on fewer calories because it’s in starvation mode. It then stores any excess calories in the form of the enemy in question: fat. Simply put,  starving only makes it harder to lose weight.

Exercising and eating right will make you healthier than trying to diet”

— Upper School Fitness for Life teacher Kaitlyn Frenchick

The apparent feeling of well being is also a partial truth. For example, if someone who’s trying out the gluten free diet cuts out gluten, he or she may feel better. This isn’t caused by cutting out gluten but by cutting out so many processed and junk foods that contain gluten in them.

“If you’re eating healthy or getting rid of high processed foods, you’re going to feel a little bit better,” Frenchick said.

The Placebo effect also has a role to play in this. When hearing from others that they feel better because of a certain diet, take it with a grain of salt because in reality, diets cause feelings that are the opposite of good: according to Michael A. Gleiber for the Huffington Post, malnourishment can cause fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and increased irritability.

That’s not healthy living.

The latest fad diets can be split into two categories: diets and detoxes. The latter, a more recent phenomenon, is proof of our collective human gullible nature. With the exception of serious medical treatment for drugs, anything that claims to detoxify the body is a scam, according to Dara Mohammadi for The Guardian.  Detoxes claim to rid the body of accumulated toxins. In reality, according to Gleiber, the human body has absolutely no need for this. We all have a complex system comprised of multiple organs that does this for us; our kidneys, our liver, and intestines. One of the most popular forms of detox is a juice cleanse: for anything from three to twenty one days, its adherents are told to ingest nothing but water and juice. The promise is that the toxins will be gone after the grueling number of days, and since there’s no tangible way to prove such a thing didn’t happen, it’s an appeal to ignorance. What the detoxers don’t know is that juicing takes out all the good stuff from the fruit (pulp, skin, etc contain the most benefit, but they get filtered out in the juicing process), that fruits are high in sugar,  and that drinking only juice does not remove the toxins, which didn’t exist in the first place. Like diets, this is another form of starvation and malnourishment and leaves  one dizzy, nauseous, fatigued, and irritable. No benefits, major drawbacks.

So fad diets either don’t work at all or have temporary effects linked with severe drawbacks. What’s to do? Eat when hungry and stop when full. Avoid the processed foods without ruling out entire food groups. “[If you’re] eating from the five food groups, you’re gaining nutrients, so you shouldn’t need to rely on a multivitamin to keep yourself healthy because you’ll be getting it from the meals you eat. Even taking a brisk walk for an hour or so is going to make you feel better, and is going to sustain you for longer, especially for kids in high school, than trying to go on a fad diet,” Frenchick said.