Everyone is talking about the downside to “Fad Diets” in the media and why they can be so hard to follow. I’m so happy to see a real “anti-diet” spirit growing and a shift to living life through healthy eating and moderation. But let’s take a closer look at diet pills and fad diets to really understand why they are so problematic.
Diet Pills Acting as Appetite Suppressants
Many diet pills work essentially as appetite suppressants that can help you lose weight by changing the normal functions of the body – to make it believe it’s not hungry or full. In some cases, they also change levels of serotonin and catecholamines (such as dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline) – all brain chemicals that affect mood and appetite among so many other things.
As an example, the diet pills phentermine, diethylpropion and sibutramine help to suppress your appetite but they can also bring about a lot of unwanted, unhealthy side effects like heart palpitations, addiction, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, dizziness, blurred vision, headaches, insomnia, anxiety and depression.
Another very old diet pill, Fenfluramine, was one of the active ingredients in the Fen-Phen anti-obesity medication (the other drug being phentermine), which was withdrawn from the U.S. market in 1997 after reports of heart valve disease, and pulmonary hypertension.
Several studies show that diet pills on average can bring about weight loss of 5 to 22 pounds over a 1-year period, but in some cases the effect can level off after 6 months with no additional weight loss.
So ask yourself if the (potential) side effects are worth it when you could simply make small changes to your eating habits and introduce light exercise to achieve the same goal?
Diet Pills Acting via Blockage of Fat Absorption
Drugs to block absorption of dietary fats such as orlistat (marketed as Xenical or Alli) can cause gas, diarrhea, bowel incontinence and soiling. This can also have the unwanted side effect of becoming dehydrated, resulting in loss of other nutrients that are not digested from healthier foods you might be consuming. Vitamin and minerals deficiencies for the body could mean real trouble for your overall, long term health.
Carb Free Diets like the Atkins Diet
Carb-free diets or diets that limit carbohydrates like Atkins, do not restrict the amounts of consumed fats: since there is little carbohydrate or sugar to turn into energy, the body uses fat or protein for energy, which does result in weight loss.
The most pressing health concern of carb-free diets is that it may direct dieters to an overconsumption of meat products high in saturated fat, leading to an increased risk of heart disease. A 2001 scientific review conducted by Freedman et al. and published in the peer reviewed scientific journal Obesity Research concluded that low-carb dieters’ initial advantage in weight loss was a result of increased water loss, and that after the initial period, low-carbohydrate diets produce similar fat loss to other diets with similar caloric intake.
As an aside, Atkins dieters may miss out on complex, whole grains, which have other important nutrients that our bodies have to have to function, for example fiber. Fiber is crucial for intestinal and colon health, because it is responsible for “cleaning” the intestines, helping to keep blood sugar even, and delivering vital minerals that your body needs.
Besides feeling totally deprived, starvation diets can strip the body of vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients. Not only can starvation diets ruin a glowing complexion and healthy hair, but they leave you feeling drained, fatigued, and moody. They can also make your blood pressure drop, and cause your body to leach calcium that it isn’t getting from its normal food sources, which can be a serious concern for women – who are naturally susceptible to osteoporosis.
Skipping meals might seem like an easy solution to weight loss, but when your blood sugar takes a dive you could be doing your body more harm than you think. Decreased blood sugar can not only cause moodiness, but studies have shown that people who skip meals tend to eat more and take on even more calories with other meals or snacks.
Studies also show that eating breakfast can help to improve metabolism. I eat small meals throughout the day that are packed with veggies – they are low-calorie, low fat, and low sugar, and are a great way to avoid that low energy feeling. In my case, eating small healthy meals and snacks keeps cravings for unhealthy foods at bay and helps me not to overeat from being unbearably hungry.
Many diets that use diet shakes require that you replace breakfast and lunch for a shake and then eat a low calorie meal. While you are limiting calories (which will lead to weight loss), you may not be getting the nutrients you body needs, not to mention a host of additives and emulsifiers like gum arabic, calcium caseinate, cellulose gel, canola oil, potassium phosphate, soybean lecithin, cellose gum, mono and digycerides, maltodextrin, artificial flavor, carrageenan and dextrose.
Vitamins, minerals, and fiber that you would normally get from meals that contain fruits and vegetables, might be present in the shakes but there is no guarantee that your body will absorb those artificially placed nutrients. If you want maximum nutrition with fewer calories, eat raw or lightly steamed vegetables, nature knows best!
- Learn how to Ditch The Diet, and how to lose weight (or maintain your weight) with my brandnew course!
- Slimming Pills: Do They Work? The Times Online points out that we spend tons of money every year on slimming tablets and diet aids. As a new drug hits the market what is its real potential?
- Get nutrition tips as the dow dips from my friend nutritionist Leslie Dant.
- Find out why the FDA cracks down on weight loss products.
- Learn how to spot a fad diet.