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There are quite a few diets out in the world which offer the promise of fast, easy weight loss. But are these diets good for you? Will they leave you healthier in the long run? Will the weight you quickly take off stay off? For many, the answer appears to be "no". The best weight loss plans are sensible, long-term changes in eating along with the incorporation of an exercise program. Below, we offer some of the current fad diets and the facts (or myths) behind them.
The Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet, along with other low carbohydrate diets, is continuing in popularity. These diets operate on the premise that people eat too many carbohydrates and need to eat more protein and fat. By doing this, the body will lose weight by burning fat more efficiently.
With the Atkins diet, you are encouraged to eat high protein and high fat foods without moderation while severely restricting carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. You are not allowed to take in any refined sugar, milk, white rice or white flour.
Through the increase of fat and protein and the decrease in carbohydrates, the body enters a state of ketosis. While in this state, your body is breaking down its fat stores. Additionally, you will feel less hunger and will likely be eating less. A word of caution is necessary at this time: there can be unpleasant side effects from the state of ketosis and this diet in general.
This diet, with its high intake of meats, cheeses and other high fat foods, can present serious health problems. Potential health problems include cardiac problems, especially for those already at risk for heart disease, increased cholesterol levels and even kidney damage. Along with these serious risks, comes the risk of unpleasant breath from the state of ketosis.
Eating For Your Blood Type
In this diet, you determine what to eat based upon your blood type. A person with Type O blood would eat meat but not eat any grain products while Type A people would be vegetarians. Type B dieters could eat meat and dairy products and Type AB's can eat some meat but restrict their intake of smoked or cured meats.
Along with recommendations for food intake, this diet also recommends certain types of physical exercise for each blood type. Exercise for Type O's should be vigorous while Type B's should engage in moderate exercise. Type A's should exercise gently and Type AB's would do calming exercises, such as yoga or tai chi.
As with other diets which do not offer scientific research to back their claims (such as the Atkins diet), there are health concerns which have not been addressed by the creator of the Blood Type diet: the foremost concern is that of the dietary requirements for each blood type. Should you be a Type B who is encouraged to eat dairy products but also be lactose-intolerant, a number of problems could arise. Additionally, there can be adverse consequences such as increased cholesterol levels, weight gain, and other problems.
As with the Atkins diet, the Blood Type diet does not incorporate the food variety endorsed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food pyramid and can leave those on the diet deprived of essential vitamins and nutrients.
The Zone Diet
The Zone diet endorses an eating plan consisting of 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbohydrates, which claims to revamp your metabolism. Additionally, the above ratio is claimed to be what the body is "genetically programmed" for.
The basis of the diet is that you take in a small amount of protein at every meal and at every snack. A "favorable" carbohydrate (twice the size of the protein portion) is also included. If an "unfavorable" carbohydrate is chosen, you will want to take in a smaller portion. "Favorable" carbohydrates include most vegetables and lentils, beans, whole grains, and most fruits. "Unfavorable" carbohydrates include brown rice, pasta, dry breakfast cereal, bananas, bread, carrots and fruit juices. Dairy products are allowed, but egg whites, low-fat or no-fat cheeses and milk are preferred.
The response to the Zone Diet is mixed. While not viewed as "unacceptable" by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, there are still concerns over the limiting of carbohydrates by some critics.
The Paleo Diet
The Paleolithic (Paleo) diet, also called the "Caveman" or "Stone Age" diet, centers around the idea that if we eat like our ancestors did 10,000 years ago, we'll be healthier, lose weight and curb disease. "A quick and pithy definition of the Paleo diet is—if the cavemen didn't eat it then you shouldn't either," says Academy Spokesperson Jim White, RDN, ACSM/HFS. That means foods that can be hunted, fished or gathered: meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, veggies, roots, fruits and berries. No grains, no dairy, no legumes (beans or peas), no sugar, no salt. Why? "According to proponents, our bodies are genetically predisposed to eat this way. They blame the agricultural revolution and the addition of grains, legumes and dairy to the human diet for the onset of chronic disease (obesity, heart disease, and diabetes)," says White.
On one hand, this way of eating encourages including more fruits and vegetables and cutting out added sugar and sodium—which aligns with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The combination of plant foods and a diet rich in protein can help control blood sugar, regulate blood pressure, contribute to weight loss and prevent Type 2 diabetes, says White.
But a typical plan also exceeds the Dietary Guidelines for daily fat and protein intake and falls short on carbohydrate recommendations, according to a review from U.S. News & World Report. The exclusion of whole grains, legumes and dairy can be risky as well. "These foods are nutrient-rich and contain important vitamins and minerals such as calcium and vitamin D. Without these foods, supplementation is necessary," says White. "Eating this way … can be very healthy but the lack of certain foods may result in certain deficiencies."
Eliminating whole grains and dairy is not necessarily the ticket to ending disease and ensuring weight loss. Whole grains contain dietary fiber, which may help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and other health complications. And studies suggest that dairy may play a role in weight loss. "The crux of the problem, with respect to grains and dairy, stem from over consumption, and as with anything, excess quantities will become problematic," explains White.
The Paleo diet might also be hard to sustain. "We live in a society where it is not possible to eat exactly as our ancestors ate. For example, wild game is not readily available as most of the meat we consume has been domesticated. And the plant food we eat has also been processed rather than grown and gathered in the wild," says White. "While strict conformity is not realistic, it is possible to modify the plan, eating only wild caught fish, grass-fed meat, and organic fruits and vegetables." But even that can be hard to follow because of lack of variety, need for planning, supplementation and cost, White adds.
This website offers multiple resources on healthy eating and exercise. It also offers a breakdown of pros and cons to most fad diets including the Beverly Hills diet, the Cabbage Soup diet and the Scarsdale diet to name just a few.