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Enough with “Stupid Diet Tricks”!

Posted by bmagnus On March - 22 - 2010

Mehmet Oz is lying to you.

The number one take-away that one reporter had in a recent interview is that “Diets don’t work.” None of them! I feel that sentence is missing a very important word: “Unrealistic diets don’t work.” Instead of an actual plan to lose weight, Dr. Oz recommends cutting just 100 calories a day. Anybody can do that, right? And, he says that if you do that one simple thing, you will lose 11 pounds a year! Really? I call shenanigans!

Well, actually according to the math it’s only 10.4 pounds. Surely his medication calculations are more accurate than his weight loss predictions. But there are two very important missing pieces of this advice. First, it assumes that your current weight is static — that you currently eat just exactly the right number of calories each day. America’s rising obesity rates say most people don’t! More, it assumes that you know how many calories you eat daily and can reliably cut 100 calories from somewhere. Again, most people have no clue how many calories they eat daily, and only the faintest hint what 100 calories of any given food looks like. For reference, here’s what 200 calories looks like.

The other 4 bullet points that Dr. Oz makes are perfectly valid: a healthy snack is good for you (he says “low fat,” which is not necessarily the same thing); diet soda is not good for you; exercise is good for you; asking your doctor questions is good (sure, have a written list, but your doctor is not going to like it if you turn on a tape recorder!).

Oh, but Dr. Oz isn’t the only one on the Stupid Diet Tricks hot seat today.

Dean Ornish is back, telling us that high fat diets and refined carbohydrates are what makes Americans fat. Dr. Ornish’s ideas have not changed in 30 years. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of research on diet and nutrition in those 30 years. He’s still convinced that most of the weight people lost on high-protein diets was all “water weight”, that every ounce will be regained and more (even the water? Huh, I haven’t had any problems), and that the problems of carbohydrate overconsumption is only for “processed” carbs.

Now make no mistake, I am not defending processed foods. Processed carbohydrates such as white sugar and wheat flour aren’t very good for you, but it is not the processing plant that makes it “bad.” Eating lots of sugar wouldn’t be good for you if you sucked it raw straight out of the cane. It might interest Dr. Ornish that some foods have a higher glycemic index than others. It turns out that a baked potato — a whole food, with no butter, no sour cream — might have a worse impact on your blood sugar than white bread. Sure, the glycemic index has limitations, but you can’t just say that it’s “processing” that makes a food good or bad.

He goes on to argue against saturated fat. While it’s true that a gram of fat has over twice as many calories as a gram of carbohydrate or protein, so what? Ok, it’s more dense. But to use this statistic in a weight loss context is to argue that “you are what you eat, so don’t eat fat and you won’t be fat.” While too much saturated fat isn’t good for you, too much of anything isn’t good for you!

Dr. Ornish’s theories led to the proliferation of low-fat “chemistry sets” masquerading as food, and yet now he says “There are more and more healthy prepared and frozen meals on the market.” Somehow I am reminded of Michael Pollan saying “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”

Finally, I bring you “The New Atkins for a New You”, the latest revision of Dr. Atkins’s low carbohydrate, high protein diet. On one hand, a team of researchers have actually updated the plan to account for new research and problems that people had following the diet in the past. On the other hand many of these updates are not new.

Now, there is a limit to how much protein you are allowed per meal of 4-6 oz., an entirely reasonable amount. But now, the British press coos, “Vegetables are allowed from day one.” Surprise, but anybody who actually read Atkins’s books knew that 3 cups of “salad vegetables” were always allowed in the initial phase! Now, you can subtract fiber intake from total carbohydrate intake, something that Protein Power did well over a decade ago. Now, more “healthy” fats such as Omega-3 and olive oil are recommended, and once the dieter is closer to maintenance weight fruits and berries can be eaten in moderation (where have I heard that before?).

More ink has been spilled on the topic of diets than weight has been lost on them. But that isn’t the fault of diets. It’s the fault of the stupid tricks in them.

His Take: I get asked every day in the clinic how to lose weight. The first step, I tell people is to cut out the white stuff; the bread, pasta, potatoes, and sugar. It’s a start. I also take seriously about calorie counts and dietary requirements. There is no magic bullet here, weight loss and health maintenance means not eating lots of surplus calories. It also means healthy fats and proteins in abundance. Carbs are valuable but people have no problem finding carbohydrate calories in their diets. The plan that I’m currently recommending fits this mold, it’s not exactly Mediterranean or exactly low-carb but falls somewhere in between balancing the diet really well in a rational sustainable way. Expect a book review on “primal living” soon.

3 Responses to “Enough with “Stupid Diet Tricks”!”

  1. […] Age Against the Machine » Blog Archive » Enough with “Stupid Diet … […]

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