Fad diets may not work for the long haul

by Beacon Staff • February 21, 2007

Fad dieting, an umbrella term that covers a variety of diets ranging from the ever-popular Atkins all the way to the obscure Cabbage Soup Diet, is not at all a foreign concept on college campuses.,No longer confined to merely music and clothing, fads are stretching to eating habits as well.

Fad dieting, an umbrella term that covers a variety of diets ranging from the ever-popular Atkins all the way to the obscure Cabbage Soup Diet, is not at all a foreign concept on college campuses.

"Especially this time of year, when everyone realizes that they're going to be in a bathing suit for spring break," said Robyn Kievit, a registered nurse practitioner and licensed dietician at Emerson's Center for Health and Wellness.

Kievit notes that any drastic change in calorie intake or consuming the same kind of food for a short period of time to lose weight fast can be considered a fad diet.

Generally, licensed health physicians seem to disapprove of these easy fixes to problems that could simply be solved by old-fashioned healthy eating and exercise.

"But fad diets are not always bad," she said. "It's important to not label food or any way of eating good or bad, because every person is different in many ways. One diet, or the way a person eats each day, cannot work for every person."

While each eating regimen can affect everyone in a different way, Kievit points out the worst overall trendy diet.

"Atkins tops my list for being the worst. Any book that suggests eating trans and saturated fats is just not a winner, and the Atkins Diet does this," she said.

Recalling the recent ban of trans fats in New York City's restaurants, she asked, "If one of the biggest cities in the world finally recognizes the need to do this for its consumers' health, why is a popular diet still professing that eating trans fats is okay?"

Regardless of the health dangers, fad dieters often take such plans to the extreme, continuing to deprive their bodies of the fats and proteins that they need in order to simply function on a daily basis.

"I've never tried a fad diet," said sophomore film major Rachel Moreau. "My friend's parents do Atkins, and my dad once tried this leek soup diet, but it smelled."

Though she has seen a few people try them, Moreau doesn't think they're worth the trouble.

"My general opinion is that they are unreasonable, they don't work for the long term, and most of them are unhealthy," she said.

Kievit agrees that the amount of calories that these plans propose on a daily basis is unreasonable.

"Most of the time, people do lose weight because most 'fad diets' are no more than 1,200-1,500 calories per day, which is significantly lower than what any person consumes regularly," she said.

And the desired effects are not always permanent.

"After three months, the 'fad diet' will wear off and a person will need to incorporate anything they have learned and separate fact from fiction into normal eating, preferably by meeting with a registered dietitian for further guidance,"

Kievit said.

However, personal accounts of Emersonians stand as proof that fad dieting is a quick and easy way to lose some weight.

"I think it works as long as you exercise," said freshman musical theatre major Mary Caitlin Gilson.

A follower of the Atkins diet since the New Year, Gilson said, "It makes me feel good and gives me lots of energy."

The Atkins Web site claims that its diet calls for two weeks of virtually no carbohydrates and then continues to add more weekly until an ideal weight is reached.

At a school like Emerson, where performance and image is such a big part of student life, students feel the pressure to reach that ideal weight, whether they spend most of their time filming or being filmed.

"There is a definite pressure for people to be thin in the industry," said Moreau. "And there is also a misconception about people behind the camera, that they don't have to adhere to that pressure, but to some extent they do. It's still a looks-based industry, and even if you're the producer or director, you still get photographed."

Moreau points to such famous directors as Sofia Coppola and Peter Jackson as examples.

"Yes, she is a talented director, but she also has a model-type body. And [Jackson] has significantly slimmed down since becoming high profile," she said. "It's there, for men and women, both in front of and behind the camera."

And sometimes, when the pressure is on, it may not be easy to recognize what is and isn't good for you.

In terms of fad dieting, it is important to note that what is safe, effective, and healthy can vary from person to person.

Losing massive amounts of weight in a short amount of time is perhaps an easy way out to what is best remedied by hard work in the form of a healthy eating plan and regular exercise.

"Weight Watchers is one of the best programs out there for people interested in looking to lose weight in a healthy way," said Kievit.

Kievit stresses the importance of going about it in a practical and planning out a reasonable course of action.

"The main factors that someone should consider before going on a diet or making eating lifestyle changes are what their goals are," she said. "Where do they want to be at the end of three months, six months, and then a year?"

Regardless of a person's choice of diet, they just need to realize that losing weight is not going to happen overnight, and that a plan that guarantees drastic results in a very short amount of time is not likely to be very healthy.

Changing your eating habits is only a small part of changing your body, and not everything is going to work on the first try.

So before you put all your faith into one of the "weight-loss guarantee" books on bookstore shelves, consider a healthier option.

Visit the Center for Health and Wellness at 216 Tremont, or walk over to Downtown Crossing to a Weight Watchers meeting on Winter Street.

Anything's better than cabbage soup.