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Dangers of Fad Diets: A Case Study

diet

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Sitting on your desk and pounding away on your laptop can make any one a “couch potato”.
Compound that with a tendency to just grab a bag of munchies when hunger pangs grip you, in the middle of when your creative juices are in full flow, and you have a sure recipe for disaster.
Fat around your midriff, weakened leg muscles, raised cholesterol levels, early signs of blood pressure or diabetes—are common problems that appear to pick up from a menu of really dreadful choices.
Should you exercise? Try aerobics, yoga or perhaps join a gym? Should you go on a diet? Which one should you pick and for how long?
Lots of people ask, seek and search the perfect answer to the question as to what they can do to stay healthy. I too went through the loops and was then amazed to learn that 75% of the time it is what we eat that determines whether we stay healthy or not. The remaining 25% contribution to our health comes from exercise and positive thinking. So, the first lesson to internalize, from my limited experience, is that NO amount of exercise can rescue you from the ill-effects of a really rotten diet regime.
Secondly, you do need some knowledge or insight into what is going on to your plate, without which you can’t tailor your meals to suit your goals. Therefore the most fundamental aspect of staying healthy is, hold your breath, that you should, as far as possible, cook your own meals, from scratch. This is because by cooking your  meals only can you exercise  full control over what you eat, how much oil, salt and spices you put in your food, how many calories your food is allowed to contain, etc.
Next comes the question of diets, especially fad diets. People ask me if they should, to stay healthy, go on a low fat diet or a high protein diet or a no-cooking paleo diet or many other diets consisting of esoteric, hard-to-find and expensive ingredients.
To that, even at the risk of sounding so old fashioned, my unflinching advice has been that I do not think that anyone should be on a perpetual diet to stay healthy. I do not, therefore, recommend that you follow any of the rather peculiar diet regimes such as Atkins diet, Hacker’s diet, Weight Watchers Diet, Kangatarian diet, Low fat diet, Low carb diet, Vegan diet, Cookie diet, Gluten less diet, Pescetarian diet, Crash diets, detox diets, Paleo diets, you name it. From my own experience, I know that they will all do more harm to you than good. Most people, who have suffered these diets, readily admit that these appear to work initially, but in the long run they deplete you of vital nutrients that are essential for your physical and mental well-being.
Plus they take away all the pleasure of eating and stimulating your taste sensories that God has endowed you with. Can you imagine a life eating only meat, eggs, fish and chicken and not fruits and vegetables (high protein diet)? Similarly, can you truly enjoy surviving  only on bland boiled or steamed vegetables and meat dishes without the goodness of cheese, chocolates or even a little butter (low fat diet)?
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In India, there is a detox centre where obese people are put on a liquid diet for a month. You simply survive on all kinds of fruits and vegetable juices. Pomegranate juice for breakfast, orange juice as a mid-morning snack, bitter gourd juice (ugh!) for lunch, guava juice as an evening snack and bottle gourd juice for dinner. These juices do not contain any sugar. No solid food is served at all!
Some people claim to have lost as much as 20 kilos (nearly 40 pounds) after coming back from this expensive detox centre. But the “interesting” part is that when they go back to eating a normal diet, they gain weight three times faster and that too in less than a week. Loss of energy, weakness, mood swings, constipation are some of the other negative effects of Crash diets.
I could go on and on about the negative effects of every diet regime but my point remains the same. Only a balanced diet can ensure that you stay healthy and fit (physically as well as emotionally). I believe that, unless you have a medical condition, that includes food allergies that you have to be aware of, your body needs everything: carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, fat…..
So you should follow a particular diet regime only if you suffer from certain food allergies and intolerances. Some people are lactose intolerant (their body reacts negatively to dairy products) so following a no dairy diet regime makes sense. Some suffer from Celiac disease (whereby their body reacts violently to wheat and gluten products), so following a gluten free diet regime is the right approach.
The most important thing is to “routinize” your balanced diet regime so much that you unconsciously follow it.
A Forgotten Balanced Diet Regime-My Close Relative’s Example
Let me narrate here one of my close relative’s story to illustrate the problem.
My relative had a normal body weight but she was extremely “health conscious”. She loved falling into the trap of various diet regimes. She would read something in a magazine or a journal and try to immediately follow that particular advice. The result was that she was constantly moving from one diet regime to the other without benefitting much from any.
She, being from India, was initially quite fond of eating rice, even after she relocated to the US. Then she started an experiment of having rice with tofu (hey, this is not really an Indian meal!), because someone told her that tofu was superior to the lowly Indian paneer (cottage cheese). Next, the growing popularity of low-carb, high protein diet regime nearly forced (if I may use that term) her into believing that eating carbohydrates like rice was bad for your health and you should simply increase your protein intake to raise your metabolism.
So she moved to a low-carb, high protein diet regime. She gave up rice completely (something she was so fond of) and started surviving only on meat portions. She even gave up on munching fruits and vegetables (because she had read somewhere that fruits and vegetables have a lot of calories in a concentrated form!).
This, however, meant that she was losing out on a lot of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and anti-cancerous elements that various fruits and vegetables contain. To compensate, she started having all kinds of pills, potions, and supplements.
We would, however, whenever we bumped into her, notice that her body had started reacting strangely to this drastic change in her diet regime. For months, she would be able to maintain her body weight but if she had even a slice of whole wheat bread (quite a healthy option), she claimed that she would straight away gain 10 pounds!
After some months of practicing a low carbohydrate, high protein diet, one day, my close relative read somewhere that eating meat too is bad for your health. So she switched from a low-carb high protein diet to a full-fledged Vegan diet.
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She gave up completely on meat, fish, chicken, dairy products and honey. This time she suffered from Vitamin B12 deficiency (you get your daily dose of Vitamin B12 only from “non-vegetarian” stuff like chicken, fish and meat). She would often complain of feeling tired and weak and of suffering a rather peculiar “electric shock” type of nerve pain. Moreover, she looked unsatisfied with what she ate having deprived herself completely of all non-vegetarian dishes that she once couldn’t do without. The Doctor, she consulted, had no option than to prescribe weekly injections of Vitamin B12.
Due to a constant shift in diet regimes, her body weight started fluctuating badly. That, however, made my close relative even more determined and desperate to achieve what she had set out to.
Then one fine morning, she heard of a crash diet that promised to melt away all your excess weight in simply a week’s time. This involved having only some bland cabbage soup for dinner, salad for lunch and plain green tea for breakfast. The effect was dramatic. She lost weight like magic.
But the moment she resumed eating normally, all the weight came back with a vengeance. So all the ulcers and cravings she had suffered in the process of following that crash diet didn’t really help. In fact, after the diet, she had such intense cravings that she had to go to the nearest mall to indulge in some kind of binge eating that involved gorging on cookies, carrot cakes and pastries, everything that was till then “banned” for her.
The change in diet regimes did no good to her. She had greyed prematurely and continued to suffer from a lack of energy, fluctuating body weight, terrible mood swings and a low self-esteem.
Does this sound familiar to you? Tell me if you know of someone who has had similar experiences.
I’ll love to hear from you.
 (If the subject interest you and if you would like to know how you can manage to have five to six small meals a day, regardless of your busy schedule; how you can exercise even if you are not a gym person; how to freeze and preserve leftovers, and finally how to sequence and parallel process your actions so that you save time while cooking your meals, do feel free to refer to my book “Healthy Cooking In A Jiffy”.
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Incidentally this book is also available in the Portuguese edition.

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