Exploring Fad Diets and Healthful Alternatives in Addressing WeightDiet is one of the necessities for existence just like oxygen, water, and shelter, by providing nourishment to the body.
Some cultures regarded food as medicine, something good and healing. On the contrary, there have been concerns associated with food consumption especially in the west, being infamously associated with being “fat”. For this reason, current fad diet programs are offering a quick fix but non-sustainable weight loss solutions to the declared “epidemic” of obesity and overweight. The stigma on individuals with large body has fueled fad diets frenzy; and if addressed by a more holistic and weight-neutral approach like HAES (Health at Every Size), can create a more successful and sustainable outcome physiologically (eg: blood pressure, serum lipids level), behaviorally, and psychosocially (eg: positive body image and self-esteem); in addition to lower healthcare cost expended trying to “cure” obesity and overweight.The Rise of Fad DietsFad diets have been used since the ancient times, up until today. Greeks and Romans have used them as a part of a healthy lifestyle but in the 19th century, dieting started for aesthetic purposes (Khawandanah & Tewfik, 2016). Presently, public health campaigns, societal overemphasis on ideal body size and the stigma involved in having a larger body mass have given rise to popular weight loss programs and fad diets.
Khawandanah & Tewfik (2016) noted that “societal and peer pressure to have certain body shape (…) can lead to feelings of inferiority, low self-esteem, depression, emotions of guilt and unattractiveness causing the individual to adopt fad diets that claim to aid in losing weight very fast to make themselves more likeable” (p. 84). The healthcare system, social and mass media, even family and friends have pressured individuals into confiding to popular body size expectations, in a “one size fits all” standpoint. While trying to fit in to this thin-ideal, people are criticizing and stigmatizing body fat leading to social injustice, harassment and exclusion. Nutter et al. (2016) remarked that the increased “mediatization” of the thin-ideal could strengthen weight bias and discrimination in the workplace especially for women with large bodies; and as a result, they experience “weight-based harassment and social exclusion, disordered relationships with food, and draining of women’s energy and resources with regard to seeking weight loss and fad diets, normalizing female body anxiety” (p.
5). Granting fad diets produce weight loss in a matter of weeks, the weight they lost will be regained after a few months since it is difficult to commit to these diets being costly, unsuitable to body needs, unbalanced or monotonous in food choices, and ultimately, pose several health threats and disturbance of homeostasis.Hazards of Fad DietsPhysiological RisksDue to its unsustainability, disadvantages of fad diets include weight cycling and nutritional imbalances resulting to numerous bodily malfunctions and greater risk for health problems.
Khawandanah & Tewfik (2016) remarked that “extreme weight loss followed by quick weight gain is associated with many health risk factors such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, increase in LDL cholesterol, as well as reduced muscle energy” (p.84). Current fad diets include high-protein, high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets (like Atkins diet, ketogenic diet, etc.) leads to higher risk of heart disease, colon cancer, bad breath (from ketosis), sleeping disorders, increase serum cholesterol levels (increasing the risk of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease by >50%), constipation due to low fiber intake, headache, hair loss and increased menstrual bleeding (Khawandanah & Tewfik, 2016, p.86).
High-protein diets have been linked with a greater production of waste products which adds pressure to the kidneys resulting to stone formation, loss of calcium through the urinary tract leading to bone loss or osteoporosis, and an increase in plasma homocysteine which has been linked with higher cardiovascular risk; and low-fat/low-protein diets increase the risk of inadequate intake of minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc and high-quality protein which leads to reduced immunity, problematic wound healing, iron deficiency and growth retardation (Khawandanah & Tewfik, 2016).Psychosocial Risks People who think they are fat and need weight interventions, mostly but not limited to women (of varying ages), are exhausting their money and energy to fit in the societal’s standard of body size. However, due to the nature of fad diets being unsustainable, weight cycling is triggering further discontent and frustration.
This ongoing yo-yo dieting is linked with increased chronic psychological stress and cortisol production, two known factors to increase disease risk which alters metabolism regardless of lifestyle habits (Bacon & Aphramor, 2011). What makes the stress worse is the existence of weight bias accompanying bigger body mass. Weight bias is a form of stigma with detrimental effects on the health and wellness such as increased stress, decreased motivation to engage in physical activities, increased binge eating behaviors, and depression; and may be more detrimental than simply having a large body (Nutter et al., 2016).Modifying the Parameters of a “Healthy Weight”Weight loss is non-indicative of guaranteed positive health outcomes; but then weight-neutral outcomes like blood pressure, serum lipids, health-seeking behaviors and self-esteem are. Bacon & Aphramor (2011) stated that BMI profiling overlooks 16.3 million “normal weight” group who are unhealthy and identifies 55.
4 million overweight and obese people who are not ill as being “in need of treatment” (p.6). A study conducted on aerobic exercise training showed improvements in insulin sensitivity and blood lipids even in individuals who gained body fat during the intervention (Bacon & Aphramor, 2011). This indicates that physiological health parameters like serum lipids and insulin sensitivity were enhanced because of the aerobic program regardless of weight gained or lost. These weight-neutral outcomes should be the gauge of being healthy in one’s present weight when engaging in diet and lifestyle changes, as well as the degree of positive self-regard gained from such healthful activities. Sustainable Alternatives in Addressing WeightThere are several alternatives to fad diets that are sustainable and at the same time promotes bodily homeostasis. According to Khawandanah & Tewfik (2016), alternatives include a long term, high-fiber diet which could overcome physiological complications linked to fad dieting such as cardiovascular disease, renal dysfunction, and osteoporosis; as well as psychological problems like eating disorders and depression.
Another recommendation is the “Eatwell Plate” that models the appropriate portion of fat, protein, and carbohydrates that our body needs to maintain its functions (Khawandanah & Tewfik, 2016). Lastly HAES, which “emphasizes health promotion and improving the emotional, physical and spiritual well-being of individuals of all sizes (…) by promoting self-acceptance, body diversity, and improved health behaviors regardless of body size, such as engaging in physical activity for pleasure, and intuitive eating behaviors” (Nutter et al., 2016, p.
5). Greater public awareness and promotion of these alternatives could help alleviate the imposed pressure to fit in one size, eradicate the stigma on people with large bodies, and promote healthy behaviors, thereby ensuring sustainable health for everyone especially those who are affected by the weight craze.The HAES PrinciplesHealth at Every Size (HAES) proposes a sustainable, holistic and weight-neutral solution in achieving a healthy body.
It may have conflicts with the popular beliefs that food intake must be controlled, and rigid exercise programs are necessary to have a healthy physique, HAES reduces the stress induced by these structured programs and focuses on feeling good about oneself. Since weight isn’t a determinant of health, but rather the stressful conditions associated with thin-ideal like weight biases and stigma, frustration, lowered self-esteem, negative body image, and depression. Bacon & Aphramor (2011) presented HAES’s three main points: (1) Encouraging body acceptance because people with strong self-esteem have increased ability to take care of their body by adopting positive health behaviors. (2) Supporting intuitive eating because eating restraint is associated with weight gain over time. Food is valued for its nutritional, psychological, sensual, cultural, and other reasons and if people make connections on what they eat and how their body feels about the food (eg: energy levels, ease of bowel movement, satiety, hunger, etc.) it would serve as a guiding principle to healthier food choices. (3) Supporting active embodiment by helping people find enjoyable ways of being active, reinforcing healing and relaxation of the body instead of pressuring people to perform structured exercise programs.
Promotion of this holistic health program, or something similar should receive more publicity and exposure to the society.ConclusionA new perspective of “healthy weight” should be put into place for the well-being of the persons with higher body mass, as well as the population who are experiencing discontent about their physique. The predominant use of fad diets for weight loss is unnecessary, as weight-neutral indicators of health are proven to be more sustainable and realistic.
Public health campaigns should take into consideration the biases currently existing in our society, and eliminate the social standards of thinness, weight loss or BMI as an ideal “healthy” or “normal” weight by promoting self-esteem no matter what body size a person is in; where a person’s self -image will not be jeopardized by the stigma particularly associated with higher body mass. It is imperative that the healthcare system take responsibility for implementing and disseminating these much-needed changes, and by doing so, the energy and resources of the individual affected by this issue, fat or thin, will be devoted to achieving sustainable health, regardless of body weight.ReferencesBacon, L.
, & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: Evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift.
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