I'm sure there are many of you out there who, like me, have gone on a diet before to try and lose some weight as a short-term solution. What I mean by this is a restrictive, fad, commercial diet, such as Atkins, Zone, or more recently, the Dukan diet. they pick up a lot of attention because a celebrity was reported to have lost weight by following their regimes, and the creator of the diet becomes an overnight success. Of course, we all know that to lose weight and keep it off in the long-term, we have to keep a healthy balance of nutritious food and regular exercise. But that's difficult to do, requires a lifelong commitment and self-motivation, and doesn't have the quick results. So we pick up the latest copy of a diet book in the shop or follow along online for a few weeks and actually lose that excess weight! What a delight!
Who wants to live in a carb-free world forever? So we start craving those things we aren't allowed to have according to the diet rulebook and go back to the way we were, putting the pounds back on, sometimes putting even MORE pounds back on, and are left only with frustration (and maybe some tighter-fitting clothes).
While at Nourish Health Foods the other day, we were chatting about the recent coverage of the Dukan diet in the press and the controversy surrounding it. At the store, they can't keep oat bran on the shelves ever since Kate Middleton (sorry, the Duchess of Cambridge!) became a skeleton and proclaimed her love for Dukan. If you're not familiar with the methods of the diet, it is essentially an even more extreme version of Atkins. Through several stages lasting a week or so each, you limit yourself to protein, then protein + vegetables, and finally protein + vegetables + low-fat dairy + 1 carb. Clearly, this will make you lose weight, but it can be extremely dangerous if followed long-term.
My concerns with Dukan are the long-term health issues that can arise out of such a diet...
- Completely cutting out an entire "group" of food, i.e. fruit, is a problem in itself. Think of all the wonderful vitamins and minerals that come just from a piece of fruit. Do you really want to never eat a strawberry again? Summer is a fruit-filled season no matter where you live.
- Why are we so afraid of fat? While I agree that hydrogenated fats (like those found in margarine and other highly processed foods) and trans fats are terrible and have no benefit to your body whatsoever, there are also good fats in the world that are essential. Eating foods that are labeled "low-fat" or "nonfat" only indicate their departure from the original source. Naturally fatty foods that are actually super great for your system, like avocados and coconut oil, should never been shunned but rather embraced.
- Think ahead. Are you really going to keep up a diet that insists you only eat 9 servings of carbs per week? I would recommend 2-3 PER DAY and that's only whole grains & starches (never mind leafy vegetables, crunchy vegetables, and fresh fruit). Again, carbs shouldn't be feared. Instead of taking the easy way out and omitting them altogether (difficult and dangerous to sustain), we can replace "bad" carbs with "good" carbs, i.e. grains that are easy on our digestive system, such as millet, rice, quinoa, and corn, non-white starchy veg, like sweet potatoes, squash, and yams, sprouted breads (more nutritional impact).
- Chemical sweeteners, such as aspartame and nutrasweet, are never okay. Any diet that allows them raises a big red flag for me. Dukan allows diet soda and sugar-free sweeteners throughout the program. How are you meant to kick that nasty sugar habit if you're continuing to load up on artificially sweet things? A better long-term choice would be to swap refined sugar for something natural, i.e. honey or maple syrup. Better yet, make it local. See if anyone in your community sells locally-made honey, or if you live in the right parts of North America, grab some local maple syrup (or tap a maple tree?) and be thankful you aren't paying an arm and a leg for it like we do in England!
- Emphasizing the importance of protein is fine, but balancing that with unrefined carbohydrates and healthy fats is crucial. Many of us don't eat enough protein in our morning meal, which sets us up for the rest of the day. If we simply added some quality protein to breakfast, we'd be able to stave off the sugar and starch cravings that so often hit us between meals. However, on a diet like Dukan, protein can only come in the form of lean meats, fish, low-fat dairy, and tofu (no beans, legumes, or nuts allowed). This is highly restrictive, especially for anyone avoiding animal products and soy, both of which are problematic foods for many people's digestive systems.
- And what about fiber? Forgive me for this, but I imagine there isn't a lot of pooping going on with a Dukan dieter. Without the aforementioned beans and legumes, in addition to a restricted intake of vegetables, nuts, and seeds, I'm wondering where on earth they are getting their fiber. Proper digestion is a result of many factors, but perhaps most crucial is adequate fiber consumption - if you're concerned you're not getting enough, simply sprinkle a tablespoon of ground flaxseed onto your morning bowl of yogurt or muesli or into a smoothie.
Okay, so this is just about Dukan, but my main point is that all diets restricting entire groupings of food are dangerous. While it's nice to feel quick effects and notice immediate differences in our bodies, it would be impossible to maintain those eating habits without picking up some serious health conditions along the way (high blood pressure and diabetes, to name two).
If you're interested in shedding some pounds for LIFE rather than just for the summer, and don't want to sacrifice any essential foods, then it is important to make wise food choices. Keeping a food diary even for just a couple of days can be eye-opening. I do not mean calorie counting - simply writing down the foods you choose to eat (and when and where you choose to eat them) may surprise you, but will certainly help you to understand where changes could be made.
For now though, baby steps. eat an extra serving of vegetables today and include some raw nuts and seeds. Take that, Dukan!
[photo: strawberry spelt shortcake]