This article discusses some of the advantages and disadvantages of both specialist diets and basic healthy eating. I must emphasis that these are my own views and opinions, and I accept that not everyone shares or supports them! I have tried to offer evidence for the statements I have made throughout this article.
When I refer to specialist diets I am generally referring to diets such as the Atkins, Cabbage Soup, Drop a Jean Size, Slim-fast, low carbohydrate diets and low fat diets, to name but a few. But what do all of these diets have in common?
The majority of specialist diets aim to give people a simple to follow approach for restricting calorific intake, hence leading to weight loss. This is often dressed-up as something more than just calorie restriction, but the outcome is still the same. Usually this is achieved by limiting, or removing, one or more of the macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins or fats) from some, or all meals throughout the day. So how does this impact on the nutritional requirements of the human body?
One example is the Atkins diet, which aims to alter the way the body produces energy by virtually removing carbohydrates from every meal. In Dr Atkins’ book he refer to a state called Ketosis, where fats are converted directly to energy when carbohydrates are not present. This diet has been seen to be very successful at achieving weight loss in a number of studies. But how can a diet be good for you if it alters your body’s natural energy production mechanisms? Ketosis only takes place when the body is starved of carbohydrates, but the central nervous system relies solely on carbohydrates for energy. How can this promote good health?
Another example of these types of diets is low fat diets, which acknowledge that fat accounts for a greater number of calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates. Hence they aim to minimise fat intake to reduce calorie intake. Although saturated fat can be harmful to the human body in large quantities, essential fatty acids play many important roles such as temperature regulation, hormone synthesis and most importantly, the absorption of many vitamins and antioxidants. Restricting fat in your diet can therefore lead to vitamin deficiencies, which can have a dramatic effect on a person’s overall health.
I am sure by now you are feeling confused about what diet you should follow in order to manage your weight and to maintain your health. My advice would be to aim to follow a general healthy eating plan, whilst trying to evaluate and approximate your calorie intake. For many of you this will not be information that you haven’t heard before, but you may have found it difficult to develop a healthy eating plan for yourself. On my website I have tried to provide the information that you will need to construct this plan. Take a look at the section on ‘Balancing Calories’ and the ‘Healthy Eating Guide’ (both in the Nutritional Information section of my site) and use the information to modify or overhaul your existing diet or eating habits.
So what are the disadvantages of following a healthy eating plan? The only thing that can be construed as a disadvantage (and wrongly so!) is that you will not see the miracle weight losses you see when you start a specialist diet. To address this point, (and to promote healthy eating) more often than not the vast quantity of weight lost in the first week of a specialist diet is due to water losses. When you hear of people losing 3 or 4 kilos in one week of dieting you may be amazed, but let me try to quantify this for you. To lose 1 kg of fat you must burn 7000 calories more than you consume and to lose 4 kg of fat would require a calorie deficit of 28,000 calories, but on average most people’s bodies burn around 2500 calories per day (17,500 per week). So as you can see it is almost physically impossible to lose 4kg of fat in 1 week. If you follow a healthy eating plan, taking in 500 calories less than you burn each day, you will lose 0.5 kg per week, every single week and your body will still receive the nutrients it requires maintaining a good level of health. You will also be developing an understanding of healthy eating, which you can employ for the rest of your somewhat longer life!!!
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