Why Fad Diets Drive Me Mad

06/01/2011 16:19 | Updated 22 May 2015

Weekly magazines are very bad for my blood pressure. As I get older (and grumpier) I find more and more things in them to fume about. If it's not the shopping pages where £850 silk kimonos are presented as a valid "weekly" buy it's the book reviews, which only ever seem to be of the latest chick lit novel - because women are, naturally, too thick to read anything that doesn't come with a title containing the word 'shopping' and printed in raised lettering. But the thing I save the real frothing at the mouth for is the diet pages. Week after week a double page spread will proclaim "THIS is the diet that will work!" or "New fantastic weight loss secret revealed!"

I'm sorry, Atkins and South Beach diet fans - here's the simple truth: If you eat less calories than you expend, you lose weight. If you eat more calories than you expend, you gain weight. There is no magical system, no secret mystical cure, no diet that's better than any other. It doesn't even matter WHAT you eat, as long as it's less than you use. Recently a professor from Kansas State University lost 27 pounds in 10 weeks eating only sugary breakfast cereal and biscuits. BUT, he only ate 1800 calories of them a day, and so he lost weight. Scientists around the world probably read his report, rolled their eyes and said, "well, doh!". Big surprise. Likewise, of course if you do the Atkins diet and eat only a couple of lean steaks a day you'll lose weight, because the total number of calories you are consuming is lower than you are using. What it emphatically ISN'T though, is because you are entirely eschewing carbs. You could lose weight eating only potatoes if you really wanted to, and didn't eat too many of them - though don't come complaining to me if you develop rickets and scurvy.

To most of you this may all sound perfectly obvious, yet it's astonishing how many people still seem prepared to claim, in the face of ALL scientific evidence, that weight gain is actually caused solely by intake of carbs/meat/fat/hormones/genetics - you name it, someone has claimed it. I reserve a particularly sarcastic raised eyebrow for people who claim that it's eating carbs after 5pm that's the problem. Even blaming junk food is nonsensical really - it's the amount of calories you eat that's the problem. Eat a super size meal and go for a long run = no problem. Eat one and sit on the sofa all day... well, you get the idea.

This is not to claim for an instant that junk food is, of course, GOOD for you. Of course it's not, and I'd really rather it didn't exist, thanks all the same. If the professor at Kansas State kept that diet up for longer, no doubt he'd be both very thin and very unhealthy (two things which are not, of course, mutually exclusive). But what this shifting of the blame from the simple maths of food, to some complex equation or pie chart of what food groups you are supposed to have with each meal does is to confuse what is essentially an incredibly simple issue: eat less, exercise more, lose weight.

The problem, of course, is that if it's presented that simply, the diet industry isn't going to make any money from it. And where would that double page spread be?

By: Kate Carter


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