Fad Diets Will Seem Even Crazier After You See This

| September 5, 2013 | 0 Comments
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Post by Maria Godoy, The Salt at NPR Food (9/5/13)

On one level, it’s easy to understand the allure of a fad diet: Eat this, not that and you’ll lose weight, guaranteed. Who doesn’t want an easy way to shed unwanted pounds?

<strong>The Master Cleanse: </strong>Adherents are required to avoid any food and just drink a concoction of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper to "detoxify" their bodies. As Piper in <em>Orange Is The New Black</em><em> </em><a href="http://www.vulture.com/2013/07/orange-is-the-new-black-recap-season-1-episode-2.html">proves</a>, it's tough to make it through on this meager meal. Photo: Stephanie Gonot/Courtesy of the photographer

The Master Cleanse: Adherents are required to avoid any food and just drink a concoction of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper to “detoxify” their bodies. As Piper in Orange Is The New Black proves, it’s tough to make it through on this meager meal. Photo: Stephanie Gonot/Courtesy of the photographer

It was that sort of thinking that first prompted photographer Stephanie Gonot to investigate many current fad diets. “I had tried Weight Watchers — and it works,” the Los Angeles-based freelancer tells The Salt. “And then you kind of slip off of that, and then you think, ‘What else can you do that is easier than counting points?’ … So I started researching [other diets] and thought, ‘These do not sound healthy.’ ”

Healthful they may not be. But visually stirring? Absolutely. Looking at what such diets require you to subsist on — lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne for the Master Cleanse, for example— helps crystallize just how absurd (for most people) they are.

“I think it’s funny to see exactly what these diets entail visually instead of reading about them,” Gonot says.

The series, called “Fad Diets,” is really a reflection of a culture that’s become overly obsessed with dieting in general.

<strong>The Baby Food Diet:</strong> This diet calls for replacing several meals and snacks with tiny jars of baby food, plus a healthful dinner. The diet was widely attributed to Tracy Anderson, trainer to celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, though Anderson has since reportedly denied endorsing it. Photo: Stephanie Gonot/Courtesy of the photographer

The Baby Food Diet: This diet calls for replacing several meals and snacks with tiny jars of baby food, plus a healthful dinner. The diet was widely attributed to Tracy Anderson, trainer to celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, though Anderson has since reportedly denied endorsing it. Photo: Stephanie Gonot/Courtesy of the photographer

“There’s all this stuff in the media about fad diets,” she says, “and I think we need to eat better and watch what you eat, but you don’t necessarily need these diets to take care of that.”

That’s a point the medical community is making as well. In a commentary published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers Sherry Pagoto of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Bradley Appelhans of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago issued a call for an end to fad dieting.

<strong>The Five Bite Diet: </strong>Basically, followers are allowed to eat any food they want for lunch or dinner — just five bites of it. Oh, and they also have to skip breakfast. Photo: Stephanie Gonot/Courtesy of the photographer

The Five Bite Diet: Basically, followers are allowed to eat any food they want for lunch or dinner — just five bites of it. Oh, and they also have to skip breakfast. Photo: Stephanie Gonot/Courtesy of the photographer

Pagoto and Appelhans argue that our obsession with macronutrients — carbs and fat, among them — misses the point that the best diet is the one you actually stick with. And no diet, they argue, can truly be effective without an overhaul in lifestyle as well.

<strong>The 7-Day Color Diet:</strong> An attempt to get people to eat more fruits and vegetables, this diet requires followers to eat foods of just a single color each day. It ends with a day in which you "eat the rainbow," so to speak. Here's Gonot's cheeky take on orange day. Photo: Stephanie Gonot/Courtesy of the photographer

The 7-Day Color Diet: An attempt to get people to eat more fruits and vegetables, this diet requires followers to eat foods of just a single color each day. It ends with a day in which you “eat the rainbow,” so to speak. Here’s Gonot’s cheeky take on orange day. Photo: Stephanie Gonot/Courtesy of the photographer

Pagoto notes that multiple studies have compared diets that vary by how many carbs, protein grams and fat grams they require you to eat. “A lot of times, it’s a draw: No diet is better than the other,” she says in a video press release. “When a diet does outdo another diet in terms of weight loss, it’s by a very small amount.”

(Not all obesity researchers would agree. As we’ve reported, one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012 found that a low-carb diet was a clear winner over a low-fat diet and low-glycemic diet.)

<strong>The Model Diet:</strong> This was Gonot's tongue-in-cheek take on popular perception of how models keep their appetites in check. "You hear that models drink coffee and smoke cigarettes all day, or you see them holding a Diet Coke behind the scenes," Gonot says. Photo: Stephanie Gonot/Courtesy of the photographer

The Model Diet: This was Gonot’s tongue-in-cheek take on popular perception of how models keep their appetites in check. “You hear that models drink coffee and smoke cigarettes all day, or you see them holding a Diet Coke behind the scenes,” Gonot says. Photo: Stephanie Gonot/Courtesy of the photographer

Still, Pagoto has hit on something that has stymied many dieters forever: the challenge of sticking with a weight-loss plan that’s both healthful and effective.

“We really need to shift our conversation away from what exactly people should be eating to how do you change their behavior, how do you get people to make long-term changes,” Pagoto says.

When it comes to that effort, images like those in Gonot’s series can help, says Kate Pilewski, a student health dietitian at Duke University. She and her colleagues plan to use the photographs as part of their student outreach during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week in the spring.

“We give students advice about why fad diets don’t provide the nutrients they need,” Pilewski tells The Salt. “But seeing [these diets] in photos is really striking and makes them look much less appealing than hearing that Beyonce did it.”

Copyright 2013 NPR.

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Food and Health-related stories from NPR including NPR Radio; NPR's food blog, "The Salt"; NPR's Health News blog, "Shots"; NPR's Breaking News blog "The Two-Way"; NPR's economy explainer "Planet Money"; food-related technology news from NPR's "All Tech Considered"; and food series "Kitchen Window."