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The Real Skinny on Fad Diets

If you have turned on the television since the calendar turned to January, you have no doubt witnessed the increase in diet commercials. Whether it is Nutri-system, Jenny Craig, or Slim Fast, they all guarantee the same thing: fast results.

There is one above all others that makes my jaw drop every time I see it: the commercials for Kellogg’s Special K weight loss plan. Yes, I’m referring to the Special K that you find in the cereal aisle. Their claim: “Lose up to six pounds in two weeks by eating Special K with skim milk and fruit for two meals each day.” The claim is based on a study conducted by Purdue University who followed 28 participants. Over the course of 2 weeks, the individuals lost up to 6 pounds following the Special K diet. They ate an average of 1,590 calories, or 27% less than their normal caloric intake.

Whether they were eating Special K products or 1,590 calories worth of dark chocolate, the weight loss would have been the same. It is a simple matter of calories in, calories out. But what about health? That is rarely talked about with fad diets. What concerns me the most is that people might mistake these products for healthy, nutritious foods that will properly fuel their bodies with the energy it needs.

Let’s take a look at one of the snack bars- the blueberry cereal bar. Under the Special K diet plan you would follow for 2 weeks, you are allowed two snack bars a day.

The ingredient list for the blueberry cereal bar reads: cereal (rice, sugar, whole grain wheat, wheat gluten, defatted wheat germ, salt, wheat flour, malt flavoring, maltodextrin, thiamin hydrochloride [vitamin B1], riboflavin [vitamin B2]), corn syrup, sugar, fruit pieces (sugar, cranberries, blueberry juice from concentrate, grape juice concentrate for color), fructose, vegetable oil (contains one or more of: canola and/or sunflower, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed and/or palm kernel, hydrogenated cottonseed oil, TBHQ and mixed tocopherols for freshness), dextrose, contains two percent or less of natural and artificial flavor, nonfat dry milk, glycerin, sorbitol, soy lecithin, calcium carbonate, salt, niacinamide, BHT for freshness, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6).

With very little fiber and protein, and sugar listed a number of different times, this is not an ideal snack choice. We tend to be very caloric centered in this country when we should be focusing more on the actual nutrients we are or are not consuming. And in this case, it is the latter, unless you count a bunch of synthetic vitamins and minerals that come packaged along with some partially hydrogenated oil and sugar. When you eat this type of food (or “foodstuff” as my hero Michael Pollan accurately calls it), your body is not receiving the vitamins and nutrients it needs to properly function and it will crave more energy. Picture this cereal bar next to a piece of fruit or raw nuts or veggies & hummus. Which do you think is the better choice? Foods that are whole and unprocessed such as fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, and whole grains have thousands and thousands of phytochemicals and nutrients that work together in our body to promote health. If you choose the Special K bar, you will receive a handful of synthetic vitamin and minerals. It is your choice.

Plenty of us have enough determination to survive the two weeks and lose weight, but is it the kind of weight you want to lose and is it permanent? I guarantee that 99% of us, once we return to our normal eating patterns, the weight will come back. And even worse, your body will not trust that you will give it the nutrients and calories it needs to properly function which can lead to even more serious problems down the road.

So please do yourself a favor, next time you start to seriously think about your weight and health, consider the quality of the food you will be eating instead of just the calorie or fat intake. Then you might actually join the small minority of dieters who actually keep the weight off for good.

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