Oped

Watch what you eat

  • Health experts refute claims about fad diets saying that they are more myth than fact
- YAM BAHADUR DURA, Kathmandu

Feb 3, 2019-

The regular appearance of (unrealistically) skinny models and film stars on television screens leaves lasting impacts on young people, who aspire to look like them. With these unhealthy proportions, the idea of a ‘perfect body’ has been peddled by media narratives in this modern world. Created by and for the interests of the patriarchy, these unhealthy ideals have led to rising rates of depression and self-esteem issues among women.

These days, people like to be seen as others and not as themselves. Different phrases that capture these ideals, such as ‘Barbie figure’ or ‘size zero’, encourage women to aspire to them by striving for tangible goals. The growing hunger for an attractive body has given rise to a dangerous industry: fad diets.

A fad diet is a much discussed health-related topic in the present day world. As defined by its promoters, fad diets promote specific routines of liquid and solid food consumption that promise to produce rapid weight loss and other health advantages like a longer life and a more attractive body. Fad diets include high-fibre, low-carbohydrate, low-fat, liquid, and low-calorie foods. These diets are often portrayed as low-intensive routines that require minimal effort and produce high results. As stated in public records, modern fad diets came into existence in 1930 in the western world. They became more popular in the Come today, fad diet has become an important topic in public health.

Nepal has already entered the era of fad diets. Most people may not be familiar with the phrase ‘fad diet’, but they may be proscribing to its routines without knowing its meaning and consequences. Jamara, aloe vera, bottle gourd juices and herbal teas are part of many fad diets, which are increasingly gaining popularity. Stalls selling such products can be seen in the nooks and corners across town. On supermarket shelves all over the metropolis, one can also find a plethora of ‘slimming teas’ and ‘fat-reducing creams’ that promise similar effects. Unfortunately, based on their growing intrusion in the marketplace, it seems that a customer base for these diets is amassing.

The fad diet is big business, and it has become a money spinner for many investors. Promoters of fad diets present their products as a ‘panacea for all health problems’. In addition, famous celebrities appear in advertisements for fad diets, giving the stamp of approval to such products. These persuasive techniques of communication encourage the general public to believe that fad diets offer magical results. Despite their popularity, the validity and relevancy of fad diets are doubtful. Health experts are constantly refuting claims about the magical effects of fad diets by conducting research that proves that many of these routines do not deliver on their promises.

Like everything else, fad diets have both pros and cons. In Jailen Johnson’s thought-provoking article for the American Council on Science and Health, ‘Fad diets are bad diets’, she writes: ‘The Boston Medical Centre reported that of the estimated 45 million Americans who go on a diet annually, 50 percent use fad diets.’ While fad diets may reveal quick results at the onset, they can lead to several unhealthy impacts in the long-term. The nature of any crash diet involves unhealthy and unbalanced eating plans that can lead to various future digestion complications and weight fluctuation. As Johnson highlights, there are many healthy ways to maintain one’s weight that do not include fad diets—including the incorporation of whole and healthy foods in thier diet and daily exercise. Many experts believe that fad diets are based on pseudo-science. Even diets that claim to be ‘backed by research’ are often based on superficial studies that are often not peer-reviewed.

then it goes without saying that products that are directly related to public health should not go unchecked. Unregulated sales and uses of such products is a serious public health concern, which demands public discourse. Its pros and cons should be widely discussed. The public should be well-informed about the positive and negative aspects, without which its validity remains in question.

There are no short cuts and one-stop solutions for health-related problems. Maintaining a healthy and longer life is a lifelong process. Marian Nestle, an American professor of nutrition, has written a book What to Eat wherein she writes, ‘The basic principles of good diets are so simple that I can summarise them in just 10 words: eat less, move more, eat lots of fruits and vegetables.’

This is not to say that all fad diets are meaningless and worthless. Rather, it is to encourage the idea of a ‘healthy sense of doubt’. This sense protects us from the potential adverse impacts of any commercial product before it is too late to correct them.

- Dura teachers journalism and mass communication at Madam Bhanandari Memorial College, Kathmandu.

Published: 03-02-2019 08:03

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