Fitness Friday: The Evolution of the Fad Diet

June 24, 2011 at 2:25 am 8 comments

I wrote a long and rambling post this week.  I couldn’t figure out how to organize my thoughts so I wish you luck in deciphering them.

If I hear about one more diet that is going to help me get “that body I’ve always wanted” by eating “for my body type” or “like my ancestors” or through “intermittent fasting” or by eliminating whole food groups, I’m gonna…

  • scream? What’s the use?
  • laugh? It’s no longer funny.
  • Turn off the TV? Maybe.
  • But still be curious? Probably.

One thing is for certain, I AM going to hear about more fad diets.

A few weeks ago, my family friend Brynn posted an article about a professional tennis player who had adopted a gluten-free diet and rocketed up the ATP ladder. She added a comment on the link that said,

“fat-free, sugar-free, I suppose gluten-free is next.
How about plain, old moderation? Too boring for most people I guess.”

The discussion that ensued was interesting, to say the least.

Brynn is a podiatrist in California who runs STRIDE, a medical practice specializing in foot and ankle health combined with a medical foot spa (where you can be sure the tools are clean and safe!). She is also a mom of two boys the same age as mine and a marathon runner.

With that in mind, here is the (most names changed) discussion from her Facebook page (posted with permission!):

Jane: I’m reading “Why We Get Fat” by Taubes (the same guy who’s been writing about sugar and HFCS), and it’s really eye-opening. Haven’t gotten to the biggest “points” but am suspecting them to be white things: sugar and flour.

Brynn: I don’t eat …-free anything. I eat everything in moderation and I’m not fat.
I think people just like band-wagons (“cleanses”, barefoot running, diets etc) but whatever, it’s just like the placebo effect, and I’m all for the placebo effect, if people think something works, go for it.
Jane, is the book good or is it like “Outliers” and can be summarized into a few sentences or words? (sugar and flour) 😉 And I’m only teasing about the gluten-free thing, I know for you, it’s a necessity, but for many it’s just a fad.

Jane: You are right that GF is a fad-ish diet for folks, and it gets frustrating when one really needs to eat that way … As far as the book goes, an MD I really like and trust recommended it, knowing my nutritional concerns (one child for whom I’ve done everything and is still bigger than most — and one for whom I’ve done everything and still doesn’t eat). I don’t think it can be summed up easily; it’s a drilled-down version of a heavier, more scientific tome that explains thoroughly how the body converts food to energy and fat. So far, I think it’s worth reading … but I’m only 1/3 of the way in and still don’t fully “get” it.

Me (Liisa): Brynn, I’m so with you on this… Specific foods don’t make you fat. It’s been shown over and over again. Lifestyle including food quality and food quantity are the associated factors.

Susie: I couldnt be happier for the GF “fad”. Gives my son a lot more choices. I def agree w u about moderation but I doubt that tennis player was a fattie.

Sally: Totally agree! My motto is “everything in moderation” which I know is boring, but it works.

Cindy: I think saying “what about plain old moderation?” implies that “everything in moderation” works for everyone. When in reality, everyone is different, and if a food is not adding towards one’s well being then why consume it at all? When people discover something in their diet bringing them down—whether it be their athletic performance, their weight, their general energy—and eliminate it towards better health, that SHOULD be celebrated, and if more information is spread about its legitimate benefits, I don’t think that should be called a fad.
Additionally, the fact that more and more gluten sensitive/celiac cases have been coming up has more to do with the additional knowledge and research about gluten and its effects on the health of the human body, not celebrity fad diets…

Me (Liisa): There’s definitely a difference between eliminating foods because of an allergy (gluten-free for celiac) or disease (low-carb for diabetes), but if you’ve lived through the fads of low-fat, low-carb, paleo, gluten-free, plant-based, you start to get diet fatigue and move toward the middle. Oh my! I sound so old.

Sally: For centuries, and across all cultures, food is consumed for many different reasons, one of them being simple enjoyment- that, imo, is why you might sometimes eat something that may not be super beneficial nutritionally speaking, but just because it brings pleasure.

John: I cannot agree more…wait…you don’t mean alcohol, right?

The commenter I identify most with, besides Brynn is “Sally”. She is right. We don’t only eat for fuel, we eat for pleasure and I think it’s important to keep that in mind. That’s why I could never give up my baked treats.

Like Brynn, I agree that the diet-du-jour is usually based on the current zeitgeist. Right now it really seems like among the physically active, there are two separate camps who are on either side of the spectrum: the paleo/low-ish carb group who eat like cavemen (think meat, nuts, berries, roots) and the plant-based diet group who avoid all animal products.

When this Facebook discussion took place, I was definitely closer to the plant-based group since I just don’t like meat (and never have – there was a veal incident at age 12 that really put me over the edge, but that’s another story for another post).

But remember how Brynn mentioned “cleanses/detoxes” as fads in the above thread? I hate those terms. To detox, is to remove toxic substances from our body. When you ask someone what they are detoxing from, they will often tell you “toxins”, but they can’t identify what they are or why their body’s natural filtering system has not been successful in removing them. However, they will gladly consume a tea made from a cocktail of unfamiliar herbs with unfamiliar properties.

And I really dislike the term “cleanse”. To me, it implies that we are unclean when we consume foods that are not on “the cleanse”, BUT, and this is a big BUT, I do believe in the principle of some cleanses.

In fact, after all my recent tummy troubles, I turned to Donna and Deb and spent a week eliminating inflammatory foods (for me mostly: coffee, diet cola, sugar, dairy, wheat/gluten) from my diet and then a week slowly re-introducing them one at a time to see how I felt with each.

If that’s “a cleanse” then fine, I did a cleanse, and I suppose I believe in the process, though I still can’t stomach the term “cleanse” (sorry Donna!). The results were interesting for me but the changes were more about food preparation and organization in our family than anything else. Derek is really enjoying the fruits (and there are lots of fruits) of the process as he is enjoying hearty and abundant salads every day for lunch and a fridge stocked to the brim with produce.

I now feel like I know how my body reacts to some of those foods, and I know a little more about what makes me feel most vibrant and healthy, but I can assure you, I will gladly feel a little less than great for an amazing cheese plate, a buttery home-made chocolate chip cookie or a scoop of gelato.

So what’s the point of this post? I don’t know, but here are some take-aways:

Liisa Says:

  • Eat what makes you feel good AND what you like
  • Get to know your body
  • Eat less (even just a little less) if you’re over your ideal healthy weight (as determined by a scientifically validated measure)
  • Denial and procrastination are your worst enemies (I tell Derek this weekly)
  • Avoid pretty faces selling you books on morning shows especially if they have “simple tips” or alliterations
  • Indulge for pleasure once in a while
  • Random bloggers (like me) are not experts so take their advice and experience with a grain of salt!!!

THE END of the rambling. I (nervously) await your comments. Now the usual Fitness Friday stuff:

Running Rundown

Everything is posted in km. For those of you who only do miles, 1 km = .625 mile OR 1 mile = 1.6 km

Sunday – 10 km run – 5k race (read about it here) and 5k slow cool-down on my own

Tuesday – 9 km run with speed class. The workout was a 3 km warm-up followed by strides and 7 very steep short(ish) hill repeats. I did 4. My whole philosophy on training for this next half-marathon is “less is more”, so I went with my gut and my coach’s advice and didn’t push it so soon after a race. We finished with a 3 km cool-down.

Thursday –10 km run in the humidity. 2 km warm-up; 6 km tempo (avg pace 5:02 min/km); 2 km cool-down. I was planning on trying my heart rate monitor for the first time. I wore it, but it didn’t record. Next time…

Friday – planned 14 km long slow run this evening with Jenn instead of the usual Saturday morning.

Cross Training (I’ve decided to change the title from the previous “Strength Training Stats”)

Wednesay: Push-ups and core work on my own for maintenance during this lazy cross training week

Friday: Greco Lean and Fit class with Derek


Entry filed under: Fitness, nutrition. Tags: , , , , .

Style Tuesday: Churchill’s Pub in Westboro – New Restaurant Review Style Tuesday: Urban Lifestyle

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mostlyfitmom  |  June 24, 2011 at 3:28 am

    Moderation – yes. Sometimes, though, I have trouble with moderation (hello, chocolate and bread), so it’s just easier for me to largely eliminate certain foods. The other sort-of fad I’ve noticed right now is clean eating. The nice thing about that is that it’s easier to find recipes focusing on produce and whole grains. Great post!

    • 2. Liisa at Fit for a Kid  |  June 24, 2011 at 1:58 pm

      I think that maybe the problem with the term “moderation” is that it means different things to different people. For me, “moderation” means eating what makes me feel best most of the time, but not denying myself when something really peaks my interest.

      For instance, I don’t normally eat bread (just ask my mom; it drove her crazy on our recent trip together). However, if I’m at restaurant and the bread looks amazing, I will indulge a bit without any guilt.

      As far as chocolate goes, well, I don’t know what to tell you… I’m with you and I do indulge often on this one. However, I can sometimes get my fix with my good friend, unsweetened 100% cocoa powder.

  • 3. Lara  |  June 24, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    I agree with you but what I find is that people want something they can just adopt and try that’s different. It’s why I look at different diets and things…. because just eating better and just eating in moderation? Well I don’t do it, even when I know I should. And sometimes I if I think “I’ll just try this out for awhile and follow it to the letter, maybe it’ll kick start me into a new way of thinking”

    I’m not saying it’ll work, but I understand why people look for programs like this…. just doing it right is hard!! 😉

    • 4. Liisa at Fit for a Kid  |  June 24, 2011 at 2:19 pm

      I get the need to be on “a program” as a kickstart. I’ve been there for various reasons. But the key is finding a program that makes sense over the long run and teaches us how to eat fresh, readily available foods.

      Something like Weight Watchers makes sense to me for weight loss, especially for the group support, though food choice is still largely up to the individual and you could end up eating processed foods…

      I also like the Tosca Reno Clean Eating series.

  • 5. Lesley Slack  |  June 24, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    I agree with all of your points! Most of the people I know who are thin eat everything in moderation and lead a healthy lifestyle. I’ve done a lot of fad diets and they are a temporary fix. They are also not realistic and you gain weight the second you go off them. My biggest obstacle is as you say “Denial and procrastination are your worst enemies”. Glad I’m not alone on that one!

  • 6. Donna  |  June 24, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Liisa, I am so happy our ‘cleanse’, let’s call is clean eating week, helped you to find a balance in your eating and enjoyment of food and also helped your whole family get more fruits and veggies into their diet.
    ‘Everything in moderation’ well, you know I feel so strongly that there are so many products labelled as ‘food’ that are simply just chemicals, there is no place for them in our diet. Moderate eating if it means don’t eat to excess, fill up with real food and cut out the crap.
    Thanks for taking Clean Eating Challenge with us – by the way you were glowing when I saw you on Tues 🙂

  • 7. acroatia  |  June 24, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Great post!!! I believe in moderation and assessing how certain foods make you feel to then decide what needs to be eliminated. But so many people want a get slim quick scheme like get rich quick schemes. Yet it’s all about how to make things work long term and about enjoying culinary delights.

  • 8. Lynn  |  June 25, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    I agree, although I have to say I am very lucky in that “eating in moderation” really works for me in terms of controlling my weight and making me feel energetic and healthy. I completely understand that something that sounds so simple just isn’t that easy for some people.

    I personally could never give up treat foods, pasta, cheese…mmmmm. I just try to eat a small amount of everything and if I have a bad eating day, work it off and try again tomorrow.


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