In the past six weeks, almost every woman in my office has participated in some form of detox diet. They all form the same pattern: minimal eating for 7-10 days, feelings of misery and grumpiness and an obsession with non-detox food, followed by a point where they inevitably crack and binge on the vast array of office sweets and snacks.
One of the most common diets currently floating around my office involves nothing but bee pollen tablets and aloe vera juice for nine days. After sitting next to someone who recently tortured me with their diet ramblings, I then had to spend most of yesterday in a meeting with someone who was on day two and would NOT stop whinging. She worried that the weight she would lose would just be water weight, and that it would all pile back on before her holiday in five weeks.
No shit, sherlock. I am placed at a crossroads – I also work as a nutritionist at the same place I do PR work, and naturally most people ask me for advice about their crazy detox regimes. The worst is when they assume I must know about and approve of the terrible diet they are following.
One of my friends has recently become obsessed with Slim Fast shakes, and will bring them up at any opportunity. She even went to the Slim Fast convention held in London last weekend! Yes, she has lost weight, but not at a sustainable rate (10lbs in 14 days) and she is barely eating anything.
These diets appeal to many people as an instant fix yet seemingly permanent solution to weight loss, selling hopes based on cleverly marketed before and after pictures. But they will never work in the long-term.
Your body will certainly lose weight if you subsist on little more than air, but it will all pile right back on – and then some. When you lose weight while crash dieting, it is mostly from water loss. You lose muscle and fat, but when you gain it back you will only add fat which in turn slows down your metabolism. You will end up worse off than you were when you started, meaning you put yourself through complete dietary hell for nothing.
Fundamentally, your body doesn’t need to detox. Your digestive system is designed to process food effectively and thereby “detox”. If a detox is what you’re after, you are better off focusing on consuming lots of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and fruits and vegetables. You will feel better without having to resort to any crazy juice/bee pollen/fairy dust scams.
When you place certain foods – or food itself! – off-limits, your mind will naturally become obsessed with eating them. This usually results in you falling off the diet wagon and bingeing on your preferred treat, which will act as a setback to your weight loss goals.
When I start working with someone, I usually ask them what their absolute favourite guilty indulgence is. I then tell them to stock up on that food and eat it to their heart’s content for a week. A funny thing happens: they initially love eating said food in abundance, but quickly become sick of it. After the initial week, I tell them to always keep a small amount of that food in the house. By knowing that food is always available, it reduces its appeal (note: I do not do this with people who suffer from extreme binge eating problems).
A lot of people start diets on a Monday and spend the weekend prior loading up on every imaginable type of junk food, as if they are never going to eat it again. To be honest, most of these people will barely make it a week on their new diet and will likely dive face-first into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s the very next weekend.
Crash diets do not work, and neither does an all-or-nothing attitude. The best approach is to focus on eating healthy foods 80-90 per cent of the time, while still allowing room for some treats when you crave them.
Instead of banning entire food groups, refusing to eat your favourite foods and even worse failing to eat entirely, focus on making small, sustainable changes to your nutrition. Instead of having junk food every day, limit it to once or twice a week. Increase your protein consumption, which will naturally keep you feeling more satiated and reduce your sugar cravings. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables without being concerned about their sugar/carb content. Give yourself the opportunity to eat your favourite foods without guilt and, provided the bulk of your diet is healthy and nutritious, you will lose weight.
Have you ever tried a crash diet or detox?