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Fad diets may cause weight loss, but are they safe?

Published: Friday, April 13, 2012

Updated: Friday, April 13, 2012 12:04

                Fad dieting gives a new meaning to spring cleaning. While this time of year is often dedicated to ridding one’s home of excess crud, some individuals instead hope to rid their bodies of unwanted toxins. This is all part of cleanse dieting, a fad aimed at shedding pounds and purifying the body.

    “A cleanse or detox diet is generally defined as a diet therapy that apparently rids the body of toxins — harmful substances that have accumulated in the body and lead to poor health and disease,” Marlene Israelsen, USU professor of nutrition and food science, said.

    Examples of detox therapies include excessive fasting, colon cleansing, chelation therapy, specific combinations of herbs or supplements, restrictive dieting, or exclusive consumption of certain foods or beverages, she said.

    Although cleanse-diets are becoming increasingly more popular, Israelsen and many of her comrades are skeptical of their success.

    “From a dietitian’s standpoint, I don’t agree with cleanse diets at all,” said Kelsey Rich, a registered dietitian and USU graduate student. “I have seen people go on them for 10 to 14 days. They don’t get any of the essential nutrients, fats, calories or proteins that it needs to function properly — they are basically starving their bodies.”

    Many of the cleanse diets consist of only a lemon-water mixture that takes the place of all solid foods, she said.

    This liquid diet, known as the “master cleanse,” was the option that Eden Kershisnik and Natalie Orme decided upon when selecting a cleanse diet last semester.

    Though cleanse diets are commonly done in an effort to improve body appearance and health, neither reason was a motivating factor for Kershisnik, an undeclared freshman, or Orme, a freshman majoring in accounting.

    “We watch a lot of reality TV because we don’t have any drama in our life,” Kershisnik said. “We always try and do things to make our lives dramatic. Natalie came up with the idea, because it would give us something to talk and complain about.”

    As the two did additional research online, they found information suggesting that a cleanse diet was not only beneficial but also necessary for good health, she said.

    “We read this article that said we had waste in our bodies from 10 years ago just sitting in there rotting,” Kershisnik said.  “It said that the waste could cause cancer, so we started freaking out.”

    Rich said fad diets such as the master cleanse often gain widespread popularity due to inaccurate information on the Internet.

    “There is a lot of nutritionless information out there that makes people think weight loss is a quick fix,” Rich said. “It is easy for people to get caught up in it, even though it is not necessarily healthy or true.”

    With the thought of cancer-causing contaminants as an additional driver, Kershisnik and Orme began the master cleanse diet using the suggested combination of water, lemon juice, grade-B maple syrup and cayenne pepper, Kershisnik said.

    By day two, she said she noticed a drastic difference in her mood.

    “The next day I wasn’t hungry. I actually felt kind of sick,” she said. “I was just addicted to the thought of food. Watching people eat made me really angry.”

    Kershisnik’s attitude continued to change substantially throughout the diet, she said.

    “I’m usually a pretty upbeat happy person, but I was horrible,” Kershisnik said. “My roommates told me that I had to start eating because they couldn’t live with me anymore.”

    After four days of the master cleanse, both women said they decided to call it quits.

    Although failure to complete fad diets is not uncommon, many of those who successfully follow through with the regiment do not maintain weight loss long-term, Rich said.

    Some members of the USU nutrition and food science staff do not deny the possible weight-loss effects of cleanse dieting, but they also warn that a scale can be misleading.

    “Weight loss certainly occurs in most cases, but this is usually due to fluid loss more than fat loss and it is easily gained back,” Israelsen said.

    In addition to regaining the weight once lost, Rich warns that many fad dieters end up heavier than they were before the diet.

    “Their metabolism slows down after the diet,” Rich said. “And once they start eating normally, they gain weight again — a lot of times more than they lost in the first place.”

    For those seeking effective weight loss results, Rich suggests the avoidance of fad-diet trends and the adherence of old-fashioned methods.

    “Anything you can’t do lifelong is not going to work,” she said. “Eating healthy, balanced meals, watching your portion sizes and exercising is how people maintain their health and keep the weight off.”

    Rich said she also does not view cleanse dieting as an effective way to rid the body of toxins.

    “The liver detoxifies our body,” Rich said. “Studies have shown that when people go on these cleanses, their bodies do not rid any more toxins than if they were not on the diet.”



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