Anatomy of a fad diet -

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I've seen several breathless features in women's magazines on the Dukan diet. This is apparently a favourite of the Duchess of Cambridge and accounts for the figures of Jennifer Aniston and J-Lo. The diet seems to be a variation on the low-carb theme; dieters eat nothing but protein - meat, fish, chicken, etc - for the first five days.

This got me thinking about fad diets. For a few years now, Healthy Food Guide senior nutritionist Rose Carr and I have joked that we ought to publish our own fad diet book (anonymously of course). We reckon we could make a mint. We plan to call it the South Pole Diet. We'll base it on the elements almost every popular fad diet book has in common. Try checking for these, next time you're tempted to try the latest craze.

A scientific-sounding theory.

The fad diet often sounds as if it could be based on science. The Blood Type diet, for example, theorises that certain foods are incompatible with certain blood types, and therefore should be avoided by people of that type. Often the theory comes from some sort of doctor. In the South Pole Diet, we will propose that the body needs more energy to digest chilled foods, therefore kick- starting weight loss.

A drastic first phase.

Almost all fad diets have a very restrictive start. This is designed so dieters lose an encouraging amount of weight and feel like they're getting some payoff for the pain of the diet. There is some sense to this - people are more likely to continue with a weight- loss plan when they initially lose a noticeable amount of weight. Most of the weight lost is likely to be water, however.

Banned foods.

Fad diets always have foods that are strictly banned. On the South Pole Diet, we would ban any food over a certain temperature.

Magic foods.

Cabbage soup is popular; so is coconut oil. The Dukan Diet has oat bran, of which one and a half to three tablespoons is recommended every day. I suspect this is there to keep things moving, as it were. In the South Pole Diet, our magic food would be cold potatoes, which contain resistant starch, which increases satiety and may help the body burn fat (there's that scientific theory again).

There's no doubt people lose weight on faddish diets. Not for any magical reason, but simply because they're restricting their kilojoule intake. However it's rare for the weight to stay off. In our hearts, most of us know that to do that takes small but permanent, sustainable changes to what and how we eat.

- Niki Bezzant is a healthy cooking expert and the editor of Healthy Food Guide magazine.

- Sunday Star Times

26 Sep, 2011

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