The new diet fad – and why you must approach with caution!

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By Ayesha Babar

I met up with my former flatmate two weeks ago. She had just come back from a holiday a week before and as soon as we met, she asked me if there was anything different that I noticed about her. I looked her up and down, and sheepishly confessed that I couldn’t really figure out what she was referring to.

‘Doesn’t my skin glow?,’ she asked. Before I could say anything, she continued,’I have been trying this new diet, called ‘Banting’. I had gained a couple of pounds during my holiday, so no carbs for a couple of months and I will have my dream body by the summer.

I think it is important here to mention that the said person is pretty much already there – she might not have an active lifestyle (with a desk job working long hours) but she does make it a point to exercise regularly. And at first glance, she would appear almost skinny!

‘Why do you need to be on any diet plan at all?,’ I almost chided.

‘Well, a friend told me about this one and it apparently gets rid of any fat pockets in the body – and everyone seems to be following it right now!’

I was not sure about the specifics of this particular diet, so I decided I would hold off arguing till I had done some more research.

Diet fads are nothing new. While last year everyone was fussing over gluten-free and switching to grains like quinoa, on further study, this year seems to be the year of no carbs and of course, the detox tea.

Diets such as 'banting' rely on cutting out carbs and consuming high amounts of fresh fruit and veg

Diets such as ‘banting’ rely on cutting out carbs and consuming high amounts of fresh fruit and veg

This is how the ‘no carbs’ diet works according to a popular website, dietdoctor.com: Humans evolved over millions of years as hunter-gatherers, and carbohydrates were never really a part of our diets – not until agriculture came into the picture. Advocates of this theory argue that our DNA is developed over millions of years and with the agricultural

age still quite recent (in terms of the evolution of the species, at least!), our DNA has not yet been able to adapt to accepting carbohydrates as a main source of nutrition. The fact that most of the carbs consumed in the world today are processed in some way or the other makes the problem of our bodies accepting them even worse.

 

If you follow this path of going back to basics, or the ‘paleo’ way of living, the hope is that over time, your body will enter into the ‘ketosis’ stage. This essentially means that instead of burning carbs for energy, your body will default to burning fat instead, leading eventually to weight-loss (if you are overweight) and a healthy body.

So far so good. The problem starts when instead of propagating a well-rounded lifestyle shift, these diets urge followers to eliminate sugar and starch from diets immediately, without letting our bodies get used to such major changes over the course of weeks if not months.

It is important to remember that what we eat growing up, even in infancy, before we gain consciousness, makes our bodies what they are over time. We are all predisposed to eating certain kinds of foods that have become our staples over years of consumption. This is why if you have had a Bangladeshi diet at home, focussing on fish and rice, neither of the food groups would make you unhealthy as long as you eat moderate portions. Similarly, North Indians and Pakistanis grow up on wheat amongst other items and cutting out all wheat overnight might result in sometimes severe side effects.

It is imperative to remember that there are two kinds of carbs – complex and simple, or in plain English – ‘good’ or bad’. We must try to reduce the processed simple carbs from our diet, including items like white bread and white-flour based foods. Instead, opt for unprocessed, complex carbs such as whole grains, most green vegetables and lentils.

Remember, wish as we might, there really are no short cuts to fitness and good health. If you want to resort to any such ‘fad’ diets for quick weight loss, remember that your weight gain didn’t happen overnight – so allow your body time to fix itself by making smarter food choices and incorporating exercise into your lives. Trust me, you will eventually get there and the fruits will be so much sweeter!

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