The only diet that works

Last updated 05:00 22/06/2014

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The other day we were having a discussion in the office, when I mentioned something I'd read about sugar in drinks. "If you drink a 350ml bottle of energy drink every day, it's the same as eating an extra 45 slices of white bread every month."

To me that's quite a shocking number. Who would want to eat that much refined, starchy food? But one of my colleagues had a different take. "So that means I can have a V instead of a piece of toast for breakfast!" he said.

He was joking. But this does illustrate a wider point. People tend to take whatever message they want from things they read about nutrition and their conclusions don't always make logical sense.

Newspaper headlines are a minefield for this. In the past few weeks here's a few of the stories I've read: "Cure breast cancer by avoiding all milk products"; "Fasting can repair damage to your immune system caused by ageing"; "Healthy pizza enlisted in battle of bulge"; and "Gwyneth: Yelling at water hurts its feelings".

Then there were these two: "Skipping breakfast may not be so bad for the diet, study finds" and "Breakfast helps burn fat and control blood sugar - study".

If you were to change your eating habits based on these stories, you'd be cutting out all dairy and most meat; fasting for several days each week; eating a "high-protein, low-sugar" pizza topped with cashew "cheese" from a fast-food outlet and washing it down with water you'd talked to kindly. What you would be doing about breakfast, I'm not sure.

So perhaps it is no wonder we are confused about what to eat. And it's no wonder we are vulnerable to self-proclaimed diet experts taking advantage of this. "Everything we've been told about healthy eating is wrong!" they often say. "The experts can't make up their minds! Here, I have the answer!"

This is usually followed by a "revolutionary" diet plan that includes some or all of the fad diet standards: a science-ish sounding theory; a restrictive first phase; a list of banned foods; a "magic" food that must be included. Oh, and a diet book, a website, and handy products you can buy to support your new "lifestyle".

I'm not sure why we fall for this again and again. Is it easier to commit to the rules of a restrictive short-term diet - even when it means denying ourselves foods we enjoy because they're not "allowed" - than it is to commit to eating a bit less and moving a bit more every day forever? Or perhaps it is the thrill of the new.

A message of "everything in moderation" seems so old-fashioned and uncool when everyone around you is going paleo or becoming a raw foodie.

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And yet these fads will come and go. The only sensible approach remains (and we all know this in our hearts) to eat moderate amounts of real food and lots of veges. But that's far too simple to make headlines.

What do you do to maintain a healthy weight? Do you have banned foods, or follow fads, or do you believe in 'everything in moderation'?

- Sunday Star Times


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