The skinny on fad diets

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The weather is quickly changing, and with the increasing temperature, people’s priorities have shifted from trying to stay warm to getting in shape for the summer.

There are so many approaches — from keeping a scale in front of the fridge to posting pictures of models in the freezer to only eating between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. And there are so many fad diets and eating trends in society today that it can be hard to distinguish which are actually effective and which are myths.

One myth about fad diets that has been up for debate is whether eating after 8 p.m. causes weight gain. While there are arguments for both perspectives, in general it is true. People eat to fuel the body to provide the needed energy during the day. When people consume large meals late at night, the body’s metabolism has already begun to slow down and does not require as much “fuel.” The excess calories are then stored in the body and converted to fat.

Linda Pria, a Herriman native, studied nutrition and athletic training at the University of Utah. Pria, a NCAA athlete, was required to follow strict eating habits when she was in training, not necessarily to lose weight, to maintain her body.

People use different forms motivation to try to get skinny for the summer. (Photo illustration by Brittany Carlile)
People use different forms motivation to try to get skinny for the summer. (Photo illustration by Brittany Carlile)

“Even athletes who exercise constantly and maintain a high metabolism can’t eat whatever they want whenever they want,” Pria said. “You need to consume the right kind of calories at the right time of day. Larger meals should be consumed earlier in the day when a body’s metabolism is at its peak. It is OK to eat something before bed if you are hungry, just make sure it’s on the lighter side like fruit instead of ice cream.”

Another myth that many dieters believe is that fat makes you fat. What many people don’t understand is that fat is not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, fat-laden foods contain more calories, but they are critical for the adsorption of specific vitamins and phytonutrients. There are good and bad fats; it’s all about knowing the difference between the two.

Tyler Johnson, a registered dietitian from Orem, helps plan meals to meet the dietary needs of patients. Understanding the difference between good and bad fats is critical for his patients.

“Obviously the fats in fast food are bad for you,” Johnson said. “But monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in foods like fish, olive oil and nuts are beneficial to the body. This may sound cliche, but it goes back to the Word of Wisdom — everything in moderation.”

Perhaps the biggest misconception is that cutting calories is the best approach to lose weight, which is completely false. Many fad diets focus on eliminating calories to provide a temporary fix when people are really searching for long-term results. Exercise is essential not only to lose weight but also to maintain the weight loss.

According to a study conducted by the National Weight Control Registry, successful weight losers (individuals who have lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for more than a year) were required to include at least an hour of moderate-intense physical activity each day to maintain their new weight.

Alexis Laws, a registered nutritionist, helps several clients each year find the perfect balance to achieve their weight goals through personalized plans that establish changes in lifestyle rather than solely diet.

“The first three letters of the word ‘diet’ are ‘die,'” Laws said. “That should be a red flag. Personally I think fad diets are among the top ten biggest scams in world history. Eliminating a food group to drop a few pounds doesn’t work in the long run. It has to be about a change in lifestyle.”

The best way to guarantee the desired physical results is to make a lifestyle change rather than a change in food consumption.  The body functions as a machine and, therefore, must be cared for as such.

“I always tell my clients to think of their body as a car,” Laws said. “You can’t deprive it of oil; it will shut down. If you don’t put gas in it, the car won’t go. The same goes for the body. You can’t entirely eliminate all of a specific food group like carbs or fats or the body won’t function properly.”

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