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The do’s and don’ts of dieting

by Archives January 20, 2009

OTTAWA (CUP) – After taking advantage of their parents’ fridges over the holidays, many students come back to university looking to lose some weight. While for some this may mean visiting a health food store or hitting the gym, for others it means going on a diet.
Dieting is seen as a quick and convenient way to lose weight, but does it actually work?
Diets can include drastic changes in food intake, or the ingestion of special dietary supplements. Diets often lead to large, sudden changes in weight.
What many people don’t know is that dieting can sometimes be dangerous.
An April 2007 CBC article investigating dieting, notably citing a study by University of California social psychology professor Traci Mann, shows dieting can actually lead to a weight-loss and weight-gain cycle that can be harmful to the body. Mann led a team of researchers who looked at about 30 long-term studies of diets.
“We concluded most of them would have been better off not going on the diet at all,” Mann said in the article. “Their weight would be pretty much the same, and their bodies would not suffer the wear and tear from losing weight and gaining it all back.”
A few well-known diets such as the Atkins diet can lead to this weight-loss and weight-gain cycle. These diets all encourage high intakes of protein (meat products, nuts, dairy products, etc.) and low intakes of carbohydrates (bread, fruit, cereal, etc.). The American Heart Association does not recommend low-carb diets as they can restrict foods needed for a healthy diet.
To speed the dieting process, many people turn to weight-loss supplements. The number of supplements available at health-food stores is seemingly endless and includes appetite suppressants and cleansers, all in the form of pills, powders, and teas, among other things.
Appetite suppressants work to restrain the urge to overeat, or in extreme cases, eat at all, while a cleanser is a form of detox that – according to their manufacturers – works to flush harmful toxins from the body. Unfortunately, the effects of many of these supplements are unknown due to a lack of long-term studies.
It is always important to research health products carefully before consuming them, as they can often have these unknown side-effects.
A drug called ephedrine has been linked to serious health problems and death when used as a weight-loss aid, and can only legally be sold in Canada for use as a nasal decongestant. However, a recent study published in the University of Western Ontario Medical Journal found that while the partial ban has reduced ephedrine’s usage, it is still easily obtainable in many products.
The trouble with many diets is that there is a lot of conflicting information available. In a 2004 interview with Walter Willett, a Harvard Medical School epidemiology and nutrition professor, conducted by PBS’s Frontline, Willett comments on the confusion that circulates around nutrition and dieting.
“The academic community has told people that they should do one thing – say, avoid eggs or eat lots of margarine – when the evidence was really very minimal, in fact, almost non-existent in some situations,” Willett said in the interview.
“But, yet it was presented as though this was the absolute truth. Then when science does move forward [and] gets some concrete evidence, sometimes it doesn’t confirm what people are told, and there’s obviously going to be some confusion generating out of that.”
To avoid confusion, it’s a good idea to research nutritional information using reputable sources. The Canada Food Guide, available on Health Canada’s website, is an excellent source of information on health and nutrition. As well, Medicine Net, an online health portal run by American physicians, has a comparison of numerous popular diet programs available.
The best thing you can do is visit a doctor or nutritionist, and ask them to help you discover what nutritional plan is best for you.
Generally, following the Canada Food Guide and exercising regularly is the best way to maintain a healthy body weight, and visiting a professional can help you refine this approach to make it even more effective.

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