Thursday, May 3, 2007

Are You In The Zone?

Our love/hate relationship with food has spawned a billion-dollar industry with diet plans being invented faster than you can shed the kilos! The good news is with so many options now available, you are bound to find something that suits your physiology or lifestyle needs. The flip side though is some of these diets can cause serious, long-term health problems. By Elaine Tan

Designed by Dr. Robert C. Atkins in the 1970s, the Atkins Diet is a type of low - carbohydrate, high-protein diet that allows the consumption of proteins and fats but restricts the intake of carbohydrates. The diet is supposed to result in quick, massive and sustained weight loss, increased energy levels and good health.

But medical professionals and nutritionists have expressed concerns that it is lacking in essential nutrients and contains too much animal products and saturated fats, which could lead to health problems such as heart disease, stroke, certain cancers and osteoporosis. The diet also strains the kidneys because it causes ketosis, a situation where the body burns protein (muscles) and fats in the absence of glucose, producing excess toxic ketones (chemicals that the body makes when there is not enough insulin in the blood and it must break down fat for its energy).

Supporters, on the other hand, say the diet merely excludes foods that induce overproduction of insulin, the main cause of weight gain, but allows most nutrient-rich food. They also argue ketosis is not dangerous because the body regulates ketone production.

Will you lose weight? Yes. Is it healthy and viable in the long-term? Well, the jury is still at odds about this. While lots of people have lost weight on this diet, there is a lack of widely accepted research reports to sanction the diet plan, plus many health bodies, including the American Heart Association, do not recommend it.

WHAT IT IS Get in 'The Zone' with the Hollywood 'it Diet'. According to Dr. Barry Sears, PhD., food is like a drug that affects the production of insulin, and insulin in turn affects weight, moods and mental alertness. The Zone Diet is supposed to harness this drug-like effect through an eating plan comprising 40% carbohydrates, 30% fat and 30% protein.

Essentially it is a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet, but, unlike the Atkins plan, it allows the dieter to eat all types of carbohydrates provided it is in the right amount and balanced with lean protein and fats. So, for example, if you have refined carbohydrates (classified as unfavourable) like pasta, you eat less of it compared with if you chose a favourable carbohydrate, like broccoli. The plan has a scientific calculation method using blocks to determine how much you eat; there is also a simplified version using your palm and fist.

There are no major arguments against this one except that it is too complicated to follow. Who counts blocks, weight or size of their food portions before eating, unless you're a Hollywood superstar and your career depends on it? Attempt only if you are truly committed and detail-oriented or if you can afford to have expensive special bars, shakes and meals that keep you in 'The Zone' at all times.


Macrobiotics is actually not a diet plan but a way of life based on an understanding of the rhythm, ebb and flow of nature. It is founded on ancient Far Eastern philosophy and attempts to balance the Yin and Yang forces of life and food. Very Zen.

The Macrobiotic Diet is low in fat, high in complex carbohydrates and fiber, and is nearly cholesterol-free. A standard diet consists of whole grains, seasonal vegetables (cooked or raw), protein foods, sea vegetables, soups, fruits, seeds, nuts and drinks. Foods are either Yin (cool) or Yang (hot) and must be balanced; certain foods like meat, cheese and eggs are banned because they are considered too Yang. Foods should also be locally grown instead of imported (to improve a person's adaptability to his/her immediate surroundings) and reflect seasonal changes, one's local
environment as well as individual needs.

Skeptics say the diet may cause vitamin and mineral deficiency, particularly that of calcium, vitamin B12 and protein, but practitioners argue that it has alternative sources of nutrients that are as effective, if not richer than, animal products. For example, in place of chicken, the Macrobiotic
diet has beans, tofu, tempeh (a type of cultured soybean cake) and miso (a nutritious rich, salty broth and staple food in Japan) - all rich sources of protein.

In terms of weight loss and control, the Macrobiotics diet is highly effective. It promotes overall health and may play a role in inhibiting certain cancers and diseases thanks to its rich soy content. However, anyone contemplating the diet should first understand that it means a complete change
in lifestyle, not just dietary habits – your outlook on life, the way you prepare food, even the way you chew has to change!

It's amazing what 'inspired' minds come up with in the quest for slimmer silhouettes! Here are some truly strange diets that apparently work:

~ The Cabbage Diet is a seven-day do-it-yourself plan that lets you eat as much cabbage soup as you want plus certain combinations of fruits, vegetables and meat (in limited quantities). It works in the short term but not because cabbage has fat burning properties as claimed. Instead, any weight loss is the natural result of denying the body of most solids and junk foods. Viable as a short-term break from junk foods, impractical in the long-term because it is lacking in essential vitamins and minerals.

~ The Grapefruit Diet is even more nutritionally deficient. Basically all you eat for 21 days are grapefruits, eggs, some vegetables, toast and tea or coffee without milk. While grapefruit is fat-free, low in calories and rich in vitamin C, it does not in itself make a complete diet. A definite no-no; the diet does not have sufficient iron, calcium and vitamins.

~ Then there is the Caveman Paleolithic Diet that recommends we eat like our caveman ancestors! It suggests since there were no overweight cavemen we should emulate their diet of fruits, vegetable and lots of animal protein to live longer, lose weight and be healthy. The diet recommends way too much meat consumption and has no scientific support. Besides, cavemen usually died young so who knows what diseases caused by dietary problems they might have suffered?

There are no quick fixes in spite of what most diet fads will have you believe. Healthy, sustained weight loss comes via a combination of healthy eating and living, as well as exercise coupled with discipline and control.

The best diet is balanced, low in saturated fats and refined sugars, and moderate in protein. Contrary to popular perception perpetuated by diet trends, carbohydrates are not the enemy - refined, processed carbohydrates such as white bread and white rice are. Fats, another taboo food group, are also not all bad; unsaturated fats from vegetables, nuts and fish are good diet nutrients. Add to this good eating habits like eating regular meals in moderate amounts and counting the calories (i.e. limiting your intake of junk food), and you're on your way to relatively painless weight loss.

Exercise is something you simply can't avoid. Studies consistently identify a connection between exercise and weight loss maintenance. Regular exercise builds up the metabolism so more calories are burned. It increases fat oxidation and dramatically improves health. There are no particular activities that one must perform, but the best regimen for weight loss would be a combination of cardiovascular exercise and resistance training.

Most diet plans, including fads, work because they are designed to manipulate the body into perceived or actual weight loss, but the best plans are the ones that also add to health and vitality, and viably maintain weight loss. Any attempt to adopt a diet plan should always be discussed with a dietician/nutritionist; as for that two to three pounds you're trying to shed, nothing works better than a balanced diet and exercise.

"Get a plan prescribed by a trained professional and which is suited to your unique medical history, condition, metabolic rate and other factors. Otherwise, follow a balanced diet that includes a variety of food from all major food groups. People who consistently follow such a diet will almost always lose weight and keep it off," says Peggy Tang, a dietician at a private hospital.

"Each person is different so it is not possible to say that one diet works for all, which is the assumption of diet fads. I do not recommend following a particular diet just because it has worked for someone you know. Something that works for one person could have adverse effects on another."

"Dieting is a long-term practice for health so it should not cramp your lifestyle or cause you to feel deprived, which is what happens with yo-yo short-term diet plans," she continues. According to Peggy, the key is balance, "Have your nasi lemak if you want to as long as you also eat your daily portions of fruits and greens. Balance your food groups, cooking methods, portions.., it is these daily choices that will help maintain your health and manage your weight."

~ A self-professed 'perpetual dieter', 26-year-old Wai Een* has tried almost every diet plan, among them a variation of Atkins and The Zone, low-calorie, low-fat and vegetarian diets, and a strange fruit and soft drink combination. She lost a shocking 15kg on the low-calorie diet as a result of taking things to extremes by consuming only 550 calories a day. During that period, her hair became brittle, she looked haggard and tired, and felt cold all the time. These days she maintains a
healthier weight with a relaxed low carbohydrate diet combined with exercise.

~ Barbara, a mother of two in her 30s, went on a prescribed low-carbohydrate, moderate-meat and high-vegetable content diet. Coupled with slimming treatments she was able to lose about seven kilograms in just two months; her weight has hardly fluctuated since. Now she uses the diet as a short-term plan to control her weight particularly after festive periods. She says the diet does not cause any side effects but she did crave other foods at times.

~ In the interest of privacy, names have been changed.

~ Supporters of The Zone Diet read like a list of America's Who's Who- Demi Moore, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rene Zellwegger, Cindy Crawford, even former president Bill Clinton and 'The Zone' poster girl, Jennifer Aniston. Aniston purportedly lost 30 pounds on The Zone Diet (combined with running) and has recommended it to hubby Brad Pitt and Friends co-stars Matt Le Blanc and Matthew Perry.

~ Macrobiotics is also not lacking in the Celeb department, the most famous practitioners being Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna. Other devotees, include Barbra Streisand, John Travolta, Nicole Kidman and Yoko Ono.

~ What are the secrets of Halle Berry, Angelina Jolie, Drew Barrymore and Beyonce Knowles... full-figured women who are proud of their curves? Berry, a diabetic, sticks to a strict diet of chicken, fish, vegetables and brown rice, which she combines with cardio and weight training to tone her body. Angelina Jolie reportedly chose real food like eggs and bacon, and fitness training, over diet plans to get in shape for the filming of Tomb Raider 2. Drew Barrymore is a committed vegetarian while Beyonce hits the gym with girlfriends and consults a nutritionist.