If the hot weather and the annual baring of flesh has made you think about losing some weight, you may be seduced by one of the countless diet books on offer that promise to transform your body and change your life in a few weeks.
The latest offering is Six Weeks to OMG by Venice A Fulton – the pen name (did you guess it wasn’t real?) of a 39 year old North London gym instructor with a degree in sports science – whos already made a fortune out of it.
Low-carb and similar ‘revolutionary’ diets (e.g. Atkins, Dukan) have become more and more popular. At the same time, they have been more closely scrutinised for their scientific basis, their effectiveness and their implications for health. For example, here is a balanced evaluation of the Top 10 Popular Diets including Slimming World and Lighter Life.
The unique angle in 6 Weeks to OMG is that it advises, among other things, cold baths (to get the metabolism going), black coffee, skipping breakfast and cutting back on carbohydrates. I recommend Dr Christian Jessens critique of 6 Weeks to OMG from a medical perspective as an example of why this is questionable advice on a number of levels.
Not that any of this will dent the book’s success, I’m sure. Unfortunately, steady weight loss by exercise and a balanced diet is just not as ‘sexy’ a proposition as these gimmicky diets. In fact, most of these diets claim to being controversial by going against the knowledge already set out through research studies and informed opinion. They offer hopes of quick and easy results. And if they dont work – or you feel worse rather than better after doing them – well hey, youve already shelled out for the book. Kerching!
But before you part with your hard earned cash, here are some other thoughts to take with you:
A Woman Is Different From A Man
I notice that these books are often written by men (like Futon, Atkins, Dukan and Tim Ferris, author of The Four Hour body) who do not consider the specific nutritional needs of women. Women are the overwhelming market for diet books part of a billion-pound industry – yet these books seldom consider the delicate hormonal balance of womens bodies and the effect that food plays on the hormones and neurotransmitters affecting our menstrual cycle, fertility and mood.
Just look at a few examples from 6 Weeks to OMG to see how they impact on women:
- Recommending coffee which wreaks all sorts of damage is really counterproductive.
- Skipping breakfast is a huge No No for the vast majority of doctors and nutritionists and not at all helpful if you are trying to control PMS
- Women with PMS need to be very careful with any advice to avoid carbs as complex carbohydrates provide energy, mood and stamina
- The book apparently advocates avoiding even broccoli. What about womens need for magnesium? And vitamins B1 and B2? Those are the nutrients which science tells us we need to combat PMS.
There are many reputable authors who understand women’s physiology and nutrition and have worked in the field for many years, including Dr Marilyn Glenville, Maryon Stewart (in the UK) and the womentowomen team (in the US).
If you suffer from PMS, PCOS or perimenopause, this year’s next big thing in the diet world, should be approached with extreme caution as it could leave you feeling worse.
Its Not Just About Calories
Quality is as important as quantity. If youre a woman, you need to eat enough essential fatty acids like flaxseeds or borage / starflower or evening primrose oil and other vitamins and minerals to maintain, mood, energy and health. Modern diets are generally counterproductive to optimal health but eating a lot of fibre-rich plant-based whole foods, like nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, grains and beans and including some raw foods in your diet, goes a long way to hormone balance and long term health.
Protein Is Not Always The Answer
Protein has become a revered nutrient in recent years, when the reality is that we have more access to protein-rich foods that at any time in human history. Carbohydrates provide energy and have been vilified because of the damage done by refined and over-processed simple carbohydrates like sugar and white flour. The right carbohydrates – complex carbohydrates are still vital for energy, blood sugar balance and hormone balance, particularly true for women who suffer from PMS.
Short Term vs. Long Term Goals
Do you want to be thin or be healthy? This is perhaps something where your perspective shifts as you get older and health becomes more of a consideration, but seriously, thin does not equal healthy and eating a poor diet to get you thin wont do you any favours in the long run. A whole foods diet which includes a lot of plant foods is proven by science to be effective in reducing the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and coronary heart disease and of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Diets dont work in the long term – that has been proved time and time again. And anyway, isnt it how you feel, what you can do, and how long youre alive for, that matters as much as how you look? Let’s get our priorities straight here.
Exploiting Womens Insecurities
Women in all walks of life, at all ages, and all around the world are first and foremost judged on their looks so its not surprising that dieting and weight gain has become an increasing preoccupation (and one which infects every young girls and young women).
In a celebrity-obsessed and youth-obsessed, older women have to battle with the double whammy of getting older as well as often gaining weight because of slower metabolism, lower activity levels and hormonal changes – making them a particular target audience for quick-fix diets.
Being thin is not the purpose of life, though youd be forgiven for thinking it was by the avalanche of magazine articles, TV programmes and books like 6 Weeks to OMG.
Even worse is the female competitiveness that the marketing of these sorts of radical diets encourages. 6 Weeks to OMG is sub-titled Get Skinnier Than All Your Friends. This tells you all you need to know about how much this author really cares about your health, dignity and self-esteem.
We can’t really want to teach our daughters that competing with their ‘friends’ to be ‘skinny’ is OK. Surely.
Dont Change Your Life, Just Get Better Habits
On the one hand, the diet books that create a buzz promising an instant and dramatic makeover. On the other hand, the regimes are very prescriptive and often require huge amounts of discipline, organisation and time, as well as money in some cases (e.g. Lighter Life) for the various products / meal replacements / subscriptions needed. Good luck to anyone who plans to take a cold bath / shower and then skip breakfast as advocated by 6 Weeks to OMG, for example.
Unsurprisingly, many people dont stay the course. Real life isnt as regimented as most diets require it to be. And diets are by their very nature short term efforts. What happens after the six weeks? Life is a marathon, not a sprint. And who wants to be obsessed with following a diet anyway?
The best – and only – lasting way to health, happy weight loss and a carefree attitude is getting informed about the best foods to eat and cook for your gender, age, activity levels and lifestyle, eating sensibly most of the time, and doing what our bodies were designed for moving.
Success is more likely if you dont try to change everything all at once, but establish some key cornerstone habits such as giving up smoking, exercising more or incorporating more fresh, seasonal, unprocessed foods in your diet. Introduce one habit at a time, give it all you’ve got, and once it’s become automatic, move on to change something else.
To be honest, if you work on any one habit or lifestyle change for a solid six weeks, youll get to your own version of OMG and feel a whole lot better for having done it.
Finally, A Word About Detox Diets
Many of the reasons why its important to be careful going on any sort of restrictive if you suffer from PMS (and how to do them safely) are included in my earlier posts about detox diets:
It’s important to take responsibility for your own health and to balance out all the evidence when there are so many diets out there promising a new and revolutionary solution. I know it can be confusing. I hope I help women to make sense of it all and not get bamboozled.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing your experiences in the Comments section.