I’ve always found it a little sad when perusing a menu alongside a dieter who is able to immediately identify how many calories there are in each individual item of food.
But health is a very real concern and this kind of dietary monitoring can seem necessary in a world full of high-calorie, high-sugar treats.
Perhaps it is the looming peril of unwittingly eating the wrong thing and putting health in danger, or the ambition to be thin and attractive, that has driven the popularity of the latest fashionable diets.
I had heard so much recently about diets, such as the 5:2 diet, the juicing craze, the 16:8 and the DODO, I decided to consult Northamptonshire nutritional experts, Sian Porter and Faye Baxter, on the pros and cons of some of 2014’s most popular paths to being slim.
Sian is a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association (BDA) and runs clinics at The Chris Moody Centre, Moulton College, and at Witty, Pask and Buckingham in Billing Road, Northampton. She can be seen taking part in ITV’s Tonight programme on January 30, which will focus on dieting.
Faye, from Earls Barton, is a cookery tutor and runs a nutrition consultancy called Ingredients4health.
So, are trendy diets the best way to lose the pounds?
Summary: Dieters following the 5:2 plan eat as normal for five days, but for two days each week, they restrict their calorie intake to 500 calories for women and 600 for men.
Faye said: “This diet has become well known since the BBC Horizon programme, Eat, Fast and Live Longer, was broadcast. The researcher successfully lost weight and his biological markers were also tested, which showed a reduction, thereby reducing his risk of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes type 2, heart disease and some forms of cancer.
“There is some recent research which confirms these findings. The theory is that the body’s systems and organs rest and recuperate during the two fasting days.
“A word of caution, however. When it says you can eat normally for the five non-fasting days, this does not mean eating high sugar, high fat foods; it means a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables, fish, chicken and complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, plenty of water and few caffeinated drinks or alcohol. The two days fasting mean you eat very little. Be careful on two-day fasts as you may initially feel tired, lack energy and have headaches. However, undertaken properly, you can lose weight and support good health.”
Sian said: “Sticking to a rigid regime for two days a week is more achievable than for seven days so you are more likely to stick with this way of eating and successfully lose weight.
“Two days per week of the restricted diets can lead to greater reductions in body fat, insulin resistance and other biomarkers than daily calorie restriction.
“But the non-restricted days do not mean unlimited feasting on treats.
“You will need to make healthy choices and be physically active.
“Skipping meals could make you feel dizzy, irritable, give you headaches and make it hard to concentrate. Other reported side effects are difficulties sleeping and daytime sleepiness, bad breath and dehydration.”
Summary: Restricts eating times to eight hours in a single block and non-eating times to 16 hours.
Faye said: “The theory is to increase your metabolism by introducing a longer fasting and fat-burning period.
There are no restrictions as to what you can eat, so there is no incentive to modify your diet or choose more healthy foods, so it is not helping to improve health in the long term.
Sian said: “In the same way as the 5:2, this would be hard to follow for many, fitting in with lifestyles and family life. It could be socially isolating.
DODO (Day On, Day Off)
Summary: Diet in which people can drink plenty of fluids and eat one light meal a day (about a quarter of normal calorie intake) during diet days, before having a ‘day off’ with a normal eating pattern.
Sian said: “For many people it would be hard to restrict to one eating occasion in a day. Side effects could affect work and concentration. There is a need to balance food intake to ensure it is nutritionally adequate. Again, it would be hard to follow for many.”
Faye said: “This diet needs to be considered much more carefully as it is likely that on the fasting days you may feel tired, lack energy and feel faint. If a person has health issues and if your lifestyle or job requires you to be energetic and ‘on the go’, this diet will not help.”
Summary: The principle involves drinking vegetable or fruit juices as a replacement for certain meals to help lose weight.
Faye said: “This diet is where you will drink vegetable/fruit juices for seven days to help lose weight. The juice diet may also include food products such as probiotics, wheatgrass and spirulina. A good quality juicer will also be required (which retains vegetable fibre). You will lose weight due to sharp reduction in intake, but after seven days, you can easily start to put the weight back on when you start to eat normally. You would need to take care with what you eat the following week. This does not teach you how to eat for a long-lasting, healthy way of life and personally I think it should not be used for more than two days.”
Sian said: “This diet works by cutting overall calories. I would recommend eating calories and not drinking them, and sticking to one 150ml glass of juice a day. Juicing removes pulp and skin so removes valuable nutrients and fibre. There could be dental health issues with juice. It is better to eat whole fruits and vegetables.”
Sian said: “Ask yourself: ‘Can I eat like this for the rest of my life?’ Make small changes that can be sustained in the long term, such as giving up biscuits with hot drinks, replacing puddings with fruits and replacing soft drinks with water.
“Be physically active in daily life as well as finding an activity you love and doing it regularly, like walking or dancing.
“Have healthy snacks in your bag or drawer so you are not ambushed by the vending machine.
“Stay away from diets that promote the avoidance or severe limitation of a whole food group such as dairy products and suggests substituting them for expensive doses of vitamin and mineral supplements.”