To lose weight seek balance, not extremes (or, death to the cabbage soup diet)

The other morning, I was listening to the Dr. Joy Brown interview Dr. Pam Popper on (a naturopathic doctor who consulted on the film Forks over Knives). I didn’t know who she was, and I hadn’t seen the movie. She started out talking about how most chronic conditions and obesity can be healed with food. “Great!” I thought at first. As the interview went on, I agreed with many of her statements: food has the power to heal; processed foods are damaging to the body; plants provide excellent nutrition. All good messages.

Then it came to the inevitable question, “Well, what should we be eating?” Dr. Popper proceeded to recommend a diet extremely low in fat, no animal protein, high in whole grains, with lots of vegetables. “Ugh,” I thought. I had followed many diets that had these low fat and no protein recommendations. These extreme diets were a big part of the reason that I felt starved for much of my life, and they contributed to my 100-pound weight gain.

I know better now. I know that I must eat protein, carbs and healthy fats IN BALANCE to lose weight and feel good. When listening to this extreme diet advice, my mind immediately went to all of the obese and overweight people listening who, in the absence of really good nutritional advice, would think this ultra-low fat, high carb path is the way to weight loss and health. I thought of the months they will waste trying this approach before their cravings get so out of control that they can’t take it anymore, go back to their old eating habits, and feel terrible about themselves yet again for their lack of willpower. This self-shaming place is where these extreme diets lead overweight people to.

Everyone remembers the “cabbage soup diet.” When I mention it while speaking to overweight people, I always get knowing laughter and usually a story or two about the perils of following this diet. But these kinds of extreme diets have not gone away; they are just hiding behind other names and concepts: all plant-based diet, raw vegan diets, intermittent fasting diets, extremely low-carb diets, etc.

Whenever you hear people talking about extremes in anything, especially diet, run. Seek a more balanced approach that will address not just your weight problem, but also your other health concerns (sleep, skin, etc.). Set out to lose weight in a quiet, gentle way without a lot of bombast or extremes. You will be happier while you lose the weight, and you have a better chance of succeeding over the long term.

Tell me about extreme diets you have been on. Leave a comment!

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4 Comments on “To lose weight seek balance, not extremes (or, death to the cabbage soup diet)”

  1. Kate says:

    Ugh! The cabbage soup diet and so many others. I think the worst was “predigested liquid protein.” Yes, predigested. Basically, I was fasting and was allowed to only drink this awful concoction. Shudder. I may have lasted a month on that one. Another time, I actually paid money to follow an 800-calorie-per-day diet and was required to go to the center daily for weigh ins. I started making up dead relatives to excuse my absences and then stopped going altogether. If I initially had any success it was quickly replaced with even more lbs. than when I started. And I do mean quickly.

  2. Jessica says:

    Food elimination diets. I created the Popcorn/Tomato diet.

    I prepared for a Daytona Beach Spring Break trip (college sophomore year, the one and only vacation that I sported a bikini) with 4 weeks of a metabolic disruption. Each day, I did my campus walks to and from class, and supplemented the walking with Joannie Gregan’s 10 minute Abs routine (1-3 times a day), and I reduced calories.

    Specifically, I ate one “regular” meal each day and then subsisted solely on tomatoes (healthy) and microwave popcorn (thought to be healthy at the time and satisfied my salty/crunchy habit).

    I wasn’t tracking weight loss (I didn’t have a scale in the dorm room), but I was going for looser clothes and ripped abs…wanting to feel more secure in my chosen swimsuit, a very modest lots-of-coverage 2-piece.

    Whatever. My abs weren’t ripped, though I was better toned with a bit of definition. After 4 weeks of deprivation, EVERYTHING tasted good. Ridiculous.


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