health

Friends. It's time for us to have a quiet word about your scientifically proven diet...

Time to rethink your diet?

BY AMY STOCKWELL

Over the past twelve months, Australians spent $827.1 million on low-calorie foods and shakes, diet cookbooks, weight loss guides, dietary supplements, food counselling services and surgery in an effort to slim down.

The weight loss industry is expected to blow out to more than $1 billion a year by 2015-16. Women over 30 are the biggest spenders, although men in the same age group are catching up.

With so much money at stake, it is unsurprising that diet companies will go to great lengths to get a slice of this consumer spending.

Just as an FYI, you should know that this post is brought to you by our partners at Fernwood Fitness. But all opinions expressed by the author are 100% authentic and written in their own words.

The challenge as health-conscious consumers is to know which eating plans, supplements and foods are the real deal and which are more likely to help you to lose your cash rather than weight.

The answer lies in paying close attention to the most up to date science – and giving a suspicious side-eye to the fads that make their way onto the market and into our magazines from time to time.

Many scientifically proven diets will tell you that they have ‘evidence’ to support them.

But be wary: one lab coat and a fat rat does not scientific evidence make.

So, before you do your dough, have a look at the claims and evidence behind your desired eating plan and make an informed call about whether it is likely to help you.

Firstly, a little something about science. Scientific evidence is a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. So, if you are looking to see whether something is supported by science, what you are looking for is evidence that has been tested in large-scale experiments in a number of different studies (this is to prove that the results can be repeated).

Human trials should be random, have a control group (people who aren’t taking whatever is being tested) and blind (the subjects of the trial should not know whether they are taking the tested ingredient or whether they are getting a placebo). The evidence should also be “peer reviewed” – which means that they should be checked by other scientists.

So, if you find yourself thinking about a eating plan that purports to be a “scientifically proven diet”, consider taking these steps:

1. Think about the source of the information. Universities, governments, scientific bodies and journals are generally reliable sources. Wikipedia is actually not too bad because it generally has a wide number of sources and requires references – at the very least, it highlights when references for particular statements are not available.

2. Look very closely at the evidence. If the results that are being relied on have only been tested on animals (and not people), then give it a miss. If there were only a few people in a trial and they all took the ingredient being tested, then be sceptical. If the evidence has not been reported in a peer reviewed journal, then there’s a good chance you’re looking at something that cannot be considered scientific fact.

3. Consider the expertise of the author of the reports that the sellers of the product rely on. Give them a quick Google. Especially consider whether they are speaking outside their areas of expertise.

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4. Testimonials: the last refuge of the scallywag/snake oil salesperson. If all there is to support claims is a testimonial, walk with determination and vigour in the opposite direction. If the supplement or “diet food” tells you that you also need to follow a low calorie eating plan and exercise, you might want be a bit wary of the actual impact of the supplement, compared to just the eating plan and exercise.

5. Read the criticisms. Yes, every plan will have a critic. But have a look and see whether there is something to those critiques.

6. Think about vested interests and bias. Given that there is a product or plan being sold, there are no surprises about this one. Perhaps the research has been motivated or focussed by the money that commissioned it. Follow the money, my friend.

A quick and high-profile example of how this all works: this year, researchers found that there was absolutely no scientific evidence to support ‘blood-type’ diets. These diets, which have been around for years, have been debunked. No reliable, peer-reviewed research has indicated that eating foods supposedly compatible with your blood type will improve your health or induce you to lose any more weight than a general healthy eating plan.

So what does this all mean about the science that supports diets, “diet food” and supplements?

Let’s start with this fact that will save you quite a bit of time: there are dozens of reliable, randomised, controlled trials that show that there isn’t a particular diet that is the magic solution for everyone.

And now for the ultimate spoiler: science has reliably and repeatedly confirmed that small and realistic lifestyle changes will always be the best recipe for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. The best and most effective plan is to make gradual changes to poor eating and exercise habits – and to make changes you can live with throughout your life.

And finally the bad news: this proven formula of moving more and making healthier food choices will take time and effort but the best science available will tell you that this is the plan that will work.

Ultimately, science will help you outsmart the companies that simply want to relieve you of your money. Taking a more scientific approach will make you feel smarter, healthier and richer – and who doesn’t want that?

For nearly 25 years Fernwood has been helping women feel fit and fabulous through pioneering health and fitness programs and expert advice.

With 70 clubs Australia-wide, Fernwood Fitness are modern full-service fitness clubs with a huge range of group exercise classes, top of the line equipment and cardio gear, passionate personal trainers and food coaches, and a friendly motivating environment.

All of our clubs offer FREE breakfast and toiletries which adds to the unique Fernwood exercise environment.

Contact us today to experience the Fernwood difference.

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Have you ever been swindled by a ‘scientifically proven diet’ or supplement?

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