Beware of fad diets!

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Beware of fad diets!

In a society beset by fast food chains and candy stores of epic proportions, childhood obesity may seem to be more of a concern in the UAE than eating disorders that usually plague the under-25 demographic around the world.

By Praseeda Nair

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Published: Sun 20 Nov 2011, 9:23 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:40 AM

Many teenagers admit that it’s easier being plus-sized here than in other parts of the world, yet most of them confess to having tried bizarre and often dangerous fad diets in order to achieve the internationally recognised holy grail of dress sizes — the perfect zero.

Hailing from what is arguably the fad diet capital of the world, Taipei native, Denise Chung, is still on the road to recovery after a fad diet turned sour.

“I used to be so fat that I had to have my uniform tailor-made. During the summer break, I went to Taiwan and my cousins and aunts let me in on a new fad that was the secret behind their skinniness. I lost more than 15 kg in two weeks and when I got back to Dubai, everyone was dying to know my secret,” the 16-year-old high school student said. Now barely weighing in at 40 kg, Denise’s 24-inch waist jeans need a belt to stay up, a fact that she advertises with pride despite having been hospitalised following what doctors call “intestinal complications”.

Denise’s big secret isn’t anything new. Like a considerable number of teens in the UAE, she relies on what is known as “The Tapeworm Diet” to shed extra pounds. It’s an age-old trick that has been popular for centuries in China and India before resurfacing in capsule form in the 21st century.

These dieters introduce tapeworm into the body in capsule form. The body plays host to this parasite, which after being ingested, travels through the digestive system, attaching itself and feeding as it goes. Basically, these dieters believe that they can eat as much as they want, without it showing on the body as the tapeworm will conveniently eat the calories.

Dietician Dr Oksana Jones sees this as both physically and psychologically damaging. “When I think of fad diets, I think of something tamer, like the popular baby food diet in the US (where people substitute meals for baby food as a way of cutting calories). The Tapeworm Diet is very irresponsible. These dieters are putting a living being into their system, not realising that the tapeworm doesn’t necessarily have to stay in the stomach to feed. It can travel through the blood stream, possibly even to the brain that could result in death,” she told Khaleej Times.

“Once I lost all the weight I wanted, I didn’t know how to get rid of the tapeworm in my system. Then I started getting fainting spells and stomach pain, which is why I went to the hospital,” Denise said. The tenth grade commerce student still has no regrets. “I’ve lost more weight than I ever could without the tapeworm. What’s there to regret?”

Denise isn’t alone in her obsession with instant weight-loss. There are other bizarre weight-loss secrets that have understandably backfired and the Chewing Diet is one of them. “Basically, I chew my food slowly and thoroughly, so that I enjoy it as much as I can, and instead of swallowing it, I spit it out. That way, I get the taste of my favourite food without any of the calories.” said Sara Jawahar, 17.

Reema Jaisurya follows the Cotton Ball Diet. “Before every meal, I soak about four or five cotton balls in water and swallow them. It makes me feel full and helps cut my meal size by half,” says Reema.

Maryam Abdiali sprays a little bit of perfume on her tongue before meals to numb her tastebuds. “It leaves such a disgusting aftertaste that I end up eating very little,” says Maryam.

According to Dr Jones, all of these slim-down-quick solutions, from pills and potions to avoiding food groups, are scams. “All diets work to some extent, since the principle behind weight loss is simple mathematics: less calories in, more calories out,” says Dr Jones.

“But with diet fads, the weight loss is usually short-term. The first thing you lose is water weight, followed by muscle mass. Fat is the last to go. The minute dieters return to eating proper meals (even healthy meals), they’ll start gaining the weight back.”

Dr Jones advises small, well-balanced meals throughout the day, of at least 1,200 calories. Any diet involving fewer calories than that would only backfire, preventing long-term weight-loss.

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