You’ve heard it hundreds of times before. Whether from a friend, a family member, or even yourself, “I’m going on a diet!” is a phrase often followed by skepticism, maybe a week’s worth of commitment, and a plate of Domino’s because it was at a club meeting and it was free and irresistible. No matter what the reasoning, opting for a healthier lifestyle can be tricky.
Beyond the challenges of sticking to the new routine, choosing a diet or cleanse that is actually good for you can be more misleading than it seems. And with celebrities bombarding social media with detox tea advertisements and swearing by foods that made them lose ten pounds in a week, it’s hard to differentiate between what actually works and what could actually be harming your body.
The object of the ketogenic diet is to force the body to enter and stay in a naturally–occurring metabolic state known as ketosis. Normally the body uses carbohydrates to burn for fuel, but in the "Keto" diet, intake of carbohydrate is drastically lowered, so instead the liver converts fatty acids into ketones to use as an energy source. The recommended nutrient intake to enter ketosis is around 70% fats, 25% protein, and 5% carbohydrates.
Lowering carb intake can help control blood sugar levels, therefore improve mental performance and clarity. Using body fat as an energy source rather than glucose is not only more reliable and leaves you more energized, but it also can help with weight loss.
Dani Gelb (E '19) never tried the ketogenic diet herself but looked into it after hearing about it from family members and friends. It caught her interest when she heard of its potential disease-preventing benefits, including the prevention of Alzheimer's and cancer.
"I definitely think it's really interesting and have used the information I've learned about the ketogenic diet to adopt or avoid certain food groups and just be a little more aware about what I'm eating and how it affects my body," said Gelb.
"[The diet] has definitely made me avoid processed foods and since the ketogenic diet emphasizes healthy fats, I've tried to incorporate more of those, like avocados and nuts, into my diet," she added.
More fat and less carbs has successfully made her feel fuller for longer, but she confirmed that she has never fully tried to follow the rigid guidelines to enter ketosis.
Long–term research on the potential health concerns associated with ketosis is limited, and critics contest the benefits of cutting carbs. So, there's no absolute conclusion on the true effectiveness of the ketogenic diet. Depending on who you are and your specific health or medical background, you might love it or hate it.
Based on the idea that you can do anything for just 30 days, the Whole30 diet immediately and completely eliminates sugar, grains, dairy, processed foods, and other food items that are considered to be inflammatory from your plate. On the plus side, the program emphasizes eating moderate portions of healthy food instead of counting calories or tracking macros. The program also discourages weighing yourself on a scale to let the focus of the diet be solely on the food you eat rather than its effects on your weight.
But it requires intense discipline: even a shot of vodka or a bite of your friend’s Insomnia cookie will mean you need to start the program all over again. Therein lies the main problem with the Whole30 diet, as the lack of room for error is unrealistic for most people. However, Caroline Duckworth (E '18), who has already done Whole30 once and is doing it again, is not like most people.
She notes, "I'm a very extreme person, like I decided one morning to run a marathon, so that's the same kind of attitude I took to [this diet]. If I'm gonna do it, I'm gonna do it."
Duckworth admitted she struggled in the first ten days of the program, which she completed in its entirety last January.
"When I first heard about it, I thought it was insane and that I could never do it because I like to eat pancakes for breakfast and eat dessert," she said.
But after completing Whole30, she realized "how good your body can feel without all of those preservatives."
"Learning about what I'm actually putting into my body, which previously I never considered, was definitely the biggest takeaway for me. I also learned how to cook!" she said.
Duckworth is currently doing Whole30 again, having decided that she would make it an annual occurrence, every January after the indulgent holiday season.
"It hasn't changed my general eating habits," she said of the rest of the year—she still treats herself to pancakes for breakfast—but it's "definitely changed" how she looks at her eating choices.
There are cleanses, and then there’s the Master Cleanse. For ten days, your only sustenance is 6–12 glasses of a liquid concoction consisting of lemon juice, water, maple syrup, and as much cayenne pepper as you can stand. At night, you’re supposed to take a laxative to supposedly eliminate toxins from your system. There are a few variations of the diet, including the option of drinking four cups of salt water each morning. It’s as appealing as it sounds. Rishika Sharma (E ’20) lasted about a day on the detox diet.
“Theoretically it keeps you full, but from my experience it doesn’t,” says Sharma. “They claim it’s healthy, though it’s not actually healthy to do it for more than a month, and that technically you can live off [the cleanse] for a very long time. I have a friend who did it for three weeks.”
But does the Master Cleanse actually contain detoxifying properties? There’s little evidence showing it does, as your liver and kidneys efficiently remove toxins from your systems on their own. Also, the possible side–effects that can occur while cleansing include dizziness, fatigue, and constipation, which are more likely to be caused by the fact you are starving yourself of necessary nutrients.
Sharma was motivated to do the Master Cleanse, expecting at the very least that it would shrink her appetite, but admitted she wasn’t very passionate about it’s health effects. “I thought it’d be fun to try,” she said.
Many fad diets these days are not meant to be sustainable and are advertised as ways of "resetting" your metabolism, when in truth, constantly dieting (known as yo–yo dieting) can actually slow your metabolism over time. And clearly, parting ways with carbohydrates, giving up processed foods for a full month, or sacrificing solid foods isn’t for most. Just because one of your friends swears by a certain diet doesn't mean it's the one for you or one that is even healthy. In our culture today, what's advertised as healthy can often be extreme and do more harm than good. It all depends on your body and your preferences.
If you want to embark on a new diet, always do your research to check for side effects. Talk to a nutritionist before trusting WebMD or doing serious harm to yourself. And remember: being healthy isn’t a sprint to the finish. It's cliché, but it’s a lifestyle.