Why we will eat anything to lose weight - (10/5/2021)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

SueEllen is one of the pharmacist’s patients. For years, she has been trying to lose weight. She never really succeeds. She falls into the category of those who want to lose a lot of weight very quickly. It’s a plan that sabotages one’s efforts and usually results in unwanted weight gain. But – God love her – she does try. And sometimes, in so doing, she endangers her own health. 

“Where can I find the cotton balls?” SueEllen asked the pharmacist. After he told her where they were, she asked, “Ever hear of the cotton ball diet?” She explained to the pharmacist that in this diet, one dips up to five cotton balls into a smoothie, fruit juice, or liquid gelatin. Then, one swallows the cotton balls. “It gets rid of those hunger pangs, and you feel like you’re full,” she told the pharmacist. "That one European supermodel uses that diet and, boy, is she skinny!"

Talk about a toxic diet, thought the pharmacist. And this smooth-sounding cotton ball diet has some rough edges. First, humans cannot digest cotton. Hence, it will accumulate in the GI tract as a hard painful mass that must be surgically removed. Also, cotton balls are not plucked from the cotton plant. The cotton is processed using various chemicals, including dioxin. Dioxin damages the immune and reproductive systems, mucks up hormones, and can lead to various cancers including lung carcinoma. “So, no, SueEllen,” the pharmacist told the woman. “The risks outweigh the benefits.” 

Fad diets, like the cotton ball diet, are really eating disorders. An eating disorder is a psychiatric condition, such as anorexia, in which one adopts destructive eating behaviors at the expense of one’s physical and mental health. Why do we fall for fad diets? Mostly, we want to drop a ton of weight at warp speed. This is physiologically dangerous, but it is everyone’s fantasy. 

What are some other fad diets that have popped up in the media and embraced by the gullible masses? The Twinkie diet was started almost 100 years ago by a bakery manager. His diet consisted of only eating Twinkies (With no milk to dunk them in! Brutal!). Since they were 150 calories each, one could eat 10 of them a day and lose some weight. Although after 3 or 4 days, one would tire of eating only the sugary snack cake and plunge face-first into a vat of fettuccine alfredo. 

Let’s dip south of the border. The Mexican diet tongue patch is a piece of mesh that is stitched right on the tongue. Ouch! One keeps it on for 6 weeks. The mesh makes it unbelievably painful to eat solid foods. Dieters are restricted to a liquid diet of 800 calories a day (Someone pass me the tequila!). But the inventor of this sadistic device says it is not about the pain. After the patch is removed, he says that people remember the feeling and pay more attention to what they put in their mouths. Even though counseling is advised following removal of the mesh, there are no data available that show how many people continued to recall the pain as an aversion to pigging out. 

People on fad diets will see a quick weight loss, but it is mostly water and muscle mass that they are dumping – not body fat. “Lose no more than 2 pounds a week,” urge diet experts. Gradual weight loss stays off. In a report by the US News & World Report, the popular ketogenic (keto) diet was ranked one of the worst out of 35 diets. It only provides short-term weight loss coupled with an earlier death from heart disease and various cancers. Loading up on red and processed meats, and saturated fat and restricting carbohydrate-rich vegetables, fruits, and whole grains is a recipe for bad health. For people like SueEllen, roller coaster bodyweight experiences are not good for the heart, the immune system, or her overall health. Relax SueEllen! Have a nutrition sandwich and think it through like an intelligent person. And never put cotton balls in your mouth again. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist and writer-in-residence at Rx-Press.

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