Sunday, September 14, 2014

Unpopular Opinion: Take Your Fad Diet and Shove It

Two unpopular opinions in a row?  Can the universe hold?

Eh, I was having a bit of a dry spell for a while, unable to think of anything I truly liked or disliked that most other people felt the opposite way about.  Then I remembered one of the most personal aspects of life, the one thing most likely to spur strong opinions.

No, not motherhood.

I'm talking about diets.  "But it's not unpopular to hate fad diets," you say.  Unless they're the ones you swear by.

I should back up and explain.  Now and then, I have digestive ailments, and I am sensitive to a variety of foods.  Tired of dealing with the issue, I went to a nutritionist at my glorified McDonalds of a hospital network, who determined that I was gluten sensitive.  (As to why I was not simply referred to a gastroenterologist?  My hospital network demands that you jump through hoops first, including attending a special class and then seeing a nutritionist.  Because going to a GI doc right away would make too much sense.)

I've heard a lot about gluten-free diets over the past few years.  One woman diagnosed with Celiac disease swore by it.  She did not eat any wheat products and bought special gluten-free everything.  I've heard people plagued by digestive issues claim that the gluten-free diet has changed their life, that they feel better, healthier, whatever.

Now I understand how someone with Celiac disease would find their lives improved.  What I don't understand is how it would instantly help someone who does not have Celiac disease, like me.  The nutritionist explained that there was a spectrum of gluten tolerance, that just because I didn't test positive didn't mean I wasn't sensitive.  Okay, true.

She also said that gluten had fallen under suspicion over the past several years because of the way wheat is grown and processed these days, making it less pure and healthy than in generations past.  Also sounds reasonable.

What I don't understand is why she would so quickly assume gluten intolerance when so many of my problems don't involve wheat-based products at all.

Why do I have issues, then, when I eat certain acidic foods, like apples, peaches, or certain tomato-based products?

Why do I get headaches when I eat fried foods or foods containing hydrogenated oil?

And why don't I have problems when I eat wheat-based products like pasta or certain breads?

It's highly possible that I am sensitive to certain foods containing gluten... but that I also have a variety of other food intolerances, making any diagnosis complicated and often a frustrating game of addition and subtraction.

It struck me that the nutritionist was rather quick to tag me with the gluten-sensitive label after asking me some very targeted questions over 10 minutes, the answers to which could have applied to several other ills.  Oddly missing were any detailed questions about my life, my stress load, my diet history, and my overall health.  What medications did I take that could impact my gut health?  These are questions that my physician should have asked, but neither she nor the nutritionist ever did.

Instead, the nutritionist gave me a detailed lecture on all of the gluten products I would need to flush out of my system to be truly healthy, including certain pastas, sweets and even certain toothpastes.  "Try it for a month," she said nonchalantly of this major life transition, even after I explained to her that I was about to start a new job.      

Even if I flushed all gluten products out of my system for a month and felt much better, that would not be proof that I should be gluten-free.  That's because my system has this frustrating tendency to do really well for one, two, even several months at a time, then freeze up and refuse to digest foods without protest for a week to a month.  I tend to believe it is based more on hormones rather than any specific thing I'm eating or stresses I'm feeling.  Therefore, I don't think one catch-all diet is going to solve everything.

Yet every time I turn around, I hear the gluten-free diet being touted as some kind of savior.  Are there no other food groups as suspect as gluten?  No other foods were grown with Roundup chemicals pumped into them, then refined to the point of zero nutritional value?

Applying the logic used for gluten, you could conceivably ban several fruits, vegetables, and corn products from your diet.  But then what would you be left with?

Which is not to say that gluten-free isn't a God-send for some people.  It's just that it isn't the cure for everyone.  People being weird and complicated and reacting differently to different things and all.

The gluten-free diet reminds me of a similar trend taking place, the insistence that no one is getting enough Vitamin D.  Because even if we walk around under the sun all the time, we must wear sunblock to protect against cancer-causing rays.  But that also prevents Vitamin D from getting absorbed into our skin, so we should also take the pill form, or else the Vitamin D deficiency... could give us cancer.  And a host of other ills.

While it's possible gluten intolerance really is a problem, I'm not anxious to limit myself to a very set number of foods.  So for now, I'm just going to try and keep a mixed diet and maybe avoid things I know my body really dislikes, such as junk food or anything with hydrogenated oil.    

Meanwhile, here is a drumroll of other diets that came highly touted, but never made sense...

1.  Atkins Diet.  Eat lots of red meat, butter, eggs, and very little anything else?  What could possibly go wrong?  Turns out any weight you lose is fleeting, while your health risks increase substantially.

2.  The water diet.  Drinking substantial amounts of water and eating little food will help you lose weight, sure, but it will also increase your health risks.  Once you start to eat normally again -- and you will have to eventually -- the weight will come back in a hurry.

3.  The detox diet.  These diets could involve suspect herbs or "treatments" to help our system do what it's already capable of doing, and likely cause more harm than good.

4.  The fasting diet.  See the water diet.  I knew one couple that did the fasting diet once or twice a week, which involved eating maybe 600 calories for the entire day.  They claimed it would shock their system into losing weight and detoxing, but what I saw were two older professionals in a high-stress occupation trying to survive on too few calories.  Not recommended... unless you are trying out for the role of Fantine in a Les Miserables movie.

5.  The no white flour or sugar diet.  Similar to, and may even be an ancestor of, the gluten-free diet.  This is supposed to help you lose weight, and it's easy to see why, but unless you are committed to eating this way forever, the weight will eventually return.

And whoever invented the rice cake?  For shame.

The above image is royalty free from


  1. Oh girl, I feel you! And it's great when your mom jumps on the bandwagon, too. "Well, it's worked for so and so." Well good for them! I'm disappointed that a dietitian would so quickly conclude that you had gluten sensitivity issues without asking about the other factors you mentioned. I had a friend who had the same thing happen. The friend did feel better-- maybe because she was also cutting out a lot of other crap. Then they retracted their original "diagnosis". Nice. What a bunch of bull.

  2. They're popular because they're popular ;-)

  3. I like your diet opinions. I once read back-to-back articles in a health magazine, one of which touted a vegan diet while the other touted a modified Adkins diet. Both claimed to be "the easy answer" to all out weight loss problems. Hmm... Seems to me if weight loss were easy, there would't be twelve thousand different "guaranteed" methods to achieve it. What ever happened to well-balanced and moderation?

  4. I remember the rice macrobiotic diet. Steve Job was on it when he was young. HE believed that personal hygiene was a thing of the past since his wonder diet would eliminate all body odor.

    The folks at Atari, where he worked at the time disagreed. They created a night shift, for one, and put him in it.

    The beer and pretzel diet is where it is all at. Drown those nasty gluttons.


    1. I'm starting to think the only worthwhile diets are those tailored to the individual.