Body Sense: Fad diets = bad diets

Contributed by C. Claire Armagnac, B.A.

Let’s face it. Fad diets are the Lindsay Lohans of the nutrition world. They have horrible reputations, and they’re disorganized, damaging, and unhealthy, but they still continue to make headlines and have millions of devoted fans.

Most of us have a coworker, friend, or friend-of-a-friend who has lost weight by following an extreme, temporary weight-loss plan, more commonly known as a fad diet. This month’s post is an exploration of the dangers of some of the more popular fad diets. It also includes tips on how to choose a smart nutrition plan that can work for you. Click here for more Body Sense posts.

Fad diets don't workFirst Offender: The Cabbage-Soup Diet

This fad diet has a devoted following and its own creepy website where you can download an e-book that provides you with “tips on how to survive the full 7 days on the cabbage soup diet.” Survive? Yikes!

According to the health information site WebMD, dieters who follow the cabbage-soup diet’s nutritional guidelines are encouraged to eat a bland, chunky soup that consists of cabbage and other vegetables, along with fruit, a few servings of brown rice, and plenty of water. This diet is only supposed to be followed for 1 week at a time and promises 10 pounds of weight loss.

Although the allure of losing 10 pounds in such a short amount of time may be tempting, WebMD (and anyone who has taste buds) strongly advises against this diet. It doesn’t provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals, and the number of calories consumed while on it is so low that fainting, dizziness, and lethargy are common side effects.

So unless you want to put your health at risk and feel like a wilted bag of coleslaw, this diet is not for you.

Second Offender: The hCG Diet

Although not as well-known as the cabbage-soup diet, this nutritional nightmare has garnered media attention in recent months because it promises weight loss of up to 30 pounds in 30 days.

Diet participants consume less than 500 calories per day while receiving injections of hCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin), a hormone naturally secreted by women’s bodies during pregnancy. The hormone is supposed to make dieters feel less hungry even though they’re eating very little.

It’s suspected that the hormone causes a nonpregnant woman’s body to dip into its fat reserves to find fuel for metabolic functions, such as maintaining a constant heartbeat. The body’s consumption of its fat reserves is supposed to lead to rapid weight loss, but it can also lead to an unhealthy alteration to the body’s metabolism and liver function.

If this diet sounds like sketchy pseudoscience, that’s because it is. Its effects on men haven’t been studied, but it’s probably risky for both genders and should definitely be avoided.

Third Offender: The Baby-Food Diet

Celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston are rumored to have used this diet to lose weight before movie shoots, and it’s become popular because of its deceptively simple nutrition plan.

Advocates for this diet explain that baby food is safe to eat because it’s mainly made of fruits and vegetables and it contains pure nutrients. While this may be true, baby food is in no way considered an acceptable substitute for all of the fiber and flavors we get by consuming real food. Eating enough small jars of baby food to feel full will get expensive and will probably still mean consuming at least 1,200 calories per day, which will cause weight loss to be gradual instead of rapid.

You may be able to lose weight on this diet, but you’ll gain it back once you start to eat normally again. This diet isn’t worth your time or money, especially when there are plenty of ways to lose weight that are safer and more enjoyable.

Smarter Choices, Better Results

One of the best ways to start losing weight is by keeping track of the number of calories you currently consume. There are many apps for iPads and smartphones that can help you keep a diary of your diet and exercise habits ‒ my favorite one for the iPad is called Calorie Counter. These apps are useful because they link into the websites for many popular restaurant chains and provide nutritional data for everything from Chili’s boneless wings to Cracker Barrel’s biscuits. They also provide estimates for the number of calories in common foods such as yogurt and cheese.

If you don’t have a smartphone, keeping a paper journal of the foods you eat can be just as effective. Simply knowing that you will have to admit on paper to eating 6 Oreos or a whole basket of fries can be a deterrent, and seeing your daily diet written out can help you to recognize days of the week or times of the month when it’s difficult for you to eat healthfully. By being realistic about the number of calories and types of foods you consume, it will be easier for you to make changes, such as replacing whole milk with skim milk and eating a sandwich on one slice of bread instead of two.

Exercise is my personal favorite way to lose weight and maintain physique because it can be fun (a lot more fun than eating endless mounds of cabbage!) and can have physical as well as emotional benefits. Adding a few hours of strength training or fitness classes to your weekly schedule may not cause you to lose 30 pounds in 30 days, but it’s much safer than any fad diet and can also promote heart health and longevity.

What do you think, readers? Are there any other risky fad diets that we should be on the lookout for? Send me your feedback at! Click here for more Body Sense posts. Share this post by using the buttons below.

About MyStudentBloggy, About MyStudentBody

Overheard On Campus: What types of food will help give me energy throughout the day?

Contributed by Brooke Vanevenhoven, R.N., M.S.N., A.P.N.P., & Dr. Chris Hayes, M.D.
Introduction by Tyler Achilles, B.A.

Have you seen those commercials for 5-Hour Energy? You know, the ones in which they talk about the “2:30 feeling” – when you’ve just about tapped out all of your energy in the morning and early afternoon and now you’re tired and sluggish? We all have that feeling from time to time. How can we avoid that “2:30” feeling without drinking loads of caffeinated soda or coffee or (even worse) guzzling down a 5-Hour Energy? Check out what Brooke Vanevenhoven, a nurse practitioner at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh, and Dr. Chris Hayes, physician at University of Louisiana at Lafayette have to say about keep up your energy throughout the day. For information on similar topics, check out the Overheard On Campus category or log in to MyStudentBody.Assortment of whole grains

Brooke Vanevenhoven, a nurse practitioner at University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh, says …

We get so many mixed messages about nutrition. No carbs, high protein, low fat, gluten free. It leaves our heads spinning sometimes. To break things down very simply, our bodies need a variety of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in order to function properly. Our energy comes primarily from carbohydrates. The key is choosing the best carbohydrates to energize our bodies without consuming unnecessary calories.

When choosing carbohydrates to energize your body, it’s always best to choose options that not only fill you up, but also nourish your body. Whole grains are good options when choosing starchy foods. They take longer to digest and stick with you longer, provide a good source of fiber, and reduce the risk of many chronic illnesses. Whole grain breads and cereals, including oatmeal, are great breakfast options, especially if you avoid added sugar. Read the labels to be sure you are getting 100% whole grains.

Another great source of carbohydrates for energy is fruits and vegetables. By selecting a wide variety, including many different colors of fruits and veggies, you will get various vitamins and minerals as well as flavors. Try to include at least five varied servings daily. One small piece of fruit or a cup of greens or chopped veggies is considered one serving.

As Americans, we have access to a lot of snack foods, breads, pastas and other carbohydrates that provide us with absolutely no nutrition and empty calories. Sure, you can eat a couple of chocolate chip cookies and feel energetic, but when you eat these kinds of carbs your blood sugar peaks quickly. This provides a short burst of energy, but will drop just as quickly, leaving you feeling sluggish and craving something more. In the meantime, you will not have nourished your body with anything it needs to function properly.

Bottom line, get your energy from healthy sources of carbohydrates: whole grain breads, pastas, and rice; and fruits and vegetables. Include a wide variety for nutrition and avoid the carbs that have no nutritional value. Combine that with a balanced diet including lean proteins and you will have the energy you need without all the extra baggage.

Dr. Chris Hayes, a physician at University of Louisiana at Lafayette, says …

I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying “you are what you eat”, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to keeping your muscles strong and your energy level up. Everything you eat is eventually broken down into three basic molecules: sugars, amino acids, and fats. A proper balance of the three keeps your body running smoothly.

To keep your blood sugar levels steady, your energy up, and your muscles in good shape you should eat several small low sugar meals every day that contain complex carbohydrates (like whole grains), vegetables, fruits and lean protein (like chicken, fish, or lean beef). Vegetarians can do the same by combining legumes (beans) and grains (rice, wheat) together in the same meal for protein. Don’t miss meals even if you’re trying to lose weight. Your blood sugar will drop and your metabolism will slow down, reducing your energy level. Keep whole grain/high protein snacks on hand for days when you don’t have time for a sit down meal, and drink plenty of water. Dehydration can make you feel just as run down as low blood sugar can.

Advance planning is the key. If all you have available is junk, you’re going to eat junk. If the good stuff is available, that’s what’s more likely to go in your mouth, and home-prepared meals are often cheaper than fast food. So plan what you’re going to eat for the day and pack it in a lunch box or mini-cooler. Your body will thank you for the effort.

Click here for more Overheard On Campus posts. Share this post by using the buttons below. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

About MyStudentBloggy, About MyStudentBody

Body Sense: Opting for organics, are they worth it?

By C. Claire Armagnac, B.S.

“Certified organic,” “100% organic,” “all natural,” “free range.” These and many other food labels have been showing up at grocery stores and produce markets a lot lately, but do we really know what they mean?

Under the current laws, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in charge of inspecting produce and manufactured foods and labeling them as certified organic if they meet certain criteria. In order for produce to be certified organic, it must be grown on farms that use renewable resources and avoid the use of chemical pesticides and bioengineering.

Farmers market

Farmers market. Photo credit: Marisa McClellan

Certified organic meats, eggs, milk, and dairy products come from farms where animals are not given growth hormones or chemical antibiotics. Free range refers to meat or eggs that come from animals that were allowed to leave their pens or cages for at least part of the day. Other food labels, such as natural and all natural, could indicate that a product is made without artificial chemicals, but since the USDA doesn’t monitor these labels it’s hard to know what you’re really getting.

Personally, I have noticed that organic, natural, and free-range foods taste the same as conventionally produced foods but that they come with a higher price tag. Currently, the price difference comes from the increased cost of production for the farmers. Organic pesticides are not necessarily more expensive than traditional pesticides, but organic farming processes are more labor-intensive than traditional farming processes. Because of this, farmers need to hire more people and wait longer to turn a profit, and they charge a slightly higher price to the consumer.

If you have a little extra room in your budget and you’re considering buying organic produce, you should know that some fruits and vegetables are more likely to be laced with pesticides when produced non-organically. For example, even after you wash and/or peel celery, peaches, nectarines, raspberries, and blueberries, their thin skins mean that pesticides are still likely to linger. Foods like watermelon, cantaloupe, and green peas have thicker outer skins that protect them from absorbing as many pesticides, so it is probably fine to buy their non-organic varieties.  Nutritional experts have not definitively agreed that organic foods are healthier for us, but many argue that farmers weren’t using the current types of pesticides 10 or 15 years ago and worry that there are potential unforeseen consequences resulting from their use.

A recent article on the website for The Daily Green stated that pesticides are more likely to have a negative effect on children, people with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women. I don’t fall into any of those three categories so I don’t buy organic foods at the supermarket on a weekly basis, but I’ve found that I enjoy buying fresh produce at a local farmers’ market. Many farmers are happy to talk about their farming processes, and the produce they sell is likely to be fresher than what is available in stores. Small farms that make a profit of less than $5,000 per crop per year don’t have to have their crops certified as being organic by the USDA, so don’t expect to see the traditional labels on many farmers’ market finds.

If you’re interested in learning more about organic growing processes or if you would like to find a farmers’ market near you, head on over to Local Harvest. Talking to the produce manager at your supermarket is another way to find out more about what crops are in season. Growing your own fruits and vegetables during the summer months is another option.

What do you think, readers? Do you have a favorite organic fruit or vegetable? Have you had any luck growing your own? Feel free to email your feedback to me at For more information about nutrition and healthy eating, visit the Nutrition section of MyStudentBody.


Overheard On Campus: How many fruits and vegetables should I eat daily?

Contributed by Amma Marfo, M.Ed.
Introduction by Tyler Achilles

Fruits and vegetables rock my world. No, really they do. I always feel good about myself when I’ve eaten healthily – I have more energy and I’m not as sluggish. A lot of people look at a salad and think, “Ugh!” But, the more you eat, the better you feel. How many you should eat each day I’ll leave up to Amma Marfo, a graduate student at University of South Florida and one of our contributors. She says …


Marilyn Manson addressed a very similar question with his “Food Pyramid Song” just a few years ago! The recommendations for how many fruits and vegetables to eat vary so widely, it’s hard to know what you should be eating. “Three to five of vegetables and four fruits is best,” according to Marilyn. But in actuality, the Harvard School of Public Health recommends about nine servings, or four and a half cups, for the average adult each day. And with benefits that include lower risk of heart disease and cancer and lower body weight, why wouldn’t we want to eat as many as possible?

When eating fruits and vegetables, strive for as much variety in color as possible. Don’t just think green (like lettuce or spinach). Look for lots of reds, purples, and blues (like peppers or berries), as well as oranges and yellows (like carrots and squash). Throw in nuts or dried fruits for textural variety – it’ll add iron, and the healthy fat and protein from nuts will help you to digest!

But before you break out your salad tongs and prepare for hours and hours of forcing down salad, remember that there are lots of ways to get your fruits and vegetables in your diet! Most 100% fruit juices count as a serving of fruit, and many juice companies have started making delicious fruit/vegetable juice hybrids, so you won’t even know that you’re being healthy!

And for those days where you feel like you want to cheat, mix one box of Devil’s food cake mix with one can of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling, but pumpkin purée), spread in a 13×9 cake pan, and bake for 40 minutes for brownies that will rival the best you’ve ever had WITH lower fat and higher fiber! I promise, you won’t be sorry!

Best of luck to you, and be well!

Share your tips for getting enough fruits and vegetables in the comments. We want to know your healthy eating secrets!

Body Sense: Vegging out

Contributed by C. Claire Armagnac, B.S.

Choosing a vegetarian diet has long been viewed as a surefire way to lose weight and is often seen as a display of self-control and commitment to health. Some people choose to go vegetarian because of religious or cultural reasons, others because of a health condition such as high blood pressure, others because they feel strongly about animal rights, and others because of concerns for the environment. I have recently decided to avoid eating meat at least one day a week as a way to incorporate a wider variety of foods into my diet, but my vegetarian days aren’t easy and I couldn’t imagine being a vegetarian full-time. For many people (myself included), the idea of giving up turkey at Thanksgiving, burgers at summer cookouts, and steaks at special-occasion dinners is too much to bear. Additionally, meat is a large part of the American diet and has become so ingrained in our culture that many restaurants, especially fast-food and quick-service restaurants, fail to include exciting menu options for vegetarians.

Caesar salad with croutons

Being a vegetarian isn’t always easy – is it really the best thing we can do for our health? A Time Magazine online article quotes the American Dietetic Association as saying that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” In a recent article about the pros and cons of a vegetarian diet, the Mayo Clinic’s website advises that vegetarians and vegans may be at risk for protein, iron, and vitamin B12 deficiencies but that tofu, lentils, cruciferous vegetables, and vitamin-fortified cereals can provide the necessary nutrient levels as adequately as meat can.

The key to safely transitioning to a meat-free diet is to be sure that you’re replacing meat with healthy substitutes, thereby becoming a true vegetarian (eater of vegetables) and not a carbivore (eater of carbs). I don’t think carbivore is a scientific term yet, but it’s one that I coined to refer to the way in which I’m tempted to eat on my one meatless day of the week. Justifying a baked potato and a side of bread is easy to do when I think of all the calories I’m avoiding by not eating meat, but by doing so I’m really missing the point. After talking to a few of my vegetarian friends, experimenting with new products, and doing research online, I’ve found that I really like veggie burgers by the Morningstar Farms company and that Progresso offers several yummy vegetarian-friendly soups. Frozen Amy’s-brand meals and burritos are another great option for vegetarian students who don’t have time to cook, and nuts and string cheese serve as a quick snack that can be eaten on the way to class.

Dieticians who recently contributed to an article for SELF Magazine’s online addition recommended meat substitutes such as Boca Burgers, Tofurkey, and Tofurkey Chipotle Franks but warned that some meat substitutes contain high levels of sodium and additives that make them less healthy than you would think, so always be sure to read nutrition labels.

There’s no denying that there can be health benefits associated with a well-planned vegetarian diet, but for me personally I’m not ready to completely “veg out” and say goodbye to meat. Going meat-free one day a week has allowed me to incorporate more grains, fruits, vegetables, and soy into my diet, and as of right now I feel healthier because of it🙂

What do you think, readers? Does being a vegetarian get easier with time? Are there national chain restaurants that are particularly vegetarian friendly? Shoot me an email with comments or advice at!

For more information on nutrition and healthy eating, visit the Nutrition section of MyStudentBody.

Overheard On Campus: What’s the best way to get more iron into my body?

Contributed by Amma Marfo, M.Ed.
Introduction by Tyler Achilles, B.A.

No, we’re not talking about “pumping iron.” We’re talking about the mineral iron that’s necessary for our bodies to function properly. Amma Marfo, a master’s student at Florida State University, will explain more about her take on iron and what you can do to make sure you’re getting the right amount of it below. For information on similar topics, check out the Overheard On Campus category or log in to MyStudentBody.

Hamburger on a plate sitting on a tableTrue life: I’m addicted to TLC shows about weird things people do. And the scariest one I’ve seen lately is My Strange Addiction. People on it are addicted to things as normal as shopping or running, or as odd as ventriloquism or eating household cleaner. That last one (the medical term for it is pica), come to find out, is a severe symptom of an iron deficiency. Pica is a desire to eat non-foods such as soap, dirt, or ice. Other, less TLC-worthy symptoms include exhaustion, lightheadedness, and an inability to sleep.

So how do you make sure you don’t end up with a severe iron deficiency? Find good sources of iron in your daily diet! A lot of people get their daily dose in a vitamin, many of which include iron. But it’s best to try and get your iron in natural forms. There are two classifications of iron. Heme iron comes from, as you might expect, things that once had blood (gross, I know!). That includes meat sources like red meat, poultry, and fish. But fear not, vegetarians, there are non-heme sources of iron as well! Beans, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale are great for getting iron, as are beans and whole grains (oatmeal is especially good!). Bonus: if you eat iron with a source of vitamin C, it increases the body’s ability to absorb it. So strawberries and oatmeal, or turkey and cherry tomatoes, are even better for making sure you get your iron.

Bottom line: There are several ways to get more iron into your body, including changing your diet. But make sure you don’t go overboard.

For more  nutrition-related topics, check out the Nutrition and Fitness category in Health Topics or log in to MyStudentBody and navigate to the Nutrition section. Share your tips in the comments!

About MyStudentBloggy, About MyStudentBody