Finding the next big fad

Experts weigh in on the latest slimming trends

What will replace the Atkins craze?
Experts weigh in on the latest slimming trends

As the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum; this applies to diets, too. Once the darling among dieters, the Atkins diet has fallen out of favour, with everything from questions about the long-term safety of a high-fat diet to reports that the company (Atkins Nutritionals, Inc.) had filed for bankruptcy helping to fuel the shift. Sure, some Atkins followers lost weight, but a life restricted from potatoes and bread wasn’t easily sustainable. Others twisted its principles into a licence to pig out on bacon and pork rinds.

So, with the absence of Atkins, which diets are poised to fill that weight-loss vacuum and become the next craze? There’s no shortage of contenders. And yes, carbohydrates are still on the scene, but instead of no carbs, emphasis is now on good versus bad carbs. Which diets will give dieters a slim chance? FLARE asked the experts—Dr. Robert Dent, director of The Ottawa Hospital Weight Management Clinic, Ottawa, and Marsha Hudnall, a registered dietitian and program director at Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women’s retreat in Ludlow, Vt., that teaches healthy living without dieting—to weigh in.

The Glycemic Index Diet (G.I.)


The Ice Cream Diet

The French Diet

The glycemic index diet
Say goodbye, no carbs; hello, “slow” carbs.

The theory: All carbs aren’t bad; you just have to choose them carefully. By selecting carbs based on their glycemic index, or G.I. (how quickly they’re converted into blood sugar), you can avoid spikes in blood-sugar levels—something diabetics understand. Why does it matter? Such spikes cause the body to send a message (in the form of insulin) for sugar to enter muscle and fat cells where the excess can then be stored as fat. This, of course, can lead to weight gain. Similarly, dips in your blood-sugar levels trigger the secretion of hormones that tell your body to send out hunger signals. And this can lead us to eat until we see the bottom of the Doritos bag.

The practice: By opting for foods that have a low G.I. (and are, therefore, digested slower), extreme highs and lows in blood-sugar levels can be avoided. For more information on G.I. values, get a book such as The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Glycemic Index Weight Loss. Brown rice, for example, has a G.I. of 50, which is better than carrots—they rate 92.

Doctor says: “It can be sustainable as a lifestyle. Overall, these kinds of diets can be healthy. However, you do have to be knowledgeable about what you’re eating and pay attention to G.I. tables.”

Dietitian says: “I think it’s a smart diet with plenty of fibre, vitamins and minerals. The trouble is, it’s still a diet because there are restrictions on what you eat. That may cause problems. My advice is, don’t try to be perfect with it or get too caught up in the numbers.”

Of note: One 24-week study, published in the May 2005 issue of Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, found those who followed a low-fat, low-G.I. diet saw a 15 percent reduction of fat mass.

Intro • G.I. • VolumetricsIce CreamFrench Diet

Feel full with fewer calories.

The theory: Lose weight by eating the same amount of food. The trick is to opt for foods that are high in water and fibre content (think fruit, vegetables and whole grains) so that you feel full. By choosing foods with a low energy density—basically, those that deliver the most nutritional bang per calorie—you can cut your caloric intake without reducing how much you eat volume-wise. The belief is that we tend to eat the same volume of food each day (about three pounds on average for women), regardless of the fat or calorie content.

The practice: Meals should be high in fibre and made up of fruit, vegetables, whole-grain bread or pasta and low-fat dairy. Think volume—foods that satisfy without a high calorie content. If you’re craving a snack, you could have 100 calories worth of raisins (1/4 cup) or the same number of calories worth in nearly two cups of grapes. Your belly will likely feel full from the food that has the greater volume—the grapes.

Doctor says: “I don’t think this has been rigorously tested, but there are some good things about it. You’re weighing food choices on the basis of their nutrient contents and there’s plenty of fibre in this plan [20–30 grams daily].”

Dietitian says: “There’s good science behind volumetrics and there are solid principles in place for making good, nutritious food choices. It promotes moderation and feeling full and satisfied—important in weight control. I caution, [however,] that you shouldn’t be too strict with this way of eating.”

Of note: Barbara Rolls, the woman who pushed volumetrics into the spotlight, is a respected obesity researcher and scientist at Penn State University in Pennsylvania. The principles of her book, The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan, have been used by one Alabama weight-loss program for more than 25 years. One 1983 study (by Roland L. Weinsier of the University of Alabama at Birmingham) found that 80 percent of those who stayed on a low-energy-density weight-loss plan had maintained or dipped below their lower body weight two years later.

IntroG.I. • Volumetrics • Ice CreamFrench Diet

The ice cream diet
Trim down by increasing your calcium intake.

The theory: According to a recent study by the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., calcium may actually help you shed weight. Thirty-two obese patients were put on a high-dairy diet (with 1,200–1,300 milligrams of calcium per day) for 24 weeks. As a result, they lost 70 percent more weight than another group who ate the same number of calories but did not consume high-calcium foods (their standard diet included 400–500 mg of dietary calcium).

The practice: To get that calcium, Prevention magazine created The Ice Cream Diet, which recommends women have one cup of low-fat ice cream each day as a calcium source.

Doctor says: “There are better ways to get calcium. One cup of skim milk has more calcium and fewer calories than a cup of low-fat ice cream. The temptation with something that is labeled low-fat, and is supposed to be good for you, is to overindulge. The thinking becomes: ‘If a little bit is good, more must be better.’ If you’re worried about calcium, take a supplement. It’s important to have adequate calcium in your diet, but as far as its role in weight loss is concerned, the evidence of its effectiveness is slim.”

Dietitian says: “It’s important to allow yourself something sweet and ‘forbidden.’ It keeps you satisfied and will help you feel less deprived. When we tell ourselves we can’t have something, then that’s what we focus on, which increases our desire and [our] chance of losing control. If you want it, have it—in moderation. It becomes a bit dicey if you’re eating ice cream just to get calcium.”

Of note: More recent research conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that a diet high in calcium did not help boost weight loss. But it’s important to note that this was a small study with only 72 participants. For the final word on calcium as a waist whittler, larger studies are needed.

IntroG.I.Volumetrics • Ice Cream • French Diet

The French diet
Eat less and exercise more.

The theory: It’s so simple it’s almost scary. To lose weight, up your physical activity level and eat whatever you want, but in small quantities, a concept that has hit a chord with readers of the bestselling book French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano.

The practice: The buzzwords are balance and moderation, with the focus beaming squarely on overall health instead of numbers on the scale. Craving chocolate? Enjoy just a snack-sized version of your favourite bar. The point is to always pay attention to your hunger levels and put the brakes on when you’re full.

Doctor says: “Most diets are not sustainable, so the word ‘non-diet’ is appropriate [here]. Long-term intervention is key here. It’s not the pounds you lose that matter but your ability to keep them off. That can happen only with healthy eating and physical activity. I prefer to think in terms of weight management—not weight loss. Obesity is like high blood pressure; you can’t cure it, but you can manage it.”

Dietitian says: “My only fear is that someone might still view this as a diet and not a way of life. We encourage people to eat sensibly and be physically active for more than weight loss. That can be an outcome, but I wouldn’t want anyone to think that once weight loss is achieved you should go back to your old ways. It’s important to understand that weight loss would be slow and not always at a steady rate. We need to get a grip on the idea that some people will remain larger than the societal ideal because that’s the way our bodies are made.”

Of note: A 2002 survey of more than 32,000 successful losers, conducted by the magazine Consumer Reports, found that a DIY approach worked best—no formal programs, special foods or prescribed meals. Those who worked out at least three times a week said that was their top weight-loss strategy.

IntroG.I.VolumetricsIce Cream • French Diet