It's a fad fad world!

Designer diets and food fads of the fit and famous are like our saucy item songs — here today, gone tomorrow. But the market and media driven crash diet cult, consuming much of India Dining, is dishing out some big fat fitness and health concerns, writes Chetna Keer

Whither the acid tongue! There may hardly be a person who has not, at some time or the other, had the taste of a tongue coated with the proverbial acid, belonging either to a tarty aunt, a caustic class teacher, an acerbic acquaintance, a sardonic senior or bitchy boss.

But with the latest food fetish that is consuming celebrated tongues, a requiem for the acid tongue is being cooked up and it may not be long before we have more alkaline tongues across the globe than acid ones.

For, in this age of fickle food fads that sees new designer diets being dished out faster than couture labels on the catwalk or item numbers on the chartbuster circuit, the alkaline diet is the latest flab-freeing fetish that is making it to the menus of the poorly fed rich and famous.

With Hollywood actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Kirsten Dunst recently swearing public allegiance to all things alkaline, Jennifer Aniston airing her dietary indulgence in an alkaline smoothie daily, and supermodel Miranda Kerr confessing to partaking of only water alkalinised by a special filter rather than normal pH-neutral water, the alkaline tongue may well be the new kid on the block in the lifestyle-related lexicon.

The underlying logic advocated by proponents of the alkaline diet is that our body is naturally alkaline but the digestive functions produce acid that loads the system, leading to lethargy, and thus gain weight. An alkaline diet neutralises these acid-sapping effects and assures higher energy levels, glowing skin and, to top it all, a washboard waist!

Attributed to bestselling author of The pH Miracle, Robert Young, the alkaline diet first shot into the spotlight when the writer claimed in this book that “the more alkaline you are, the healthier you’ll feel. You’ll be able to lose excess weight more quickly, you won’t feel bloated or tired, and your skin will look better.” He had gone on to delineate how he had discovered that “the pH of foods (i.e. be they alkaline or acidic) affected weight and health and consuming alkaline foods acted as a buffer for the stresses and strains of life, which were acid-forming.”

Driven by these advantages, the alkaline diet , like a chikna new item track toppling rival remixes on the charts, seems set to seduce fad-friendly palates and overtake fetishes like the evergreen Atkin’s diet, the subsequent South Beach Diet or the more recent Dukan diet.

The Dukan Diet became for designer diets what a seductive Shiela ki Jawani or a Chikni Chameli were to our item songs: the femme fatale on the fad firmament.

It sneaked ahead of many a celebrity craze and snatched a substantial slice of the public fancy simply because it came riding on royalty. For, Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton’s vows and wedding day wows had been preceded by many a week of going weak through nutritional allegiance to the Dukan Diet, created by a doctor from France, Pierre Dukan. Never mind if Kate’s Dukan-esque dropping of pounds to fit into the wedding gown had elicited many a nutritionists’ frown!

Though most designer diets sound hard to digest, they nonetheless have their takers among the movers and shakers.

As much as the diets themselves, their names seem equally hard to swallow, be it the Toothpaste Diet, that entails brushing your teeth frequently throughout the day on the premise that the taste of mint curbs the desire to gorge on calories; the Baby Food Diet, which has its most famous proponent in Reese Witherspoon and comprises eating 14 servings of baby food a day followed by an adult dinner; the Grapefruit Oil Diet espoused by Jennifer Lopez, wherein the oil’s aroma is supposed to seduce the liver enzymes to activate fat-breaking nerves through merely smelling; the Acai Berry Diet adhered to by Oprah Winfrey, whose Big Fat Leek Shedding makes her the most visible brand ambassador for designer diets, the Cabbage Soup Diet that involves eating a soup of cabbage, peppers, onions and celery for seven days, or the Coconut Oil diet endorsed by Jennifer Aniston.

It’s not just the bites that have been getting tinier in this age of size zero-driven designer diets, even the cutlery has been undergoing downsizing to cater to the food fads of the famous. Cricketer Shane Warne’s fiancé Elizabeth Hurley has been sighted sporting child cutlery whenever she eats out in the psychological belief that eating out of a tiny plate or using tiny cutlery tricks the mind into believing that one is eating more than one actually is.

Size zero craze

It’s not just Hollywood A-listers and English royalty that are spawning as well as spurring the spread of food fads. Our very own royalty, Bollywood  and Tollywood queens too ‘waist’ no time in giving birth to a thousand fetishes for girth control.

And nothing can be more symptomatic and symbolic of the quick-fix calorie-crunching celebrity cult endorsed and espoused by our B-town brigade than the newest title on designer diets dished out from the starry stable called Eat. Delete.

This latest self-help tome from diva dietician Pooja Makhija, the nutrition guru to stars such as Sushmita Sen, Sonam Kapoor, Deepika Padukone et al, launched amid much fanfare and celebrity footfalls recently, aptly symbolises the quick-fix approach to calories in this age of market and media-driven size zero craze: eating is today synonymous with deleting.

Food fads of the famous are, to a fat extent, spawning this complete crash diet cult or the Great Calorie Cheat Code, wherein the designer diets are as much a corollary as a cause of this collective obsession with calorie crunching.

The fact that the shelves are today themselves groaning under the weight of slimming paraphernalia, DIY DVDs from the celebrity stables of Lara Dutta, Bipasha Basu, Shilpa Shetty & Co, and titles like Eat. Delete, Women and the Weight Loss Tamasha or Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight is in itself a comment on how the market-and-media-driven crash diet cult is being fed by and is also feeding this craze for instant calorie-chiselled contours.

And this aping of the western food fads is dishing out a Bollywood remix of many a Hollywood fetish. To make the Hollywood designer diets more palatable for the desi mouths, we have their rechristened remixes to give India Dining a taste of the familiar. In what can be called the Indianisation of the crash diet cult, there is the Cow Diet, “a monotonous diet comprising the same set of foods without variety, which is a desi twist on the cabbage soup diet that is considered restrictive, poor in nutrients and emotionally stressful.” Then there is the Ostrich Diet that “targets fats but doesn’t address overall health and essentially draws upon the evergreen Atkin’s diet, a zero-carbohydrate diet that disallows ice cream, cheese and red meat”, and there is the Cheetah Diet, which “assures magical time-frames and could entail frequent purging or puking of food and over-exercise”.

If you thought the food fad forest had covered most of the Indian jungle, there’s the Camel Diet, which is “high on liquids, uses water to kill hunger, and can cause malnutrition” and the shifty Monkey Diet, “which  jumps from fad to fad — be it the Grapefruit Oil Diet, Apple Cider Vinegar Diet or the Acai Berry Diet, stresses solely on the benefit of one food and is often inadequate.”

Designer diets may thus be doing for the nation’s waist what the lycra labels do for the desi silhouette: they make size-shrinking and contour-chiselling a lean task.
Fed on the fasting, more than the feasting, news feeds about the fit and the famous, the guilt-ridden pot-bellied citizenry of an Expanding India — on the measuring tape, not on the census charts — is being driven more towards girth control than birth control.

Big fat issues

From the footage of a podgy post-pregnancy Aishwarya who draws flak to a post-maternity Lara Dutta who inches from flab to fab, the food fads, or the lack of them, of Hollywood and Bollywood’s “fit-erati”, are constantly driving India Shining to aspire to India Shrinking (on the weighing scale, that is).

From commercials of a Diet Pepsi or Coke to stay-slim sugars, in this media-driven marketing of the Turn Trim Tamasha, every other sound byte and every second glossy with the airbrushed visual overload of washboard waists and the yummy mummy with zero tummy whets the appetite for some food fad or the other.

But the big fat issues that these designer diets put on the table are plenty. How healthy is this trend of devotion to designer diets or diet jumping from fad to fad? What is the downside of designer dieting?

Take the case of the Dukan Diet now synonymous with the Duchess of Cambridge. Much as this diet gave Kate and her mother the flab-free look that took the breath away of an entire nation, even much of the globe, it is now posing problems for Prince William’s wife.

Girth control can sometimes become a case of birth control too. As is happening in the case of Kate Middleton. Personal physicians have reportedly proclaimed that Kate is too skinny to bear a baby. The Duchess’s doctors have prescribed her to pile on the pounds if she wishes to get in the family way, as her calorie counting has seen concerns about her ability to conceive mounting.

That following food fads is no mean task is evident from the episodes of ill-health or sudden collapse witnessed even among our size zero-obsessed Indian “fit-erati”, with news coming in every now and then about Bollywood queens dropping, not just calories, but also themselves, on film sets, out of sheer fatigue and loss of stamina. Be it a Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif or a Kareena (who, in aspiring to be the brand ambassador for size zero had subsisted practically on orange juice during the shooting of Tashan, where she fainted), the collapsing of these designer diet-devoted divas on film sets has time and again raised concerns about how far to go with fads.

Cautions Nancy Sahni, a nutritionist and dietician at the PGI, “This yo-yo dieting does take a toll on the body sooner than later.  Designer diets, especially the baby food diet, cabbage soup diet or the like, being deficient in some micronutrients, certainly cause deficiency of certain food groups in the body. This, in the long term, leads to several side effects, be it skin sagging, muscle tone loss, anaemia, weak or brittle bones. For instance, a fad like baby food diet is low on vitamins, minerals and fibre and could in the long term even cause constant constipation, among other things.”

Adds Nancy, “Diets like the alkaline diet may in a way be more balanced than many other food fads since they do not entirely cut down on any particular food group. The alkaline diet basically entails cutting down on red meat that is acidic in nature and high sugar fruits, be it mangoes or bananas, among other things. But since it is low on foods that release high acids into the digestive tract, it helps by not loading the system, leading to less heaviness, lethargy, etc.”

Clinically, in fact, foods that are alkaline in nature may be helpful even in starving cancer cells, and thus they have medicinal benefits, too, but in a specific context and given a balanced content.

So, as in the case of Kate Middleton, whose devotion to the Dukan Diet is said to have made her so lean that she’s faced with a slim chance of conceiving, how much do the food fads impact natural biological processes like conceiving?

Explains Nancy, “Basically, yo-yo dieting or crash dieting disturbs a woman’s menstrual cycle and in the process has a bearing on her ability to conceive a baby. Also, a certain basic BMI (18-25) is considered conducive to conceiving, but crash diets and food fads that cut down on essential nutrients interfere in the conception process too, by reducing the BMI below healthy levels.”

This is an inherent risk of yo-yo dieting that even celebrity diet guru Rujeta Diwekar, author of Women and the Weight Loss Tamasha and Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight, has addressed. Talking about how she got the idea for her book, Rujeta has been quoted as having said, “I once met a 24-year-old girl who was planning to get married and wanted to lose weight. She wore electric belts that gave her rectal bleeding. She also had a lot of coffee with sweeteners to kill hunger pangs. In the process, she got so dehydrated that for nine months, she didn’t get her periods.”

Given the designer diets’ good side and bad, the key thus lies in not becoming too mad about any food fad. Else, it may not be long before India Dining’s crash diet cult becomes too hard to swallow.

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