IS a new ‘diet’ book a viable plan for a healthy body or a danger to growing teenagers?
JORDAN or Jessica Ennis? Victoria Beckham or Victoria Pendleton? Mark Wright or Mo Farah? There has been much discussion recently over who makes the most appropriate role models for our children. And while it’s too early to tell whether the Olympics will spawn a generation of fit, healthy young people, strong in body and mind, it would seem that, right now, the only way is skinny.
The newest book to knock the Dukan diet from the top spot is Six Weeks to OMG: Get skinnier than all your friends. Its author, British sports scientist Venice A Fulton (real name Paul Khanna), unashamedly calls it “the other naughty book everyone’s talking about”. Originally self-published, it has been picked up by Penguin, Fulton has got himself a seven-figure book deal in the US and the rest of us, it seems, just can’t get enough of it.
It turns accepted nutritional knowledge on its head by advising readers to cut down on fruit, to up caffeine intake and to skip breakfast (exercising on a couple of coffees instead). Fulton also recommends plunging into a cold bath to increase metabolism and says the carbohydrates in broccoli can be worse than in Coke.
It’s no wonder, then, that nutritionists, trainers and doctors have been quick to call the plan extreme, damaging and unhealthy. Some have even suggested that it could cause an epidemic of eating disorders.
Edinburgh nutritionist Louisa Johnston is all for the cold bathing – “It’s great for the lymphatic system, good for circulation, increases heart rate, is good for skin, cellulite and endorphin release”. But adds, “What happens after six weeks? This is not sustainable, and skipping breakfast and increasing caffeine alone could lead to heartburn, diarrhoea, bloating and anxiety. The attack on the digestive system long-term could be dire. Our metabolism may be up, our heart rate up, but our overall health after six weeks will be down.”
To the critics who say the book could lead to eating disorders, however, Fulton says, “Shut up. Anyone who blames books or the media has never spoken to those who have recovered from an eating disorder. If you go to rural Africa and India, where no one reads or has TV, eating disorders still exist. And that’s because they’re always caused by tough stuff like bullying, passing comments by someone close, or a deep and difficult personal situation. Anorexia and bulimia are always the physical result of a mental problem.”
He adds, “It’s only called Six Weeks to OMG because it’s within that time you’ll start to feel amazing. It explains how stuff works instead of shouting at you, so that when the six weeks are up you don’t even realise. I work with actresses who need to look perfect for their whole careers, not just one movie. It’s the first book ever to not have recipes in it, because they’re not needed. I make every reader an expert, and experts can choose their own food for life.”
He denies the book is aimed at teens, but rather “anyone who needs to lose fat. Or get amazing hair and skin, reduce cellulite, feel super-healthy, and most of all, learn how their body works once and for all.”
• Six Weeks to OMG: Get skinnier than all your friends, by Venice A Fulton, is published by Michael Joseph, £12.99; Louisa Johnston (www.tonichealthscotland.com)
“Skipping breakfast is bad advice from a health point of view,” says registered sports dietician Dr Sarah Schenker. “Studies have shown people who skip breakfast have a poorer intake of vitamins and minerals throughout the day. And from a weight-loss point of view, there is overwhelming research to show that people who eat breakfast tend to have lower body weights.”
On the issue of fruit, she says, “What he’s talking about is the effect of fructose. We have an awful lot of fructose in our diet – it is one of the components in sucrose, and sucrose is, of course, sugar. Fructose is also metabolised in a different way to glucose, and some people have claimed it might stimulate the storage of fat. The thing is, fructose is an intrinsic part of fruit and fruit is good for you for a whole host of reasons. So you would be much more sensible to get rid of the fructose that comes from the sugar in your diet. Don’t have Coke, don’t have sweets, don’t have Mars bars, and the small bit of fructose you do get comes from a slice of melon or a handful of grapes.”
She adds, “It’s just all the wrong messages. Being skinny comes with health problems in the same way as being overweight and obese. At the moment we should be looking at our athletes. If you look at someone like Rebecca Adlington, she doesn’t look like a size eight to me, but she’s the picture of health; one of the fastest swimmers in the world.
“Some of the advice is just silly and some is potentially harmful. Skipping breakfast and avoiding fruit – they just go against everything we know that’s important for long-term health.”
Dr Sarah Schenker (www.sarahschenker.co.uk)
“Coffee does increase your metabolism,” says personal trainer Will Sturgeon. “It also raises your cortisol level. That’s a growth hormone that can be linked to the body’s storage of fat. But we’re talking over a long, long period of drinking a lot of coffee – many years. Yes, you will burn more calories from it – fractionally – but you have to stay well hydrated. A lot of initial-weight loss from the caffeine will be water.”
As for cold baths, they’re great from a sports point of view, but he can’t see how they help weight-loss. “It shouldn’t stimulate your metabolism – heat does that. I would say a sauna would be much better.” And skipping breakfast? “I couldn’t disagree with it,” he says. “I wanted to – everyone knows your first meal of the day kick-starts your metabolism – but he’s right. A couple of cups of coffee (I’d throw in a couple of glasses of water too) will kick-start your metabolism, the workout will boost it a huge amount. And if you leave it three hours before you eat, as he recommends, the body will use those three hours to burn fat.
“Six weeks isn’t going to incur permanent physical damage,” adds Sturgeon. “From a training/nutrition point of view, I couldn’t see anything that was sinister.”
Will Sturgeon (07714 340068, www.facebook.com/willpowerpersonaltraining)
THE TEEN EXPERT
“With the teen population, you’re looking at the undeveloped brain and the undeveloped body,” says Mandy Saligari, clinical director of Charter Day Care, a counselling and residential centre for adolescents. “If you take any extreme action, such as dieting or overeating, it has a massive impact on the development of a child, physically, emotionally and mentally.”
What young people need, she says, is a good, balanced eating plan. “We’re talking about three meals a day, a healthy balance of protein, vegetables, fruit and carbohydrates, roughage, low in sugar and no caffeine. Caffeine over-stimulates the teenage brain.”
But what worries her just as much is the focus on the external. “It is such a red herring,” she says. “This over-emphasis on how someone looks feeds the eating disorders population.”
Charter Day Care (www.charterdaycare.com)
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