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The Top Five Files:

The Five Files return this week, with a detailed look at how to lose weight. This is an important topic for both RCs who’ve found some unwanted bulges after a month on campus or ECs who are looking to trim down for the fast-approaching recruiting season. While there are many fad diets out there, we’ve picked five to get you started. For each, we give a brief description of the diet and its pros and cons.

5. The Cabbage Soup Diet

What: A 7-day ‘crash’ diet where you can eat as much cabbage soup and drink as much water as you like, and consume different bonus foods each day, which are all low-calorie (e.g. fruits on Day 1, vegetables on Day 2 etc).

Pros: You will lose weight fast (a friend lost 10 pounds in a week) as it is basically a liquid and fruit diet; it is very easy to follow and it is very cheap to follow.

Cons: It is lacking in key vitamins and minerals (depending on your choice of fruits and vegetables); it is unsustainable for much more than a one week period; many find even one week difficult given the monotony of the diet; rapid detox from normal eating habits can cause serious abdominal pain, especially in the first few days of the week.

4. The South Beach Diet

What: A diet that has at its core the avoidance of ‘bad fats’ and ‘bad carbs’, with the goal of a sustainable reduction in weight and an improvement in cholesterol levels. The South Beach diet has three phases. In the first, you eat mainly lean meats, some dairy, plenty of vegetables but almost no carbs. The expected weight loss is 8-13 pounds. In the second phase, you reintroduce some but not all of the foods you avoided in Phase 1. For example, fruits and wholegrain carbs reappear, while processed carbs and certain fruits stay banned. Weight loss in this phase is 1-2 pounds per week. You stay in Phase 2 until you reach your target weight, then progress to Phase 3. This phase is designed to maintain your weight, so more foods are introduced, but many foods should still be eaten sparingly.

Pros: Gives all vitamins and minerals required for healthy living; allows sufficient variety in meal choices (except in first two weeks); promises long-term weight loss.

Cons: Relies a lot on dieters making their own choices about how much of what foods to eat (especially after the target weight is reached), so it’s easy to miscalculate; requires high levels of self-motivation and discipline.

3. The Zone Diet

What: Theory of the zone diet is that an optimal ratio of carbohydrates to proteins to fats will control the body’s insulin function. Getting this right should improve the metabolic function and help you to burn fat, rather than store it because you are regulating your blood sugar level. The right ratio is 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fats. While you can put together complex meals to get to this ratio, the rule of thumb is to fill one third of your plate with low-fat protein, and then the balance with fruits and vegetables. No foods are ‘banned’ on the zone, however saturated fats and starchy foods are not recommended.

Pros: Gives all vitamins and minerals required for healthy living; promises long-term weight loss; has a large set of celebrity endorsers such as Madonna, Demi Moore and Jennifer Aniston.

Cons: Can be hard to scientifically know if you are getting the ratios right, especially when eating out; requires high levels of self-motivation and discipline; is rather expensive to follow due to the high meat content.

2. The Atkins Diet

What: The Atkins diet believes that carbs and sugars lead to the retention of fats, so carb and sugar consumption is tightly regulated. There are four phases to this diet. In Phase 1 (Induction), your carbohydrate consumption is 20 grams each day, and these should come from fruits and non-starchy vegetables. In Phase 2, you gradually increase carbohydrate in the form of nutrient-dense and fiber-rich foods to get to a plateau, and then decrease them in 5 gram increments until you achieve a healthy rate of weight loss. In Phase 3, the goal is weight maintenance by increasing the daily carbohydrate intake in 10 gram increments each week. In Phase 4, you can eat a wider variety of foods, but still seriously control carb intake.

Pros: Steady weight loss has been seen in numerous devotees; takes a ‘never be hungry’ approach to dieting; eschews over-processed foods

Cons: Atkins himself died of a heart attack; highly unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans; has been linked in some circles to osteoporosis, heart disease, colon cancer, renal failure and the US Invasion of Iraq; low in certain vitamins and minerals.

1. Joseph’s Special Diet

What: My special diet has three components. First, obey the basic law of biophysics – you will lose weight if your calorie output is greater than your calorie intake. This means that you can lose weight by either increasing your exercise on a fixed diet, or improve your diet on a fixed exercise regime. This puts control back in the hands of the dieter. If you want to keep eating junk food, earn it in the gym. If you want a sedentary lifestyle, ease back on the burritos, fatso. Second, eat multivitamins – they are the greatest gift ever to the world of nutrition. The multivitamins (e.g. Centrum) will ensure that even if your diet is unbalanced, you will still get the majority of what you need. Third, drink lots of water to flush your system.

Pros: Allows you to choose whatever mode of dieting works for you; is the diet used by Michael Wharfe (OC) and Jason Phillips (OC), two of HBS’ biggest studs; uses multivitamins to resolve the unbalanced diet/no nutrients problem of other diets; is very Zen, and advocates a healthy all-round lifestyle.

Cons: No medical evidence to support it; difficult to measure calorie output for many activities; creates mild-level addiction to multivitamins.

Do you have a sporting/recreational Top 5 of your own? Send it to jtesvic@mba2005.hbs.edu and we’ll publish it in the Harbus!

September 27, 2004
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