There’s been a lot of talk lately about the high protein diets that are “on the market” and I seem to be having discussions about them almost regularly so I thought I’d take the time to let you know my thoughts on, what seems to me, a dangerous fad.
Now, I’m jumping into this topic after having done tons of research and consulting several medical professionals – including my own family doctor and a doctor specializing in internal medicine. I’d also like to make it abundantly clear that I have also had in-depth conversations with three Ideal Protein representatives (totaling several hours of conversation, questions and research).
So, there are several of these diets in question – Ideal Protein, the Dukan Diet, Atkins (to name a few) and they all basically follow the same protocol: restrict your carb intake and live almost solely on protein-rich foods. The diets claim “to switch the body’s metabolism from metabolizing glucose as energy over to converting stored body fat to energy”. Ideal Protein also claims the diet will “reset” your pancreas.
These high protein, low (non) carb plans claim that you’ll lose a ton of weight, fast. And for the most part they hold up. But at what risks to your health? We’ll get to that soon enough.
First, let’s set some things straight.
#1 Carbohydrate is an important energy source for working muscles and for the brain and nervous tissue. It also assists digestion by providing dietary fibre. Carbohydrate provides the body with its most efficient and accessible source of energy. In FACT, all exercise – even low-intensity – is reliant on carbohydrate. In 2002 the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends 45%-65% of total caloric intake come from carbohydrate.
#2 The major role of protein is to build and repair body tissues, such as muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Protein is NOT a primary source of energy.
#3 Obviously, I have issues with any diet that promotes not exercising. I think it is irresponsible for a diet to suggest one not exercise. I know that these diets promote walking (for up to 30 minutes a day), but guess what? We walk. We’re human and we have two legs and in order to get from Point A to Point B we must walk. (I’ve also been told by Ideal Protein and Dukan Diet reps that the walking must not be high-impact because it is “dangerous”.) <<— Clearly I’ll come back to this point soon.
#4 Exercise and physical activity is an important part of a balanced lifestyle. Exercise promotes healthy weight, builds muscle and increases strength, helps fight and prevent diseases, improves heart efficiency, reduces depression, anxiety, and stress, strengthens bones, reduces body fat – to name but a few benefits. (Of course, a balanced lifestyle includes eating a balanced diet!)
#5 ANYTIME you eliminate a food group from your regular diet you’re almost guaranteed to lose weight. This I can speak to from experience. About 7 years ago I was very ill and, for a year, spent more than my fair share of time at medical and specialist appointments, having tests, tests, and more tests done, and going through my very own elimination diet per one of the specialists I was seeing. I had to cut out nearly everything from my diet and it sucked. Sure, I lost tons of weight (and I loved it!) but I was also depressed, lethargic, moody. I had no energy, I was fatigued all the time; in fact I was so miserable all the time that I started going to bed at 8:00pm – partly because I didn’t want to deal with the world and my sad little life, and partly because I was so tired from my limited diet that I just couldn’t bear to stay awake any longer. Eventually, my family doctor got me back on a regular eating plan and we worked on alternate ways to diagnose my illness.
Okay, so now that that’s out of the way let’s get back to the dangers/risks/problems of these high protein diets.
– Many of the high-protein foods are also high in cholesterol and fat
– Lack of nutrients and vitamins
– High cholesterol
– Liver problems/damage
– Kidney problems/damage (exerts too much pressure on the kidneys because they are unable to process the high amounts of protein)
– Headaches and naseau
– Bad breath
– Bone loss
– Ketosis (Unhealthy metabolic state. During ketosis, the body forms substances known as ketones, which can dull appetite and cause nausea and bad breath. Ketosis can be prevented by eating at least 100 grams of carbohydrates a day.)
– Abnormal heartbeat and arythmia
– Hair loss
– More saturated fat ingested
– PH levels in body change causing digestive issues and skin problems
– Harmful to diabetics because the diet makes it harder to produce insulin and digest sugars)
– No exercise
– Ideal Protein provides “packaged food” – possibly loaded with chemicals or some other mysterious matter – and the plan and food are expensive.
These are just some of the issues these diets can cause. There are tons more. And let me just state that on the multi-page health history questionnaire you are required to fill out for Ideal Protein (it seems I’m picking on this one) you are asked about diabetes, hypoglycemia, cardiovascular functions (blood clots, congestive heart failure, etc.), kidney and liver functions, colon and digestive functions, inflammatory conditions, cancer, allergies, medications, ovarian/breast function, endocrine function, neurological/emotional function (including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Schizophrenia, depression, Epilepsy, etc.) and other health problems. HELLO RED FLAGS!!
And as for the dangers of working out while on these diets, as I stated in #s 1, 2, and 3 – you NEED carbohydrate for physical activity. If you deprive yourself of carbs for any amount of time and try to exercise, believe me, you’re not going to do too well. Your body doesn’t have the fuel required to perform and you become exhausted. Imagine depriving yourself of carbohydrate for weeks or months at a time; the end result can’t/won’t be good. In fact, an Ideal Protein rep told me she had one client who was bringing a few logs of wood from her porch to her fireplace and fainted because it was too much exertion. She also told me that one of her clients was so desperate to go to a Zumba class but had heart palpitations within the first few minutes of dancing that she ended up in the hospital. If you eliminate a source of energy that is absolute fuel for your mind and body you are doing a disservice to your mind, body and spirit.
I’m not going to lie to you, when I first heard about these “miraculous” diets I was, of course, intrigued. But I wanted to to educate myself in all areas first. And I’m glad I did. There are too many potential dangers (and I would have answered “yes” to several of the questions on health history – which would have put my body and my life in potential jeopardy had I followed one of these crazy diets. (And I also have to question anything that comes in a silver foil package.)
These diets are quick fix diets. That’s the truth! They claim to (guarantee) you lose tons of weight almost immediately (and I’m sure you do – but not in a beneficial-to-your-life kind of way) and if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: If you’re not ready to do the work, you’re not ready to lose the weight!! There! I said it again and I stand by it.
Actually, last week I had a friend email me about joining my boot camp and I gave her all the information. The next day she told me she decided to go on the Ideal Protein diet because she needed fast and “amazing” results. To me, working for my results and feeling a sense of pride in my commitments and accomplishments is “amazing”.
I may get a little flack from some people, and that’s fine. Again, these are my thoughts based on the research I’ve done, including speaking with doctors and representatives of some of these diets. As a health and fitness professional I think it’s important for everyone to be informed on the cons of these diets (and, of course the pros of carbohydrates, a balanced diet, and exercise). If you are looking for a quick fix and you feel a high protein, low-carb diet is right for you, then by all means, consult your physician and do what’s best for you. But at least go into your consultation(s) informed and educated.