The dark side of the spoon

– what to do when seem­ingly sen­si­ble di­ets (like raw, ve­gan, or pa­leo) don’t work

Living Now - - Editorial - by Casey Con­roy

What to do when seem­ingly sen­si­ble di­ets (like raw, ve­gan, or pa­leo) don’t work.


Un­less you’ve been liv­ing in a cave, you’ve prob­a­bly heard of some or all of the above ap­proaches to eat­ing. And if you’re holis­tic-health minded, you’ve prob­a­bly tried (or have friends who have tried) one or more of these.

To be hon­est, I’ve seen peo­ple ben­e­fit greatly from each of these di­ets, at least ini­tially. And when that hap­pens, it’s awe­some. New pa­leo-ists scrap­ping re­fined sug­ars and bal­anc­ing out their blood su­gar lev­els. Peo­ple who in­cor­po­rate more raw sal­ads into their di­ets on their way to be­com­ing raw food­ists. Very sick peo­ple who stop eat­ing red meat and watch their can­cer dis­ap­pear.

The bone I want to pick with these ap­proaches is that, de­spite the many prom­ises their pro­po­nents claim, and de­spite the suc­cess sto­ries, there are still fail­ures. Noth­ing is 100% suc­cess­ful, es­pe­cially in the long run.

I’ve seen di­ets fail enough times to want to say some­thing about it. De­spite the suc­cess sto­ries, sup­port­ing science, and ev­i­dence around each of these di­ets, they of­ten fail mis­er­ably.

And when they do fail, peo­ple are left con­fused, think­ing it’s them who failed and not the diet, when re­ally, it’s the other way around.


Ev­ery­one knows that re­strict­ing calo­ries, fat, or car­bo­hy­drates may work in the short term, but is very, very rarely sus­tain­able. One study com­par­ing the Atkins (low car­bo­hy­drate pre­de­ces­sor of the pa­leo diet), Or­nish (high car­bo­hy­drate, low fat), Weight Watch­ers (re­stricted calo­rie), and zone di­ets (low car­bo­hy­drate) found that, af­ter one year,

the num­ber of peo­ple stick­ing with the diet dropped by 35% to 50% for all four di­ets.

1 So did the re­main­ing sub­jects’ sel­f­rated ad­her­ence level (how strictly they were ad­her­ing to the diet). Sub­jects from all four di­ets re­ported that, on a re­ten­tion scale of 1 (none) to10 (per­fect), the av­er­age was 3 or 4 out of 10. And I would ar­gue that ad­her­ing to a diet 30% to 40% of the time is not re­ally ad­her­ing to a diet.

The re­ten­tion rate in the Jenny Craig pro­gram was found to be just 6.6% af­ter one year. That means that less than 7

2 in 100 peo­ple who be­gin Jenny Craig ac­tu­ally stick with it for a whole year!

I would be very in­ter­ested to see the re­sults of sim­i­lar re­ten­tion stud­ies done for the newer pro­to­types of these grand­dad­dies of the di­et­ing arena, namely pa­leo and the high car­bo­hy­drate raw food vari­ants, in­clud­ing 80/10/10. Go­ing by their pre­de­ces­sors and the heart­break­ing sto­ries I hear from many of my clients, I would guess they are sim­i­lar.

Not only are di­ets nearly im­pos­si­ble to stick to, they can do dras­tic phys­i­o­log­i­cal dam­age.


What does it look like when a pa­leo/raw/ ve­gan diet fails? • Think pa­leo-cross­fit chicks who take the most ex­treme ap­proach to pa­leo, cut­ting out all su­gar, fruit, starchy veg­eta­bles and car­bo­hy­drates, who then burn out and dis­tort their hor­mones. They can’t fuel their two high in­ten­sity work­outs per day, and their pe­ri­ods stop. • Think raw food­ist yo­gis who shiver their way through a win­ter of blended raw veg­eta­bles and juices, and ex­pe­ri­ence low en­ergy, fa­tigue and a cold­ness that just won’t shift. • Long term die-hard ve­g­ans who, al­though may have been liv­ing quite hap­pily as ve­g­ans for some years, find them­selves crav­ing an egg or some fish when they fall preg­nant or get ill –and fail to lis­ten to their bod­ies. Please be clear – I’m not say­ing these di­ets don’t work at all. I’m say­ing that they don’t work for 100% of the pop­u­la­tion, 100% of the time, con­trary to what pro­po­nents of each of these ap­proaches to eat­ing may im­ply on the web­sites and in the books they sell.

Not only are di­ets nearly im­pos­si­ble to stick to, they can do dras­tic phys­i­o­log­i­cal dam­age.

by Casey Con­roy

Pa­leo. Raw. Ve­gan. 80/10/10. 5/2. Su­gar-free. Dairy-free. Low fat. Low car­bo­hy­drate. Low calo­rie. Not work­ing? What­ever the diet, re­search shows that 95% of peo­ple who go on a diet for weight loss rea­sons will re­gain any weight lost – usu­ally plus some.

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