LIFESTYLE

Why Using The Internet As Your Dietician Is A Terrible Idea

Do your body a favour. Don't Google.

22/09/2016 4:39 PM IST | Updated 26/09/2016 4:43 PM IST
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Type 'diet' in the Google search bar, and you'll be rewarded with a zillion programmes, each more bizarre than the other. If one diet programme advises you to have just cucumber and unsweetened curd all through the day, another tells you that having raw papaya will make you lose five pounds a day. However, they all promise instant results within an impossibly short time. If you have a friend's wedding around the corner and you want to squeeze into that tiny Deepika Padukone choli, it's hard not to buy into them. More so when you consider how much cheaper and convenient it is as compared to visiting a nutritionist's office.

Yet, experts ask you to exercise a little caution. There's no harm in doing some research before you drown yourself in a sea of dahi. Delhi-based lawyer, Abhiroop Datta who believes that the Internet can prove a wealthy mine of information on this subject (along with others) lost 16 kilograms by charting out his own plan after discovering Loseit (on Reddit). His start wasn't so good: Datta initially went off salt for six weeks, which he admits in retrospect was not the best move. Luckily for him, he discovered he was harming his own body, and chartered a sensible plan that eventually worked for him, after more research. "Monitor everything. Know what you are putting into your body. Read every label, and have a chart," he says.

Unfortunately, there are many people out there who initially try to cut convenient corners despite knowing better. Needless to say, they and end up facing ordeals of a more severe nature. "Following a weight loss programme online isn't just concentrating on a particular diet. It requires a holistic lifestyle change in your eating and exercising habits," says Ritika Samaddar, regional head of the Department of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, Max Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi. "Most clients only concentrate on the diet, and are disappointed by the weight gain when they discard it."

It appears ignorance isn't always bliss - certainly not when it comes to looking up diet programmes online. "There's a lot of mixed information out there, and you could be doing some severe damage to your body without even knowing it just for the sake of a shortcut," says Dr Shikha Sharma, founder of drshikha'snutrihealth.com. She has along with other nutritionists, explained why online diets won't always work for you.

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You can never be sure of correct dosages

A lot of content online won't always prescribe the right amount of food your body requires unless you're consulting with an online dietician. "Amla for example is a dicey food to eat - it will improve your metabolism if taken in the right dosage. But an overdosage has repercussions like diarrhoea, and dehydration," says Dr Sharma. One also has to consider the possibility of conflicting health disorders. An individual with a cholesterol problem will only do more damage to himself/ herself by going on the Atkin's diet.

The Atkins diet was a huge hit in the US. But an average Indian might land up with kidney failure, simply because our bodies cannot accommodate such high quantities of animal protein.

It's not relevant in your country

Many diets that are available online cater to our Caucasian counterparts," says Samaddar. "But their metabolic rates and fat and protein distribution content are hugely different as compared to the needs of an Indian body type.For example, the Atkins diet was a huge hit in the US. But an average Indian might land up with kidney failure, simply because our bodies cannot accommodate such high quantities of animal protein."

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It's easy to cave in to temptation

Crash diets or extreme changes are not easy to get used to. When Kolkata-based Charlene Hendricks attempted the General Motors diet, she could only survive for four days before dropping it.The online diet was crazy restrictive. No matter how much they said you'd feel full on fruits and veggies, it just doesn't work that way," she told HuffPost India. "Many people in India enjoy heavier meal," says Dr Sharma. If you ask someone to drop from consuming approximately 3,000 to 1,500 kilo calories, that person is more likely to binge and will end up consuming more than he/ she normally would.

When Kolkata-based Charlene Hendricks attempted the General Motors diet, she could only survive for four days before dropping it

You're relying on unregulated, untested information

Unlike your family doctor who is familiar with your family history, and will cater to your needs accordingly, there's a lot of vague information out there. "A lot of people think it's a quick buck and quick money. The nutrition profession in India is very unregulated (forget about the thousands of weight loss articles that are pouring in from all other parts of the world) ," says Dr Sharma,.

"People don't usually look for the source of the content they are reading. Much of the content is picked up conveniently from other areas and stitched together without detailed research," she says. "Seventy per cent of the content written online is by non-nutritionists as fads to follow. There's a lot of double checking to be done, which can be avoided if you find the right nutritionist: for instance, people with a cholesterol problem should not attempt an Atkins diet."

People don't usually look for the source of the content they are reading. Much of the content is picked up conveniently from other areas and stitched together without detailed research.

You regain weight fast

Delhi-based Atika Singhal Jain attempted a vegetarian version of the General Motors diet to fit into her shorts for a holiday in Goa. "I lost a couple of kilos. But it seemed that the minute I had my first lunch at Goa, the extra weight was back," she said. Hendricks (mentioned above) also gained the weight she had lost within the span of a week. "It wasn't until I started consulting a nutritionist that I started keeping the weight off," she said. "The first thing anyone loses on a diet is water, especially when you are off carbs," says Lalitha Subramanyam, chief nutritionist at Growfit, a health and nutrition website and app that caters to clients individually. "It's easy to lose, and one is encouraged by the results. But the minute you start eating carbs, the weight will come back."

You become prone to suffering from nutrient deficiencies

Samaddar reveals that most of her patients who've gone on DIY crash diets come back to report severe deficiencies, particularly calcium, vitamin D and iron. (Vitamin D deficiency is on a steady rise in the country, an alarming phenomenon as this pro-hormone helps in 26 body functions.) "Protein deficiencies are also very common, as many Indians are vegetarians," she says. "Vegan diets are now the in-thing, but need to be monitored carefully so you don't miss out on any nutrients. A lot of this information is not available online.

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You don't know what to do next

Eventually, in any diet plan, an individual will hit a stagnant phase. "Your body needs a change to hit the next level and overcome this plateau," says Subramanyam. "But if you've following random online advice, you won't know what the next level of natural progression is."

Samaddar reveals that most of her patients who've gone on DIY crash diets come back to report severe deficiencies, particularly calcium, vitamin D and iron. (Vitamin D deficiency is on a steady rise in the country, an alarming phenomenon as this pro-hormone helps in 26 body functions.)

What works for someone may not work for you at all

"People have different needs, different diet requirements, based on their age and many other things," says Delhi-based nutritionist Ishi Khosla who runs theweightmonitor.com and is the author of Is Wheat Killing You? A proper diet needs to be tailor made to suit these requirements.

There are no cautionary notes

"Professionals who really know the field will always include cautionary notes about the items you are putting in your body, and how precisely it will work," says Dr Sharma. "There are some crazy diets out there, like the wine and cheese diet or a starvation diet, which don't work, and don't include any fine print on the damages. If something is published, people think it's validated," she says.

Samaddar cites the example of nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar, who has been trending online for encouraging the inclusion of ghee (clarified butter) in everyday meals. "What's not mentioned is that she's talking about people who exercise every day. So much ghee cannot be ingested by a person with a high cholesterol level. But people will only read what they want to read," she says.

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