Rediscovering health and wellness in the age of fad diets and quick fixes


“Do not eat bread every day. It causes cancer.

Who told you that?

I read it somewhere.

But it's multigrain!

Who knows what it is made of actually?”

This is a real-life conversation between my mother and me. When you read it, it sounds funny. However, when you decipher the themes out of this normal-looking conversation, the whole scenario appears different and concerning.

With more and more researches in the area of healthcare, food, stress, alternative forms of treatment and various non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the reporting of results seem to have an impact on the general public. The good part is, people have become more aware about their health and increasingly vigilant about adulterated products/foods. The worst part is results of these researches are not consistent and everybody wants a quick fix for better health.

There is nothing wrong in a quick fix, some argue. After all, with changing times, increased stress at work, hectic life and work schedules, what more can one do to stay healthy? Health is in itself an umbrella term which include both physical as well as mental health. There are several ways and activities suggested in numerous articles, researches and followed by millions of people globally to stay mentally and physically fit.

Yoga, naturopathy, ayurveda, meditation are some examples of alternative but popular forms of wellness care while seven-day GM diet, ketogenic diet, Shangri-La diet and intermittent fasting are a few examples of fad diets for weight loss. Avocado, berries, kale, fish, eggs, green leafy vegetables are examples of superfoods. These fad diets, various forms of fitness routines and foods that provide easy solutions are a rage now.

A consumer, however, is unable to be in direct control of regulating the quality of any kind of food; neither can she be aware of the personal gains/interests of people in promoting a certain form of treatment/food. Not a single day goes by without someone talking about stress, cancer, quality of foods, adulterated products and exercise. On one hand it is a delight to know people are increasingly aware of food and adulteration, but on the other hand it is frustrating when you can't do anything about it.

There have been reports of plastic eggs and rice in the market, pesticides being used for foods labelled as organic, cancerous substances being used in our daily life products, and stress being present all around us for free. There have been recent news about a stand-up comedian collapsing and dying on the stage, a marathon runner collapsing and a few bank and IT professionals facing health hazards. Why mention these? Because they were all young and looked fit. What went wrong? Were they not eating well? Were they not doing yoga or exercise? Were they really really stressed out? Did they have any long-standing illness or genetic factors? I don’t know what the answer is, but as a mental health professional and a researcher, I can definitely say many such illnesses are the result of combination of various risk factors. These risk factors could be physical, psychological, social or environmental.

Many times, these risk factors can hardly be controlled. The only thing that we are in control is the day-to-day life which needs 'balance'. Leaving sugar, losing weight and following fad diets isn’t a lifelong solution to prevent diabetes or cardio-vascular problems. I have seen a number of people, who follow healthy habits, suffering from diabetes just because it runs in their families. Such people are more vulnerable to develop depressive and anxiety symptoms on diagnosis because they never indulged in anything ‘wrong’ or consumed anything in ‘excess’. So, what do we do? Follow quick fixes called fad diets/foods or overall fitness to be healthy!

Fitness is understood in terms of weight and beauty standards, thanks to the beauty industry and celebrities. However, fitness is a lifestyle, it is healthy, it takes longer time and follows optimum levels for everything. One can be really thin but with poor fitness levels while another can appear healthy/big sized but with normal levels of vitamins, and normal bodily reports. There is a saying that you don't need to be fitter than anyone else, but be fitter than you thought you could be.

“Being healthy and fit isn’t a fad or a trend. Instead, it’s a lifestyle.”

A few points to remember:

  1. Accept that anything can happen to anyone at any age/stage

  2. Be aware but not hyper-vigilant

  3. Once a year a full body check-up won’t harm anyone

  4. Eat everything (both healthy or unhealthy) but in OPTIMUM quantities

  5. Eat on time, drink enough water and sleep enough

  6. Seek expert opinion. Don’t follow things blindly. Different activities, foods or diets could have different results based on your medical history, body type, age etc.

  7. Follow the facts. For instance, substance use (tobacco, alcohol and opium) can lead to multiple body and mind issues

  8. Be mindful of the present moment rather than worrying about your future

  9. Be healthy and fit, not thin and malnourished

  10. Increase physical activities on a daily basis. This doesn’t only mean a proper workout. It could be walking, taking stairs instead of lift, taking frequent breaks while working, any kind of cardio exercise, stretching or weight training.

  11. Engage in activities that increases the ‘feel good’ factor. For example, once a day do at least one or more activity that would make you happy.

  12. Be grateful. Remind yourself of at least five events or things happened in the whole day before you go to sleep

  13. Give yourself some time in a day. This is your personal time for reflections and goal setting

  14. Balance is the key. There could be days with snacks/junk food and there could be days with only fruits and vegetables

  15. Don’t control, but be mindful of quality and quantities of what you eat or drink

To sum up, there is no need to follow the trends just to be in line with popular beliefs, rather be mindful of what your body and mind really need, and what you can afford to have/do in a day.

Amanpreet Kaur is a research fellow (mental health) at George Institute for Global Health, India, and a registered clinical psychologist (M.Phil & Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology)