The Year in Review, Part 1: Celebrity Diets and Eating Disorders

jennifer-hudson-weight-loss

2010 had its quota of celebrity spokespersons  for the major commercial diet companies. For example Jennifer Hudson dropped 5 dress sizes using Weight Watchers, Valerie Bertinelli has been maintaining her 40 pound weight loss for three years using Jenny Craig and Marie Osmond lost 50 pounds on Nutrisystem.

A number of less well-known commercial diets (5 Squares, L.A. Diet Designs) and exercise programs (SoulCycle, Physique 57, Barry’s Bootcamp) were used by other celebrities including Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Fergie, America Ferrera, Kelly Ripa, Shakira and Vanessa Williams.

Other celebrities just did their own things: Jennifer Aniston stopped eating “shit.” Some limited themselves to vegetarian rare while others ate “steak and french fries” (but avoided sugar and booze during bikini season). Some stars just ate “everything in moderation” or kept a diet diary or food journal.

A number of celebrities went the low carb diet route, most notably Drew Carey who lost 80 pounds and “cured” his Type II diabetes.  To prepare for daughter Kate’s upcoming wedding to Prince William, Englishwoman  Carole Middleton began “The fat attack French women swear by” — a low carbohydrate plan called The Dukan Diet. There is a growing realization that severely limiting sugar and simple carbohydrates may be medically preferable to the low-fat, caloric restriction diets that have enthralled Americans for the past 30 years and may have inadvertently led to the obesity and diabetes epidemics that are the biggest threats to public health.

In his latest book, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It Gary Taubes presents compelling evidence that the “calories  in/calories out” paradigm of weight loss is wrong and misleading and that obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation and not the result of energy imbalance, overeating, sedentary behavior or lack of “will power.” Fat accumulation and fat production occurs as a result of too much insulin which is greatly over-stimulated by the high carbohydrate intake of most American diets.

One weight loss and “health promotion” method that was popular among many celebrities this past year was detoxification or cleansing. Among the celebrities which used or advocated various cleansing or detox regimens were Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, Beyonce, Blair Underwood and especially Gwyneth Paltrow. Health claims derive from the belief that many chronic medical conditions occur when the body becomes a victim to a build up of “toxins.”

As Dr. Alejandro Junger, designer of the Clean detox program, asserted: “When our systems are overtaxed, they begin to break down in a multitude of ways. Allergies, headaches, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, weight gain and insomnia are just a few of the symptoms that can result. The majority of these common ailments are the direct result of toxin build-up in our systems that has accumulated during the course of our daily lives.” Most mainstream physicians say this is nonsense.

For example,  Dr. Peter Pressman, an internal medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles says “The science behind the detox theory is deeply flawed… The body already has multiple systems in place — including the liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract — that do a perfectly good job of eliminating toxins from the body within hours of consumption.”  Professor Edzard Ernst, an international authority on complementary and alternative medicine, said that there is only one substance reliably removed from patients using detox diets: “Money from their bank accounts.”

Diet fads, like fashion,  however will continue to come and go and one weight loss method we covered back in October was “Brain State Conditioning” based on the book Limitless You: The Infinite Possibilities of a Balanced BrainWynonna Judd claimed she lost 55 pounds using this method.

The lesson from this “teachable moment” was that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and, in this case, the evidence was lacking.


Finally, there were several cases that crossed the line between unhealthy eating patterns and incapacitating psychological illness. In her very gripping autobiography, Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and GainPortia De Rossi recounted her struggle with and eventual triumph over anorexia nervosa.

Lastly, the movie Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, was called “eating disorder porn” based on its depiction of the lives of two prima ballerinas and the lengths to which the actresses had to go to “look the parts.”

Today’s Post was sponsored by

Picture your Diet

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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