Does Dr. Oz's "Fat-urday" diet plan fuel compulsive eating?
Dr. Oz suggests that viewers who are trying to lose weight have a weekly day to eat anything they want called "Fat-urday" diet plan.
By scheduling the day of indulgence, Dr. Oz feels that it removes the emotional cues behind eating. You are not allowed to eat junk food when sad or stressed. You must hold off until your “Fat-urday”. This way, food stops being your enemy and becomes your friend.
The “Fat-urday Cheat Plan” includes a bit of structure. Dr. Oz suggests eating fats in the morning to burn them the rest of the day, carbs at lunch to turn on thyroid, and sugars for late afternoon snack to feed sugar cravings. He does suggest some healthy substitutions - he advocates baked fries instead of fried fries. With a few low-fat, healthy substitutions, the rest of your “Fat-urday” caloric intake can be devoted to the high-fat and high-sugar cravings.
Yet, food is an addiction for many people. Losing and keeping off weight should be a lifestyle change, not a “diet”. A “diet” involves a temporary change in order to lose weight. Lifestyle change involves reassessing what types of food are fuels that need to be regularly eaten to promote not just weight loss, but good health. By looking forward to “Fat-urday”, a person still clings to unhealthy desires. Is this not like telling an alcoholic to take just one day to drink? Or telling a smoker to take one day to smoke? Too often that one drink or one cigarette leads to more and short-sighted rationalizations that allow the behavior to continue over the next days, weeks or months.
A 2011 study at Yale University shows that sugar and fat trigger activity in the brain in a way similar to drugs and alcohol (http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1107239). The theory behind this reaction once served survival purposes but since high-calorie foods are no longer difficult to obtain in our society, the drive to obtain them becomes obsolete. Just like drugs and alcohol, sugars and fats trigger a dopaminergic release in the brain, making a person “feel good”. With repeated use, dopamine floods the body and the person develops a tolerance, causing a user to ingest more and more, leading to addiction.
Symptoms of food addiction include frequently worrying about overeating, eating to the point of feeling sick and difficulty functioning due to attempts to control overeating or overeating itself. The Yale study showed that women with symptoms of food addiction had higher expectations that a chocolate shake would be yummy and pleasurable when they anticipated eating it, and they were less able to stop eating it once they started. The participants also showed reduced activity in brain regions involved with self-control when they ate ice cream.
By keeping high-fat, sugary foods on the table with a "Fat-urday Cheat Plan", a person who suffers from food addiction enables this pattern. Will they be able to stop once they start? Binge eaters who stop abruptly experience cravings, just like any addict. Doesn’t the “Fat-urday Cheat Plan” enable a downward spiral? While the term “food addiction” is not recognized as a diagnosis, binge eating is considered a compulsive psychiatric disorder and 12 step programs advocate eliminating the trigger foods.
This idea of one day of eating what you want is not new. A friend of mine started it years ago and it seemed to work for a while. But it was not a permanent lifestyle change. When he stopped it, he gained the weight back. He has only been able to now maintain a healthy weight once he evaluated his foods on a daily basis and added regular exercise.
One way to start re-evaluating our relationship to food is to consider it a fuel. The sole purpose of eating is to enable our bodies to continue functioning, not just to enjoy the taste. A piece of cake does nothing to help your body. Once you remove unnecessary foods like cake, you begin to really taste the sweetness of fruits, “nature’s dessert” which contain anti-oxidants and fiber to help your body function optimally. If you redefine dessert and renew your relationship with fruit, you can in fact eat as much as you want of it every day, feel full, increase energy, and decrease your risk of many preventable diseases.
By telling viewers they can “cheat on their diets”, he perpetuates the idea of a temporary meal plan instead of a lifestyle evaluation and change and allows controlled cheating which may be asking too much of people who are compulsive eaters. Just like other addictions, finding permanent, healthier alternatives will form a more solid foundation for later behavior. If Dr. Oz worries that advocating complete elimination of junk food will turn off some viewers, he should make his “Fat-urday” plan just a temporary step to eventually help wean viewers off junk food completely.
Written by Valerie Chalcraft