Public Health Students Get Lectures on Fad Diets – UBNow: News and opinion for UB faculty and staff

For his public health nutrition class this spring, Adam Graczyk asked his students to work in teams to develop their own fad diets, drawing from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines.

Senior Mitchell Orzell and his team decided to follow the rainbow to their proverbial pot of gold – the farmers market – for their diet, which won a “Shark Tank”-style competition held last month by the Graczyk class. Orzell’s team named their diet “Regenbogen,” looking for inspiration from the German translation of the word rainbow.

Students spent the first few weeks of the semester reviewing several popular diets, identifying key components they all shared, while learning about the USDA’s dietary guidelines and their evidence-based recommendations. They then worked as a team to create a fad diet that incorporated aspects of other popular fad diets that made them marketable, such as branding and simple messaging around a central story.

Graczyk, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, School of Public Health and the Health Professions, instructed each team not to include the classic pitfalls of the fad diet, such as focusing on good and bad foods or eliminate certain food groups or focus on weight loss and body image. Additionally, the diets had to be based on USDA guidelines. Each team was asked to create a name, logo and branding story for their diet, along with examples of dietary patterns.

“We’ve been required to keep our diet plan within the USDA dietary guidelines, so it could be a little tricky trying to come up with something fun and interesting that still made sense,” says Orzell.

The project reaffirmed Orzell’s beliefs about fad diets. “Which is to say they’re fads for a reason and they’re often not very sustainable,” she says. “In fact, I think I’ve learned more about the difficulties that come with creating a flashy diet plan that people might actually be willing to try. To create a fad diet, you need to move away from conventional logic while still sticking to a plan that you believe will bring tangible, if not sustainable, results.

To give students the tools they need to develop their own fad diets, Graczyk invited two guest speakers: Natasha Allard, a PhD student in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, who gave two presentations on health marketing and communication, and Kelsey Wagner, the Blackstone LaunchPad Entrepreneurship Training Coordinator, who led workshops on public speaking and increasing engagement during presentations.

In March, Graczyk held a “Shark Tank”-style competition in which each team presented their diet to their classmates and two “sharks”: Jennifer Temple, a professor in the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at UB and Naomi McKay, an associate professor of psychology at SUNY Buffalo State University, who judged them on the feasibility of the diet.

The Regenbogen diet was the winning entry and was inspired by Orzell’s weight loss journey.

“While we were doing our research, it turned out that the Rainbow Diet already exists, so we decided to give it a more unique and catchy name. The official story, however, involves me following a rainbow to our proverbial pot of gold: the farmers market. After using the diet to change my bad eating habits, I developed the Regenbogen Diet to help others,” says Orzell.

There are no restricted foods in the Regenbogen diet. Instead, the basic premise is to add nutritional foods to your current diet by consuming a serving of a certain color-coded fruit or vegetable every day throughout the week. For example, Monday is “red”, so a person would eat a pepper and some strawberries. An orange and a carrot would be good choices for “Orange” Tuesday. The pattern continues through Sunday, where people are encouraged to use up leftovers by making a fruit salad or omelet.

“The idea here is that by creating a nonrestrictive dietary approach, we can increase compliance with the diet and hopefully begin to replace some of the added sugars, processed carbohydrates, and refined foods common in the typical American diet,” says Orzell. An added benefit comes from incorporating multiple key micronutrients found in fruits and vegetables.

For the remainder of the semester, the class is working as a collective team to develop a comprehensive lifestyle plan based on USDA guidelines, while incorporating stress reduction, intuitive eating, and movement, all structured around diet winning.

It’s all written and edited by students, and will be released as an e-book at the end of the semester, for 99 cents. All money generated from the sales will be donated to the National Eating Disorders Association.

“What I hope they get out of the project is that communicating nutritional information to a general audience isn’t easy, but that shouldn’t stop them from trying,” says Graczyk. “There is a lot of bad information out there about nutrition, and it will require creativity and new ideas to make sure reliable, evidence-based information stands out. Public health depends on it.”

Adds Orzell, “I think this was a good exercise in better understanding the inner workings of fad diets and how to better inform ourselves and others about American diet culture.”

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