A Green Cuisine The effects of dieting on students’ physical appearances

By Hannah Lee

His pride was on the line — he had to win. He clenched his teeth, his face slowly distorting as he exerted all of his energy into the arm wrestling battle. But when he placed second to last in the competition, he realized that he needed to transform his body.

“I was like, damn, I need to do something about this, so I started going to the gym,” junior Anan Wang said. “If I’m doing something about this, I probably could change my diet too. So I found something that could get rid of skinny fat and [make me] stronger.”

For the past three to four months, Wang has implemented intermittent fasting, more specifically a one-meal-per-day diet, into his lifestyle. Before starting this diet, Wang conducted extensive research to choose a diet that would be effective.

“It gives your body time to go through ketosis to start burning the fat cells,” Wang said. “It sounds like fake news, just hearing about it, but then if you look at some of the research, the diet is pretty cool.”

According to Dr. Xand Van Tulleken, a Harvard and Oxford University alumnus, the one-meal-a-day approach is not only supported by scientific research, but also provides convenience for dieters. It allows people to witness impressive results without having to count calories every meal. This is one of the main reasons why Wang chose this diet.

“One of the most attractive things about [this diet] is that it’s almost impossible to fit 2000 calories in one meal, so you can pretty much eat whatever you want and still say lean,” Wang said. “I spent some time tracking my calories [in the past], but that is a really exhausting thing. My family is Chinese so we eat foods like bok choy or tofu, but they don’t have calorie counts for those so I had to just estimate, and it was really unreliable.”

Illustration by Hannah Lee

By eating one meal a day, Wang is able to enjoy the food he eats. For 23 hours of the day, he fasts, but then for the one hour where he eats, he appreciates his meal. Wang believes that this is much more effective for him personally than the typical diet of eating meals constantly throughout the day. Eating multiple meals a day causes the body to constantly digest food. As a result of this, feelings of hunger are more frequent, causing people to intake more food than they need.

In addition to this, Wang explained that the one meal a day diet is convenient for his busy schedule as a high school student. Since he already skips breakfast on a daily basis, he simply needed to restrain himself from purchasing lunch at school. In this sense, he said that pursuing this diet was actually an easy change to make.

Despite the rigor of this diet, Wang has witnessed a positive impact of this diet on both his physical appearance and energy levels.

“I don’t think my energy has really changed. In fact, I think it has increased,” Wang said. “My body weight hasn’t changed at all, but I assume my fat levels have gone down. Before I had tubes for arms, like you couldn’t see any [muscles]. But now, if you look really closely, [my arms] look like a logistic curve.”

In this diet, however, Wang explains that he still needs to make sure he watches the types of foods that he is eating. He has replaced junk food that he enjoys with healthier alternatives.

“I’m trying to gradually replace all of my hot dogs with like, a bunch of carrots and kale,” Wang said.

Illustration by Hannah Lee

Although Wang doesn’t believe that counting calories is an effective weight loss method, freshman Raj Sidhu tracks his macromolecules such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins and calories to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle. By tracking his meals using an app called MyFitnessPal and consistently exercising through weight training, he was able to transform his body in less than a year.

“I’ve lost around 100 pounds in the span of eight months,” Sidhu said. “In seventh grade, I always told myself that I would start a diet and start watching myself on the first day of summer. I actually started that and I was able to start gaining muscle by the middle of last year.”

Sidhu first began his diet because he was self-conscious about his body. His physical appearance not only took a toll on his confidence, but also on his performance in other areas of his life, including sports like basketball.

Illustration by Hannah Lee

“I wanted to be better,” Sidhu said. “I wanted to have a better chance playing sports competitively. I never really had confidence before because of how my body looked. I just wanted to feel better and be able to play sports well.”

But the path to Sidhu’s transformation was not easy. Whenever he went out to eat with his friends or family members, he had to constantly restrain from eating fatty foods like pizza due to the set number of carbs, fats and proteins in his diet. In addition, prior to his current diet, he struggled to lose weight in a healthy manner.

“Last summer I lost a bunch of weight,” Sidhu said. “I tried to eat less carbs and was only eating when I was hungry. It wasn’t very structured, so by the end of the day, I always felt kind of weak. I didn’t exactly know what I was doing. I was eating less than what my body needed, which was way too little.”

Nevertheless, Sidhu found a diet that was suitable for his body. During the summer, he went on a lean bulk diet, in which he tried to add muscle without increasing fat. According to Sidhu, this diet was much more difficult than just trying to lose a significant amount of weight because he had to be conscious of retaining his muscle while still shedding fat. Despite the more strenuous nature of the lean bulk diet, Sidhu believes that his diet has improved his confidence, physical appearance and physical capabilities.

Illustration by Hannah Lee

“I think the biggest change that I’ve seen is that in basketball, I can run a lot faster,” Sidhu said. “On fast breaks, if I run as fast as possible, I can always be the first person down the court. Before I went on my diet, the coach would always make me just stay back on defense because I was too slow.”

Like Wang and Sidhu, junior Elena Chen has started dieting to lose weight. However, her diet is much less extreme. Rather than following a strict diet plan, she tries to eliminate certain unhealthier foods from her diet.

“I just wanted to lose weight and become more fit. One of the main things I noticed was that I eat a lot of rice,” Chen said. “Rice has a lot of starch, which eventually breaks down into a lot of sugar. I thought that maybe something would change if I cut it out.”

Another reason for her decision to cut out rice from her diet was that her previous attempts at following a set diet were unsuccessful due to her busy schedule. It was difficult for her to find time during the day to plan and prepare healthy meals ahead of time.

Still, Chen tries to make her diet healthier with small changes as she acknowledges that diets have a large impact on physical appearance. Her habit of eating ice cream and potato chips while studying has not only impacted the numbers on the scale, but also her acne, according to Chen.

“High school is a lot of stress,” Chen said. “You want to eat whatever you want. You don’t want to have to worry about what kind of foods affect your appearance.”

Because of this, Chen finds it difficult to lose weight throughout the school year. Although she has been able to cut out rice from her diet, she explained that the unhealthy foods she eats while studying have countered the positive effects of her food restriction.

Illustration by Hannah Lee

“I always go back to junk food,” Chen said. “I have no self-control when I’m really hungry late at night from doing homework all day.”

Although it is difficult for Chen to maintain her diet throughout the school year due to factors like time and stress, Wang explained that he is able to maintain his determination to improve his physical appearance despite the rigor of the school year. Although his friends and family members do not support his diet, he pushes onward.

“Negative reactions from people push me to go further down this weight loss path because I’ll prove them wrong,” Wang said. “In fact, I’m thinking about doing six meals a day. But that’s like, the complete opposite. I just want to see which one works better.”

Whether it’s a more extreme diet or a more moderate one, dieting continues to be a popular method for losing weight. Although it may be difficult to maintain this lifestyle during the school year, Wang said that he enjoys observing the positive results of his diet over time.

“I changed my lifestyle a lot,” Wang said. “By exercising and as a by-product of this diet change, I think I feel a lot more energetic and more outgoing.”

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