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Mary Baucom/MEDILL

Every-Other-Day dieters are restricted to eating one 500-calorie meal, such as a mixture of vegetables and lean protein, on Diet Days. On Feast Days, dieters can indulge in whatever and as much as they desire.

Fast, eat, repeat: Diet promises fast results

by Mary Baucom
Jan 15, 2014

Amanda Hill, a blogger from Consecon, Ontario, wanted to lose fifteen pounds. Through intermittent fasting, she surpassed her weight loss goal, losing twenty pounds in six months.

“I gradually watched as the inches and the pounds dropped off and realized it was something I could do forever,” she says.

Fasting has often been viewed as a religious custom. But recent studies have resulted in fasting becoming a new trend in the dieting world. Intermittent fasting, a pattern of fasting and non-fasting as a way of losing weight, has turned out to be an effective way to shed unwanted pounds.

Intermittent fasting became popular in August 2012 with British science journalist Dr. Michael Mosley’s documentary, Eat, Fast and Live Longer. This documentary promoted the 5:2 diet, a regiment of restricting oneself to 500 calories two days per week.

Locally, Krista Varady, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago, developed a similar program, the Every-Other-Day-Diet.

“I wanted to create an alternative, so another viable option for weight loss,” she says.

The premise behind the Every-Other-Day Diet is to eat a limited 500 calories at lunch one day, the “Diet Day,” and then anything you want and as much as you want the next day, the “Feast Day.”

Varady’s six years of human research resulted in the December publication of “The-Every-Other-Day Diet.”

Varady found in her research that intermittent fasting leads to concrete results. Generally, bigger people lose about three pounds per week and smaller people lose about one to two pounds per week.

“Everything tastes wonderful when you are hungry, so it’s a really interesting way of finding out what your body really needs and appreciating the food that you do eat,” Hill says. “I don’t think of it as a diet, just a way of living."

Varady agrees that the simplicity of intermittent fasting is one of its biggest appeals.

“It doesn’t involve looking at macronutrients like protein or carbs or calories,” she says. “It really is a form of altering your meal patterns rather than the actual foods you eat. I think people like it too because they don’t have to go out and buy new groceries for this diet.”

While following the diet is straightforward, it can be challenging to limit oneself to 500 calories.

“It’s uncomfortable to kind of get used to the 500 calories for the first five Diet Days,” Varady says.

Jacqueline Meldrum, a Scottish food writer, drinks lots of water during her fasting days and eats her 500-calorie meal at dinnertime. Meldrum first started intermittent fasting in September 2012 and uses her blog, tinned tomatoes, to promote the 5:2 diet.

“I always feel really positive and energetic on a Fast Day and don't really think about food at all,” she says.

Varady says the diet is sustainable because individuals can look forward to the next day, the Feast Day.

But registered dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield, founder of Capital Nutrition Group in Washington D.C., says calorie restriction as promoted by the Every-Other-Day Diet is dangerous and is a form of “disordered eating.”

“It’s not normal to under eat and be so restrictive and it’s not normal to overeat and overfeed yourself,” Scritchfield says. “In general, we are all going to need three meals a day.”

Scritchfield says that instead of intermittent fasting or obsessing over a diet and feeling inadequate, individuals should focus on changing their habits to obtain a healthy lifestyle.

Varady’s studies, however, have consistently shown decreases in dieters’ cholesterol levels, triglyceride, and glucose levels as well as blood pressure and insulin.

But Scritchfield insists that “a diet plan is not a health plan.”

In addition to exercise and establishing time management skills, Scritchfield recommends eating a balanced plate of enjoyable foods. An ideal plate would be one-half vegetables, one-fourth starch and a palm-sized portion of protein.

But because planning and prepping balanced meals takes time, intermittent fasting is attractive to dieters who want quick results.

“It's such an easy diet to do and if the scientific claims hold up then it's really worth it from a health point of view too,” Meldrum says.