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URMC / Patients & Families / Health Matters / July 2014 / The Every-Other-Day Diet: Tough to Stomach

The Every-Other-Day Diet: Tough to Stomach

A diet that lets you eat whatever you want half of the time to lose weight: Too good to be true? Maybe.
The idea behind Krista Varady’s book The Every-Other-Day Diet is that you can shed pounds (and keep them off) by alternating a "Diet Day" with a "Feast Day." On Diet Day, you limit calories to 500, and Feast Day is just what it sounds like—anything you want, and however much of it you can handle, goes down.
UR Medicine registered dietitian Lisa Fischer weighs in on the diet plan.
woman making food choices
Health Matters: Is it healthy to eat like this? 
Fischer: The concept—eating anything you want and then severely restricting your intake—is flawed.
Intermittent fasting—cycling between periods of fasting and non-fasting—has been around since the days of feast-or-famine. Even now, some folks subscribe to this lifestyle or rely on it for religious observation. However, our ancestors weren’t feasting on what we might today, on this diet.
You may be tempted, and arguably encouraged, on the every-other-day diet to gorge on junk. Yet overeating, especially the wrong type of food, reinforces unhealthy habits. It can lead to food addiction and fails to establish a balanced approach to food and nutrition. Once you go off the diet, you may be more apt to binge than you were before.
The root of the problem is that this book endorses a deprivation-followed-by-bingeing mindset—and this is an absolutely unhealthy approach to nutrition.
Health Matters: Do you predict the diet would be effective at what it claims to do—help you lose weight and keep it off?
Fischer: Probably not. To keep it off, you’d have to stick to this diet long-term, which would be a real challenge. It could lead to fast weight loss at first, but this is mainly water weight—and losing weight too quickly can lead to gallstones. I usually recommend not losing more than half a pound to two pounds a week.
Health Matters: Is there any segment of the general population that should never give this diet a shot?
Fischer: Children under 18, diabetics, pregnant or lactating women, and people with severe reflux/GERD should not try this.
Health Matters: The every-other-day diet claims draw on science. What can you bring to the table here?
Fischer: Studies exist that support and conflict with the idea of intermittent fasting, not the every-other-day-diet. Research has looked at intermittent fasting mainly in rats. These studies suggest that brain cells in those intermittently fasting may be protected against damage and stress. There’s also some evidence that periodic fasting improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Newer studies, though, show ill effects of long-term intermittent fasting. There doesn’t seem to be an absolute consensus.
All this said, intermittent fasting can be beneficial for some people, but always with guidance from a professional. And by the way, intermittent fasting doesn’t restrict calories nearly as much as the every-other-day diet does—it typically wouldn’t dip below 1,000 calories a day and would emphasize nutritious foods.
Health Matters: Do you imagine that people can really maintain this diet? How difficult is it to limit calories to 500 a day? What would one of those days look like?
Fischer: Some people find it easier to feel extreme hunger every other day rather than slight hunger constantly, but this particular diet would be very hard to adhere to. It fails to teach you to listen to your hunger cues or what it means to eat well, which differs for everyone.
Eating just 500 calories every other day would take real discipline. (Drinks add to the count, too!) It would mean about four ounces of fish or meat, a couple pieces of fruit, a couple servings of veggies, and a cup of rice or pasta.
Or, chew on this: one Big Mac (or, one White Chocolate Crème Frappuccino), and you’ve blown your 500 calories for the day.
Health Matters: What are possible health consequences of fasting and gorging like this?
Fischer: Long-term, this extreme eating plan can cause free radicals to pop up in our bodies, throwing off normal cellular function. Also, you can become malnourished on the every-other-day diet if followed for a long while. What’s more, I’d be concerned about the dieter’s psychological state: lack of vitamins and minerals coupled with the blood sugar spikes and dips can surface via irritability or even depression. 
In general, I recommend trying to get away from the diet mentality all together and instead focus on mindfully eating whole, unprocessed foods that work for your body.
I’ll leave you with some food for thought: Eating is an opportunity for personal growth. When you choose to follow any fad diet over exploring the underlying motivation that’s driving you to follow a diet in the first place, you’re missing out on that opportunity. Our eating patterns often reflect what’s going on at a deeper level. When you address the real concerns, you won’t need to rely on every-other-day deprivation. You can, instead, enjoy your food every day and experience improved overall well-being. 
Lisa Fischer, RD
Lisa Fischer, R.D., C.D.N., is a registered dietitian in Pediatric GI/Nutrition in the Food and Nutrition Services Department at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital.

Lori Barrette | 7/22/2014

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