It’s the weight-loss conundrum: The more we focus on how much food we’re putting into our mouths, it seems the more likely we are to fail. “If you worry about being super-healthy all the time, it’s quite challenging,” says British medical journalist Michael Mosley, M.D., who is—not coincidentally—the co-author of England’s newest and hottest bestselling diet book, “The FastDiet: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, and Live Longer with the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting.” “That’s why standard dieting doesn’t work.”
A lifelong diet agnostic, Dr. Mosley—54 and overweight at the time—knew he needed to do something when, last year, his doctor told him his blood sugar and cholesterol levels were dangerously high. His solution: Devise a slim-down plan that allowed him to eat whatever he wanted five days a week. The catch? Well, if there’s one thing we know about dieting, there’s always a catch.
The Diet Plan
Also known as the 5:2 diet, “The FastDiet” is not a reference to how quickly the weight falls off, but to the type of eating plan you follow: intermittent fasting. Two days per week, women “fast” by eating no more than 500 calories a day, while men get 600 calories per day. Although this may seem rather unpleasant, the tradeoff is that you get to eat whatever you want on those other five days. No calorie-counting and no off-limit foods.
The Health Claims
More than just a weight loss plan, the book suggests that the 5:2 diet will also radically alter one’s health. The first half of “The FastDiet” details the emerging research (done mostly on rodents) on intermittent fasting. Among its purported benefits, fasting lowers insulin, switches the body from fat storing to fat burning mode, improves cholesterol, boosts mood and cognitive function, slows down aging and decreases the risk of cancer and other diseases. All this—and speedy weight loss to boot. According to Mosley, these mini timeouts from food trick the body into thinking there’s a famine. And when that happens, he says, the body goes into repair mode.
The problem, says Krista Varady, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago, one of the few scientists to have examined intermittent fasting in humans and whose work is prominently featured in the book, is that Mosley’s 5:2 diet bears little resemblance to the intermittent fasts that have actually been studied. For instance, whereas his diet is five days off and two days on, Varady’s research involves every-other-day (or alternate-day) fasting. To say that his diet will have the same health and weight loss results as the ones in the controlled studies is, “very scientifically inaccurate,” says Varady.
According to Joan Salge Blake, R.D., clinical associate professor at Boston University and media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, many of the miraculous-seeming health benefits of fasting occur with any kind of weight loss. “When you lose weight, it lowers blood pressure and it lowers LDL [bad] cholesterol,” explains Blake. Cancer is also associated with obesity, she points out, so when you drop pounds, your risk for that—and other inflammatory diseases—also plummets.
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