#155 The EVERY-OTHER-DAY DIET has Health Benefits – Krista Varady


Over the years, I’ve often been asked about the safety of the Every-Other-Day Diet—after all, 500 doesn’t seem like very many calories. Is it so few calories that EOD dieters could harm themselves in some way? After studying hundreds of people on the EOD Diet, I’m happy to say that I’ve never seen a single health problem caused by the very low caloric intake of Diet Day or by the unlimited eating of Feast Day. Not a one. In fact, I’ve seen just the opposite. Risk factors for heart disease normalize. Total and LDL cholesterol go down. Triglycerides decrease. Blood pressure is lower. Most importantly, of course, the pounds peel off—anywhere from 1 to 5 pounds per week, depending on how heavy the dieter was when he started the diet. And extra pounds are linked to a higher risk for dozens of different conditions and diseases, including cancer. At the same time, unlike people on most other diets, the dieter doesn’t lose calorie-burning muscle—and that retained muscle not only powers faster weight loss during the diet, but also sets the stage for postdiet weight maintenance. Many studies have linked increased lean body mass (muscle) to better health—even to longer life. So rather than posing a threat to health, the Every-Other-Day Diet improves health dramatically.” [1]

QUOTE “Under the guidance of my advisor, Dr. Marc Hellerstein, I investigated the effect of calorie restriction on cancer. There was already a lot of research on calorie restriction and longevity in animals; it showed that when mice are fed less food, they live up to twice as long as mice fed a normal diet. Furthermore, some of the biochemical mechanisms triggered by calorie restriction in longevity research are known to be anticancer. The mechanisms include slower cell division; lower levels of IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1, a growth factor that stimulates cancer cells to divide and multiply); and lower levels of glucose, the main fuel for cancer cells. Our research question was this: Can you put a mouse on the ultimate form of calorie restriction—fasting—so that the growth of cancer cells is slowed, but the animal does not lose weight? (In their research, scientists are always trying to isolate and analyze specific factors. In this case, we wanted to isolate the effect of calorie restriction on cancer from the effect of weight loss on cancer.) But as hard as we tried, we couldn’t keep the mice from losing weight! We fasted them one day and let them eat all they wanted the next day. But they never ate enough calories on “feed day” to fully compensate for the total lack of calories on “fast day.” Sometimes they managed to eat 150% of a normal day’s calories on feed day. Sometimes they ate up to 170%. But they never ate 200% of their normal caloric intake on feed day to make up for the zero calories on fast day. And so they always lost weight.” [2]

“My experiment had failed because there was no way to separate the effect of calorie restriction from the effect of weight loss. I was not a happy scientist! But a scientific investigation that seems like a dead end can suddenly present a new vista of opportunity. And that’s just what happened: I had a eureka moment, an Aha!, a conceptual breakthrough when I realized that the mice always lost weight on alternate-day fasting. The mice always lost weight. Could alternate-day fasting help us humans lose weight?” [3]

QUOTE “2010, Obesity
The Every-Other-Day Diet helps prevent and reverse cardiovascular disease—the #1 killer of people in the United States. In my first study, the participants not only lost weight; they gained health.6 Specifically, they gained added protection against heart disease: A 21% decrease in total cholesterol. Their total cholesterol dropped from 175 to 138 mg/dL, for an average decrease of 21%. Every 1% drop in total cholesterol lowers the risk of heart disease by 2%, which means the Every-Other-Day Diet lowered the risk of heart disease by a whopping 42%. Not a bad “side effect” of successful dieting! A 20-point drop in LDL cholesterol. LDL is the type of cholesterol that can build up on an artery wall and clog the artery, causing a heart attack or stroke. After eight weeks, the study participants had an average drop in LDL from 102 mg/dL to 72 mg/dL. This took them right to the 70 mg/dL level that doctors try to achieve in patients at risk for heart disease by prescribing a cholesterol-lowering statin like Lipitor or Zocor. (Personally, I’d rather lose weight than take a statin, since these commonly prescribed drugs are linked to fatigue, muscle pain, memory loss, and other health problems.) Triglycerides fell from 125 mg/dL to 88 mg/dL. Like cholesterol, triglycerides are a blood fat that can raise your risk of heart disease. The study participants went from the “normal” to the “optimal” level of triglycerides, as defined by the US government’s National Cholesterol Education Program. Systolic blood pressure fell from 124 to 116 mm Hg. Eight points might not seem like much of a decrease, but it meant the difference between some of the study participants being prehypertensive—just below the level where a person would be diagnosed with outright high blood pressure—and having a normal blood pressure level, below 120. My scientific conclusion: “Alternate-day modified fasting may decrease the risk of coronary heart disease in obese individuals,” I wrote in Obesity, the world’s leading scientific journal on the topic, in 2010. Given that heart disease kills 600,000 Americans every year, that’s a very important finding.” [4]
QUOTE “The results: An average of 12 pounds of weight loss. After two months, the average weight loss was 12.3 pounds, a steady, healthy weight loss of 1.5 pounds per week.” [5]
Dieters lost fat, not muscle. Our EOD dieters also lost most of their weight as fat—11.9 pounds, on average, meaning that they shed only a few ounces of muscle. Losing fat rather than muscle is crucial in successful weight loss, because muscle burns calories. A typical dieter on other plans sheds 75% of her weight as fat and 25% as muscle; the typical EOD dieter sheds nearly all of her weight as fat. That’s probably one reason why my subsequent studies have shown that EOD dieters, unlike most other dieters, don’t regain the weight they lose. Their BMI fell. The average BMI also dropped to 29.9. Many people who were classified as obese at the start of the study were now classified as overweight. That’s a significant and health-giving improvement: as BMI decreases from obese to overweight, so does a person’s risk for many diseases, including heart disease (obesity doubles risk), diabetes, arthritis, and cancer. There was very little cheating. Our records showed that, on average, the dieters managed to meet the 500-calorie requirement of Diet Day for about 9 out of 10 Diet Days throughout the two months of the study. This showed me that the Every-Other-Day Diet is a diet people could and would follow at home. Cholesterol plummeted. We also saw big decreases in total cholesterol (21 points) and LDL cholesterol (25 points), decreases that lower the risk for heart attack and stroke. Dieters had lower blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure (the upper number of the blood pressure reading, reflecting arterial pressure when the heart pumps blood) dropped, on average from 124 to 116. Lower blood pressure means a lower risk for heart attack or stroke. Dieters had a slower heart rate and a stronger heart. The participants also saw a startling drop in average heart rate, from 78 beats per minute to 74—a sure sign of a stronger, healthier heart. My scientific conclusion: The Every-Other-Day Diet is an “effective diet strategy to help obese individuals lose weight and to confer protection against coronary artery disease.” That’s what I wrote (in the formal, restrained language of scientific discourse) in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. [2]

NOTE – What does it say?

My takeaway: 

What gets your attention?
What human needs or problems are addressed?
What questions do you have?
What solution or hope does it offer?

What does it say that we need to obey?
What would a camera see if this happened?
Who needs to hear this?
What are the actual steps that I would take?
[1] Quote from “The Every-Other-Day Diet: The Diet That Lets You Eat All You Want (Half the Time) and Keep the Weight Off” by Krista Varady and Bill Gottlieb.

[2] Ibid, ?.

[3] Ibid, ?.
[4] Ibid, ?.
Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay. 
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