You've probably heard of a "cheat day" when it comes to dieting. Some think it's a good idea; others worry that you can do too much damage in just one day to make it wise. But what if I told you that you could not only have a "cheat day," you also could have multiple days a week when you eat what you like and still lose weight? And what if this could even help you experience cardiovascular benefits? Interested?
Of course, you'd probably wonder what the catch is. And I'll admit, there is one. You have to alternate these "cheat days" with days on which you only consume 25% of your energy needs, a pattern called alternate-day fasting (ADF). This isn't easy for many people to stick with, but according to research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it can be an effective way for obese people to both lose weight and improve their cardiovascular health.
Researchers tested ADF with a group of 16 obese participants for 10 weeks, dividing the study into three phases. The first phase was a two-week control period. Then for four weeks, the researchers carefully controlled the food intake of the participants according to the ADF pattern. For the final four weeks, the participants continued with ADF, but were able to select their own foods.
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During both ADF phases, the participants did a good job of sticking to the diet, with 86% and 89% adherence for phase 2 and phase 3, respectively. Weight loss remained consistent across both of these phases as well, with participants losing an average of nearly six pounds by the end of the study. Their body fat percentage also dropped from an average of 45% to an average of 42%, and their total cholesterol, LDL, and triacylglycerol levels and systolic blood pressure also went down.
ADF is a tough pattern to stick to, but these results indicate that it can be effective. If you think this strategy might be a good fit for you, talk to your doctor to determine what your calorie needs are. You don't want to underdo it on your fasting days or overdo it on your "normal" days. But some people find that knowing that another "normal" day is just around the corner helps them stick to the challenging restrictions of the fast days.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD