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May 20, 2013

The Rebel Diet

Born to eat wild? Have an on-again, off-again relationship with healthy eating? You'll love the latest weight-loss news.


Photo Credit: Michael Donovan/The Licensing Project

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As a health writer, I've always been smug in my nutrition knowledge—and not shy about sharing it. "You need breakfast," I'd scold my friends. "Consistency is key!" Admittedly, I was a little patronizing. So of course I rolled my eyes a few months ago when my friend Emily, visiting from London, told me about 5:2—aka The Fast Diet—developed by health journalists Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer. I listened incredulously as Emily described friends shedding weight like crazy by eating what they wanted all week, save for two nonconsecutive 500-calorie "fast" days.

By the time The Fast Diet book hit the U.S. in March, the Brits had turned to another intermittent diet called the 2-Day (detailed in a book by dietitian Michelle Harvie, Ph.D., and oncologist Dr. Tony Howell), which bans carbs except for fruits and vegetables two days a week. And another variation—The Every Other Day Diet by Krista Varady, Ph.D.—will be published next year. The books got me wondering: Could yo-yo dieting, fasting, and skipping meals actually work? If so, I wanted to keep up with the times—and if I could drop 5 pounds, all the better.

OLD VIEW: Yo-yo dieting wrecks your metabolism.

NEW PERSPECTIVE: It depends on how you yo-yo.

Intermittent fasting is different than regular dieting. Experts say evolution is why our metabolism hums along agreeably with short spurts of feast and famine. Millennia ago, we'd pick berries and greens for days before hunters finally hauled home a big, fat buffalo. We'd feast until the meat was gone, then we'd forage again, relying on our fat storage for fuel. Given that our eat-whenever-we-want food environment is new in the grand scheme of history, our metabolism hasn't evolved to catch up. So if we return to the old way of eating, our bodies thrive and we can lose weight, says Valter Longo, Ph.D., director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California.

Fasting is hard, though. And in some sense, non-fast days are harder. Following the rules outlined in The Fast Diet, I eat yogurt and berries, an arugula salad, and a chicken drumstick on my first fast day. The next day, I stuff my face with cake and mac 'n' cheese and feel sick. Apparently, there's a thin line between yo-yo and intermittent dieting. It's called control—and I don't have it.


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