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Does Alternate Day Dieting Really Work?

Alternate day dieting -- which involves eating whatever you want one day, only to cut your caloric intake down to about 20-50 percent of its normal value the next -- is fast becoming one of the most popular trends in eating since The Atkins or South Beach diets.

alternate day dieting

With alternate day dieting, you don't have to choose between "good" foods and "bad" ones -- all foods are up for grabs on your "up" day.

The idea is simple. By eating just a fraction of what you normally would every other day, you compensate for the days in between when you eat normally, or even indulgently. Many people do this inherently, making up for a "bad" weekend of eating by cutting back in the beginning of the week.

A sample meal-plan on the alternate day diet (also sometimes called up-day, down-day dieting) would include eating whatever you want on Monday, followed by a meager 500 to 600 calories on Tuesday -- made up perhaps of one protein shake, a salad, a piece of fruit and some broth-based soup.

But are there real benefits to doing this simple concept on a long-term basis?

According to plastic surgeon James B. Johnson, M.D., author of the forthcoming book The Alternate Day Diet, yes.

The Potential Benefits of Alternate Day Dieting

The diet's premise came from an animal study published in the May 2003 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found animals fed every other day experienced health benefits, more so even than mice fed 40 percent less than normal every day.

Of course, most people are not keen on the idea of fasting every other day, so this diet is an adaptation of this. Still, studies suggest that alternate day dieting may:

  • Help you lose weight (Johnson himself says he lost 35 pounds after following the diet for three months). One study published in the October 2007 issue of the Journal of Lipid Research, actually found that alternate-day fasting, or even just eating half as much on alternate days, shrank fat cells, which may protect against obesity and type 2 diabetes.

  • Reduce oxidative stress in your body, which is one of the leading causes of chronic disease and aging.

  • Activate your "longevity gene." This gene, known as SIRT1, may help to reduce inflammation, lower free radical stress, improve insulin resistance, and generally help you to live longer.

alternate day dieting

Many studies have found that restricting calories can help you to lose weight, prevent disease and live longer.

  • Help to prevent disease. For instance, a study by Johnson, published in Free Radical Biology & Medicine, found that people with asthma had a significant reduction in their symptoms after two weeks on the diet.

Are There Any Downsides?

While many experts appear to be on board with this new diet plan, some point out that more research needs to be done to evaluate whether alternate day dieting really results in weight loss and disease prevention.

There is also a potential problem with what people eat on their "up" diet day, or the day when they eat what they want. Assuming you eat a healthy range of foods on this day, you'll probably make out just fine. But for those who use it as an excuse to binge solely on junk food, there's a good chance that you'll end up with nutrient deficiencies.

And then there's the camp that says dieting of any kind is not ideal for your health or your weight.

According to a two-year study published in the June 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, if you're looking to achieve long-term health improvements, behavior changes and self-acceptance are more effective than dieting any day of the week.

Recommended Reading

Five Diet Foods That are (Far) Worse Than What They're Replacing

Are You Ready for Mediterranean Food to Make a Big Splash in the U.S.?

Sources February 26, 2008

Science Daily September 22, 2007

The Independent June 18, 2006

Johnson Upday Downday Diet

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