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Fasting Diets: Fad or Effective?

The fasting diet was first popularized in the U.K. by physician and BBC journalist Michael Mosley’s documentary “Eat, Fast, and Live Longer.”

Each diet varies slightly, but in general the concept involves eating a low-calorie diet one or two days a week, and not restricting calories for the rest of the week.

The 5:2 Diet, for example, recommends eating around 500 calories a day (600 calories for men) on two nonconsecutive “fast” days a week; for the rest of the time, you eat as if you are not on a diet (called “feast” days).

The diet’s flexibility is one major reason why people are flocking to the fad diet. No need to cancel those dinner plans — just rearrange your schedule so you are feasting on your nonrestrictive day.

The relative lack of dietary restriction can also help you stick with it, even when your stomach is grumbling; after all, you know a feast day is just around the corner tomorrow! But is fasting a day or two a week actually safe?

The Science
In general, intermittent fasting diet claims, do, in fact, have a basis in science. As Mosley’s documentary touches on, quite a few studies have found that short-term fasting can lead to many benefits, like lowering diabetes and other disease risk, extending life spans, and improving memory, among other health benefits. While researchers haven’t pinpointed the exact reason why intermittent fasting leads to health benefits, many believe that it’s because fasting puts cells under mild stress, causing them to adapt, cope, and therefore resist disease.

As for weight loss, studies are limited but have shown that fasting can lead to weight loss. A recent small study in obese women showed that fasting one day a week along with a calorie-restricted diet (between 880 and 1,080 calories a day) for the rest of the days was an effective weight-loss regimen in obese women.

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