A burger and fries one day, sucking on a piece of lettuce the next. This is dieting in 2013. The latest (and greatest?) new trend/controversy in waist-line management is ADF, Alternate Day Fasting, which sounds like it has potential as the perfect weight loss plan for lazy girls and guys. Exactly how safe (and effective) is it?
ADF is all the rage, the weight loss approach that takes yo-yo dieting to the extreme. Basically, ADF (the British version is the 5:2 diet) involves a 24-hour cycle of eating normal amounts of foods (2,000 calories), followed by 24 hours of serious calorie restriction, with no more than 500 total on fasting days. The theory goes that all the misery of fasting becomes more bearable, knowing that after a day spent starving yourself (literally), you get to eat whatever you want. And that includes a milkshake. In other words, you’re only on a “diet” half of the time, while the other half hardly feels, or looks like, a diet at all.
Proponents suggest ADF makes the ever-popular fasting/cleansing approach more sustainable for long-term benefits. It also gives you some power over your social calendar, since you’re only “dieting” every other day (ever been the Bummer Buddy on a juice cleanse and gone out with your friends? Not. Fun.). Other possible benefits, according to Ariane Hundt, a nutritionist, personal trainer, and founder of the Brooklyn Bridge Boot Camp: on fasting days, the digestive system gets a rest, blood sugar levels balance out, and energy levels can be regulated without an onslaught of sugar and starches. “With fasting, you can teach your body to become more sensitive to calories from sugar and starches, so that when you do eat them, you’ll have a more negative response,” says Hundt. “You learn to dislike those foods and create an aversion rather than seeing them as a treat.”
And further evidence shows weight loss has occurred in ADF participants, as is the case whenever you restrict caloric intake, say most experts.
But what are the long-term effects of this binge/deprive approach to food? And can someone even diet this way as a lifestyle? Studies are inconclusive at the moment, and experts who weigh in tend to agree that this type of eating only reinforces an extreme relationship with food, an “all or nothing” approach. “If you were to eat a lot of sugary calories one day and then none the next, you would simply undo a bad day of eating without making any true progress. Hence, fasting for a day would be a wasted effort,” Hundt says.
With no focus on nutrition, ADF disregards any guidelines for replenishing those essential nutrients on your “eating days” that are clearly not taken in on your “fasting days.” “This approach simply doesn’t teach you about the impact of foods on your body,” adds Hundt. “You don’t learn anything about food and health, and you don’t learn how to eat properly to create a healthy body and mind. It simply perpetuates the diet model, which isn’t working in the long run.”
My take? I’m certainly not an anti-fasting fascist, and have fasted a number of times, for different reasons. But this diet not only bolsters an unhealthy, extreme relationship to food through a punishment/reward mentality, it also fails to teach anything about good nutrition, or the actual effects of food on the body. I’m all about finding balance, and there’s nothing balanced about starving yourself one day… and gorging on a large meat lover’s pizza the next.