As all dieters
will know, there is nothing more tedious than counting calories
or weighing foods for a meal plan. Especially if you then don’t
now an effective weight-loss regimen that is not only simple, it
promises significant health benefits – from easing asthma symptoms
and reducing blood sugar levels, to fending off heart disease and
breast cancer and protecting brain cells. Apparently, you’ll also
The diet goes
under various names – The Alternate-Day Diet, Intermittent Fasting
or The Longevity Diet – but the principle is the same: eat very
little one day (50 per cent of your normal intake) and as much as
you like the next.
to trigger a ‘skinny’ gene that encourages the body to burn fat.
first discovered the benefits of low-calorie eating in the Thirties.
They found that putting a rat – or a worm, or a fruit fly or just
about any animal, as it turned out – on a permanent very low calorie
diet helped the animal live about 30 per cent longer than normal.
had clearer arteries, lower levels of inflammation, better blood
sugar control and its brain cells were less likely to get damaged.
Meanwhile, rates of diseases linked to ageing all dropped.
But while scientists
have known for years that animals on a low-calorie diet were healthier,
no human – except a few iron-willed fanatics – could permanently
stick to this regime.
The big breakthrough
came in 2003 when Dr Mark Mattson, an American neuroscientist, discovered
rats still enjoyed all those health benefits even when their calories
were cut only on alternate days.
In other words,
you don’t have to starve yourself all the time.
This was a
crucial discovery, because the diet suddenly became a realistic
option. In particular, it is far more palatable for the obese. The
standard diet for them involves a daily intake of between 20 per
cent and 40 per cent of what they would normally have.
very hard diets to follow,’ says Krista Varady, assistant professor
of kinesiology and nutrition at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
You are constantly
hungry. The eat-every-other-day-diet seems to offer an easier and
more effective option.’
published the results of a ten-week trial of 16 patients, all weighing
more than 14st.
They ate 20
per cent of their normal intake one day and a regular, healthy diet
the next. Each lost between 10lb and 30lb; much more than the 5lb
or 6lb expected.
‘It takes about
two weeks to adjust to the diet and, after that, people don’t feel
hungry on the fast days,’ says Varady.
Dr James Johnson,
author of The
Alternate-Day Diet, and a lecturer in plastic surgery, has
now been doing the diet for five years.
been a bit overweight. When I first started, I lost 35lb in 11 weeks.
‘Now I use
the diet to keep my weight stable. If it starts going up, I’ll just
go back on it for a few weeks. The evidence says this is about the
most healthy thing you can do for yourself.’
health benefit is relieving the symptoms of asthma – and that’s
not just because the patients have lost weight.
A small study
of ten obese asthmatics found that after eight weeks they’d lost
eight per cent of their body weight; their symptoms of the disease
had also greatly improved.
conducted by Dr Johnson with scientists from the National Institute
on Ageing ( including Dr Mattson) and Stamford University, showed
patients had less inflammation in their lungs, making it easier
for them to breathe.
They also had
lower levels of damaging free radicals – the substances we
produce simply by eating and breathing – which have been linked
with heart disease and cancer.
of inflammation was down by 70 per cent and the level of free radicals
by 90 per cent,’ says Dr Johnson. ‘No other dietary approach to
asthma has recorded anything like that benefit.’
About two weeks
after coming off the diet the patients’ symptoms began to return.
British researchers are now looking at the benefits of the diet
in preventing breast cancer in highrisk patients.
a very low 800 calories-a- day diet dramatically lowers the enzymes
that metabolise fat and glucose in breast tissue,’ says Dr Michelle
Harvie, of the Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention Centre in Manchester.
‘These enzymes are always raised in breast cancer patients.’
When Dr Matteson
made his discovery, it wasn’t clear exactly why very low calorie
diets had such an effect on health and lifespan.
But in the
past couple of years it’s emerged that a specific gene – SIRT1
– might explain the diet’s success; it seems the sudden, sharp
stress of a big drop in food intake triggers this ‘skinny’ gene.
‘This then blocks another gene involved in storing fat,’ explains