Truth Squad: Feast-and-Famine Diet and Other Diet Trends

The Truth About 10 Trendy New Years Diets

With Thanksgiving now under our belts and the holiday season in full swing, a new diet that seems almost tailor-made for this time of year is making headlines.

Called the "short-term modified alternate-day fasting" diet in a recent study, it is known by other names, including the "feast-and-famine diet," and works like it sounds. On "famine" days, dieters eat 25 percent of their recommended intake of calories, while on "feast" days they are free to eat as much as they wish.

(For those who don't see the connection to Thanksgiving, another hint: If you were binge-eating on Black Friday, you were doing it wrong.)

The news on this comes on the heels of the publication of a U.S. government-funded clinical trial of the diet published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

For the study, 16 subjects (12 women and 4 men) were monitored for 10 weeks. They served as their own control group for the first two weeks, began dieting the next four weeks with their menus set and then were able to select their own foods for the final four weeks of the trial.

Researchers reported that dieters adhered for roughly 86 percent of the days and lost about one-and -a-half pounds a week during both the controlled diet and the self-selected diet. They also found that body fat dropped by a few percentage points, and cholesterol and blood pressure dropped slightly as well, concluding that the feast-and-famine diet may be an option to help obese people lose weight.

While our usual diet judge's panel was unavailable on this holiday week, our substitute judges were not ready to give this diet a thumbs up.

"It's unrealistic for most people. Most people wouldn't be able to keep that up," said Dr. Jana Klauer, a Manhattan physician and research fellow at the New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital. "I wouldn't advise people that way."

Klauer said the size and length of the study were both too small for anyone to draw a conclusion.

"It should be a six-month study, and you would want an equal number of men and women, and you want larger numbers," she said. "Sixteen people doesn't tell you very much."

She also worried that the lack of consideration given to medications and exercise in the study might have affected the results -- attributing weight loss or weight gain to food, when really other factors were at work.

"I think that exercise must be part of anyone's lifestyle. Far too many people are sedentary," Klauer said.

And Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, worried that the diet would lead to binging that would not ultimately lead to weight loss.

"Everybody likes to save up calories with the anticipation that it will balance out, but the bottom line is when we go too long without eating or go without eating for too long, that instinct to eat kicks in and we don't have as much control over what we eat as we would like to," she said.

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