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The Diet Fad Everyone’s Totally Going to Be Doing

Photograph by Twenty20

For anybody, but particularly women looking to drop baby weight, getting the last five or ten pounds off is more daunting than the first part. One eating plan worth checking out might be the Every Other Day Diet, also known as alternate day fasting (or ADF for short). The diet, which entails 500-calorie fast days alternated by free "feast" days, was formulated by Krista Varady, associate professor of kinesiology and nutrition at University of Illinois at Chicago. Her 10 years of research on the eating pattern was recently featured in the New York Times. Here's what you need to know if you're contemplating giving it a try:

It might be easier than reducing calories overall.

Just trying to lower your daily calorie intake in general? Good luck sticking with that. "The powerful thing," Varady says about ADF, "Is that it may have better adherence. This diet lets you feel normal every other day, you don't have to be so hyper-vigilant about calorie counting. If that day is tricky, the next day you can eat whatever you want." That mindset lets people stick with the diet longer, which leads to more sustained weight loss.

The surprising part about ADF is that on the days they're not fasting, dieters for some reason aren't binging. In a study of 700 people, Varady says, people only ate 10 to 15 percent more of their recommended daily calorie count on their feast days. "They can't binge on that day," she says. "Something in their bodies is somehow preventing it."

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It's not just about weight loss

Although the weight loss is, on average, nothing to sneeze at, either. "People tend to lose about one to three pounds a week," says Varady. On top of that, dieters "see reductions in LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, blood pressure as well, and most recently a one-year trial saw nice reductions in insulin and insulin resistance," which helps protect against cardiovascular disease.

"Fasting" doesn't mean what you might think it means.

When you hear the word "fasting," you might think of what the doctor asks you to do before coming in for some bloodwork, i.e. avoiding anything but water. While ADF isn't necessarily a walk in the park, those aiming to lose weight can eat 500 calories on their fasting days, and up to 1000 on those days when they're in maintenance mode. Varady and her team have run numerous safety studies on the diet, proving that on it, patients' metabolisms don't change and they can even retain more muscle mass than on other diets. "We ran other safety studies," Varady says. "Are there any type of gastrointestinal issues, do people feel weak?" and all the studies have pointed to the negative. "People actually feel like they have more energy on the fast day, which I'm always surprised by."

The diet does have a dropout rate of about 10 percent, but if you are one of the lucky ones to make it through, ADF might be right for you.

This diet isn't for everyone

"The first week of the diet is pretty difficult," says Varady, but once people get through the first five days, "They feel great." The diet does have a dropout rate of about 10 percent, but if you are one of the lucky ones to make it through, ADF might be right for you.

Other people whom Varady has found ADF is not right for:

· People with a history of eating disorders. Limiting calories may be triggering for recovering anorexics and the free days may be trouble for those with a history of binge eating.

· Pregnant women.

· People with Type 1 diabetes. "You don't want to have low levels of glucose," says Varady.

· People with thyroid disorders. "There aren't any negative effects," Varady says, but based on feedback she's received on her Facebook page, "It doesn't seem to work for them."

· Snackers. The Every Other Day Diet, Varady says, is effective for busy people, like doctors, who can easily spend big chunks of the day preoccupied, but if you're more of a grazer, the first week might be too hard.

There are ways to trick the brain into feeling deprived

Varady is realistic when it comes to the prospect of spending the majority of a day without eating. "We give people tips to deal with hunger," she says. "Have coffee, tea and other warm beverages. Chewing gum, and not watching TV also help." Why no TV? Sixty percent of TV commercials are about food, she says.

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It's not a diet—it's a lifestyle

In order for ADF to be truly effective, people need to stick with it—for good. "It is a lifestyle change," says Varady. "If you look at some of my social media posts on it, some people have been doing this for ten years before the books came out." Losing weight, she says, isn't about any one diet, even the Every Other Day Diet: "It's just another viable option. For others, it's calorie restriction, or Paleo. You just have to find something you can stick to forever."

Skipping meals won't kill you

The biggest misconception people have when it comes to ADF, says Varady, is that it's somehow dangerous. Dietitians in particular, she says are "really behind the times when it comes to the literature about meal skipping." The studies that have been published that prove the importance of breakfast are focused more on cognition in children than weight loss—and have been funded by Kellogg. "I want people to know that it's been tested," says Varady. "It's not for everyone but, some people take to it really well.'

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