- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2017

A study has found that dieters have a harder time sticking with fasting on alternating days than they do cutting calories every day.

Researchers at the University of Illinois in Chicago recorded a 38 percent dropout rate among fasters and a 29 percent rate for people on a limited-calorie diet.

Krista Varady, a nutrition professor at the University of Illinois and the study’s lead author, noted that fasters had a harder time limiting their calorie intake on fast days, while the limited-calorie dieters generally stuck to their daily goals.

Still, both groups that stuck with their respective diets managed to continue to lose weight, she told The Washington Times.

“Alternate-day fasting is still definitely a diet for weight loss, but I don’t think it works any better than just restricting calories,” Ms. Varady said.

The findings were published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that women consume 1,600 to 2,400 calories and men 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day.

Alternate-day fasting consists of eating little to no food one day followed by regular eating the next. It is a popular form of dieting because of its simplicity and few restrictions.

In the study published Monday, participants were followed for one year and — to the surprise of the researchers — had a much harder time sticking with fasting over the long term.

“[Alternate-day fasters] were eating a couple hundred calories more on prescribed fast days and then eating less on feasting days,” said Ms. Varady, author of “The Every Other Day Diet,” based on her research evaluating fasting as a tool to lose weight.

Fasters lost weight because they were cutting calories overall, researchers said.

“It appears as though many participants in the alternate-day fasting group converted their diet into de facto calorie restriction as the trial progressed,” the study’s authors wrote.

Researchers studied men and women ages of 18 to 64 who were considered obese based on their body mass index, had no history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes, and were not using any medications that could influence the outcomes.

Participants reported being sedentary, performing less than 60 minutes of light activity per week.

In the study, the alternate-day fasting regimen had participants consume only 25 percent of their typical caloric intake on “fast day” — about 500 calories typically limited to one meal. The next day’s caloric intake was at the discretion of the participant.

Meanwhile, the calorie-cutting participants reduced their normal intake by 25 percent, which they balanced over three meals a day.

A third group with no dietary restrictions was measured against the dieting groups.

The researchers provided meals for both experimental groups for the first three months, which included a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables and prepackaged meals such as Lean Cuisine, Ms. Varady said.

After that, participants followed up with consistent nutrition and dietary counseling. But the participants resumed their previous eating habits after the prepackaged meals ended, Ms. Varady said.

“We thought that people would start eating better, but they didn’t start eating healthier after the counseling,” she said.

There was no difference in the amount of weight lost between the groups and no significant difference in participants’ blood pressure, heart rate or cholesterol levels.

The study concludes that more research is needed to explain why participants had a more difficult time fasting.

“What we’ve noticed with our studies is that people who tend to do well with these diets are people who don’t snack regularly,” said Ms. Varady. “People who need to eat every two to three hours don’t do well fasting. People who can go longer periods of times, five or six hours, for a number of different reasons — maybe because of their job — can incorporate intermittent fasting in their lifestyle.”

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