Researcher develops diet to to lose weight by fasting

Krista Varady studies alternate-day fasting, when dieters eat only lunch one day and whatever they want the next.
Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services
Krista Varady weighs in on how to drop pounds

Krista Varady knows a good way to lose weight: fast.

Varady, associate professor of nutrition in the UIC College of Applied Health Sciences, developed a diet called alternate-day fasting that sheds pounds and reduces blood pressure, cholesterol levels and inflammatory factors (all signs of cardiovascular risk).

Her research shows that alternate-day fasting dieters can shed 10 to 30 pounds in about eight weeks—and that for most people, it’s easier to stick with than a calorie restriction diet.

Varady says most weight loss regimens restrict calories to about 25 percent less than daily needs. “That works for a little while,” she says. “The problem is that you probably can’t stick to it more than two months.”

As Varady explains in her book, The Every-Other-Day Diet, alternate-day fasting requires a diet day followed by a feast day. On the diet day, you eat a good-sized lunch or dinner—400 to 500 calories for women and 500 to 600 calories for men. On the feast day, there are no restrictions on food.

Varady’s research found that instead of overeating on feast days, dieters take in only about 110 percent of their energy needs.

“We’ve found that people adjust to the diet after about two weeks, or five of those diet days,” says Varady.

In research funded by the National Institutes of Health, Varady is looking at whether participants can stick with alternate-day fasting and maintain weight loss for a year.

Her earlier studies found that after eight weeks, LDL cholesterol can be lowered 10 to 25 percent, while blood pressure and heart rate may drop 10 percent. Combining alternate-day fasting with exercise further decreased LDL cholesterol.