I’m sure we’ve all seen the millions of potions, pills, diets, and methods aimed at increasing our lifespan and keeping us young forevahhhhh.
And, as we also know, most of it is bulldust, but I recently came across one thing for a healthy life that isn’t. It’s simple, it’s cheap, and according to studies and independent feedback, it works (!). Check it out and let me know what you think (especially if you’ve done it).
IT’S IN THE GENES
In a new and easier twist on classic caloric restriction, the “Alternate Day Diet” is a method of eating proposed by Dr. James Johnson, M.D. The idea is to cut your calories every other day, instead of daily, to help activate a gene known as SIRT1, a “repair bot” of sorts that goes after damage caused by free radicals, prevents our cells from dying before their time, and causes them to produce more energy similar to that of young cells. SIRT1 also inhibits fat storage, increases metabolism, and thereby reduces the risk of a heart attack, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis. The gene also reduces inflammation and oxidation (a.k.a. oxidative stress), which means fewer free radicals and slower aging. Sounds like a good deal to me.
I’m not one for “new, cure-all” diets, but this caught my attention because I have been researching caloric restriction and practiced it for nearly 1 year, but found it to be too easy to become malnourished (and no, I wasn’t eating muffins). Plus, I honestly didn’t like how long-time practitioners of the diet looked bone-thin and deficient. However, you can’t ignore the evidence that caloric restriction produces lean, healthy, long-lived people and animals — I think it just needs some tweaking. With that said, Dr. Johnson’s Alternate Day method seems more practical and healthier, and makes more sense the way we would eat in nature…we wouldn’t necessarily be eating lovely full meals every day if we had to hunt and gather for our food.
THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING (what a silly saying…)
In an eight-week study of twenty overweight people with asthma, the participants experienced some awesome results:
• Lost an average of 8% of their body weight
• Drastic improvement in asthma symptoms
• Increased energy levels
• Levels of oxidative stress decreased by 90%
• Inflammation reduced by two-thirds
The exciting part, in my opinion, is that this method of eating is so anti-inflammatory, and therefore reduces the risk of diseases like cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and even eczema.
Another great part about this is you can work out more strenuously than you normally could on regular caloric restriction. While Alternate Day promotes fat burning and increases metabolism thanks to the activation of SIRT1 (see above), your body cannot go into ketosis (starvation mode) and therefore will not use up your muscle for fuel. It will continue to use stored fat for fuel to make up for the caloric “deficiency” every other day. This is great news for those who are workout fiends and bodybuilders who want to live long and healthy lives, but don’t want to sacrifice their hard-earned muscle.
HOW YOU DO THE ALTERNATE DAY METHOD
Dr. Johnson recommends having blood work done before you begin, in order to monitor improvements in your cholesterol, insulin, and glucose levels. Okay, sounds like a plan (note to self: take fiancé with me so I can hold his hand and pretend I don’t feel a needle going into my arm…ugghhh).
The basic idea is to limit your calories on Down Days, and eat normally on Up Days. So your weekly eating habits would look something like this:
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday — you eat 20-50% of your normal calories, sticking to fruits, veggies, salads, soups, and smoothies.
Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday — eat whatever and however much you want (without overeating and stuffing yourself, of course).
There is an initial two-week “induction phase”, where you activate your body’s SIRT1 response. During these two weeks, you limit yourself to just 500 calories on Down Days, and eat normally on Up Days. Dr. Johnson recommends some pretty crappy chemical-filled prepackaged diet shakes and bars to eat on Down Days, so instead, use your noggin and buy some natural goodness, such as bars from GREENS+, larabars, World Pantry, Smart Monkey, Tanka Bar, and make your own real food smoothies or find some no-junk pre-made ones at the health store. After the two-week phase, you can increase your Down Days calories. For detailed information, check out the links at the bottom of this post.
FEEDBACK FROM ALTERNATE DAY “DIETERS”
I’ve been hunting around to gather some independent feedback on the Alternate Day method, and found a few to share with you:
“I’ve employed this approach, and found after months of playing around with the same two pounds, I lost six pounds in two weeks. I feel great.” —Lisa (whatagrl), Northern California, review on MyFitTribe.com
“I used this diet and lost 20lbs of fat in two months. During that time, my energy went up, my performance measurably increased (more pushups, more pullups, more weight during lifting, etc). … Is this diet easy? No, but it worked for us and it’s worked for other people too! What are the disadvantages? Well the alternate days are hard. For the first few ‘fasts’ we were hungry, bitter and crabby, but it only lasts 24 hours, not for weeks and weeks like other diets or cutting. And we soon adapted. Our stomachs seemed to shrink and we craved less food on our fasting days.” —Dan, California, review given on MyFitTribe.com
“I have been following this lifestyle for over two years since discovering it online, and I consider it utterly revolutionary; I plan to do it for the rest of my life and I believe that everyone (who is medically capable) should do so as well. Few things have changed my life as dramatically as this diet. … My personal benefits include weight loss, body fat reduction and redistribution (especially targeted loss of abdominal fat), reduced environmental allergy symptoms, complete remission of my crippling tendonitis, more energy & less need for sleep, improved exercise strength & endurance, and most notably, enhanced cognition.” —Julia Noble, Chapel Hill, NC, review given on Amazon.com
“…my experience is that this diet does work, though it isn’t for everyone. I have read the book, perused the website, and followed the plan. I have lost 22 pounds in a very short period of time and my weight is staying off. However, if you can’t stand to feel a little hungry and you cheat, it won’t work. I LOVE eating what I want every other day. On my ‘down’ day, I do protein shakes and bars, which is easy and cheap. On my up day, I eat everything I can get my man hands on. No more constant hunger or waiting for one day a week to splurge. I splurge FOUR days a week. My eating plan is now a way of life. I like my ‘down’ days and actually work out on those days because I feel calm and lean.” —S. Newman, review given on Amazon.com
GONNA GIVE IT A SHOT
I’ve decided to give this a try, just to see how my energy, brainpower, and workouts are effected. I get my blood needled out tomorrow, so I start my plan this Tuesday. I’ll keep you posted.