This Diet Is Effective...But Miserable

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In response to America's obesity crisis, we've heard all the "small and easy" weight loss tips repeated many times: cut your juice with water, choose veggies instead of fries, park far away, take the stairs instead of the elevator. The fact of the matter is that these gradual methods just aren't doing enough to keep us from growing, and staying, fat. So new research regarding ultra-low calorie, high-physical exercise regimens is interesting. Is this kind of plan safe? And is it a good idea?

The "4-Day Diet" study, carried out by researchers in Spain and Sweden, was recently published in The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. Experimental participants ate under 400 calories per day for four days, and on each of the four days they did a 45-minute upper body workout followed by eight hours of walking. You read that right: eight hours, as in a full business day, with only 10-minute breaks per hour.

The participants (allegedly) found the 4-Day Diet easier to follow than they anticipated, and the results were big: each man lost about 11 pounds, half from fat and half from muscle. Even more surprisingly, they didn't immediately gain the fat back. Losses continued for a month, and were largely maintained one year later.

One reporter, intrigued by findings about the 4-Day Diet, decided to try it himself and write about the for The Daily Beast. Gregory Ferenstein ate real food, instead of sugary and protein drinks like the experimental participants, but only 220 calories' worth, and then walked 15 miles per day. The good news? He sure did lose a ton of body fat — 1.3 percent after the four days, and then some more after. There's bad news, though: all that walking gave him, shall we say, "chafing," oh and it caused him to pee blood. Don't try this at home, folks.

There's certainly no denying that we eat way, way more than our ancestors, and restaurant portion size is especially out of control. But you can gain many of the physiological benefits of fewer calories, as well as learn some self-control, simply by practicing intermittent fasting instead of extreme and prolonged calorie restriction (although be aware that the evidence of its benefits is mixed). But at the end of the day, you've got to ask yourself about the tradeoffs: even if a 220-calorie per day diet "works," what have you gained? It's not just the quantity but the quality of our lives that matters, and this is why both extreme weight gain and extreme dieting are so bad. Whatever you do or don't eat, keep sight of your original goal: living long and living well.