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The Controversial Fast Diet

intermittent-fasting-dietThe intermittent fast diet, otherwise known as the 5:2 diet, has been gaining followers due to its weight loss effectiveness. The concept is quite easy to understand and to follow; for five days of the week, simply eat a normal amount food, and for the other two days you are allowed a very small amount of calories: 600 calories for men and 500 calories for women. The diet’s popularity  may be due in part to the freedom from calorie counting on the five non-fasting days.

However, critics say that fasting may deprive the body of essential nutrients. They are also concerned about psychological damage, especially to teenagers who are prone to eating disorders.

The Benefits of the Intermittent Fast Diet

Proponents of the fast diet say that it helps them lose weight fast, but there is  also a number of other health benefits such as prevention of cancer, dementia, and heart disease.

Michael Mosley, the doctor who brought the 5:2 diet to a wider audience, has seen amazingly positive results. Just six weeks after he started the diet, he saw dramatic health improvements.

“I had lost well over a stone, down to less than 12st,” he wrote. “My blood glucose, which had been borderline diabetic, was normal and my cholesterol levels, previously high enough to necessitate medication, were also down in the healthy range.”

British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is another aficionado of the fast diet.

“Starve yourself once in a while, as our antecedents did for millions of years, by force of circumstance, and your body and digestive system go into recover and repair mode, giving rise to a whole host of physical benefits,” he said.

The Criticism

“Fasting entirely for long periods of time can be harmful,” says Dublin-based dietician Paula Mee. “Your body needs a variety of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from food to stay healthy. Not getting enough of these nutrients during fasting diets can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, constipation, dehydration, gallstones, cold intolerance, not to mention vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which may result in osteoporosis or anaemia if continued over a prolonged period.”

Another concern is that the psychological effects might be harmful to some, especially to those prone to eating disorders. 

“It’s not difficult to see how the Fast Diet could mask disordered eating,” says Claire O’Mahoney of the Independent.ie, “Skipping lunch again today? That’s okay, because you’re on the Fast Diet …”

The Verdict

O’Mahoney recommends good old fashioned gumption as an antidote to diets. But for those who cannot exercise or have other factors such as food addiction to consider, gumption might not be a viable solution.

Ultimately, it is a matter of weighing the pros and cons of this or any other diet. Every individual is different, so a certain diet might not be for everyone; however, for those who have been struggling hopelessly with weight loss issues, a planned eating regimen might be worth a try.

To read more about the 5:2 diet, head over to the Irish Times

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