To get down to a healthy weight, obese and overweight people often struggle to cut their daily caloric intake by a necessary 15 percent to 40 percent.
But new research suggests that a twist on alternate-day fasting may make dieting easier to tolerate and boost heart health to boot.
"This diet has been around about 20 years, but its effect on weight loss hadn't really been studied," Krista Varady, an assistant professor of kinesiology and nutrition who led a research team at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in a news release. The study authors reported their findings in the Nov. 1 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The researchers tracked 16 obese people -- 12 women and four men -- for 10 weeks. All were aged 35 to 65 and weighed at least 211 pounds.
For the first two weeks, the study participants didn't do anything out of the ordinary. From the third through sixth weeks, they ate normal meals one day and then ate much less on the alternate days: what the researchers called the equivalent of a three-course lunch. Each meal provided 20 percent to 25 percent of the daily energy they needed.
Over the last four weeks, the participants essentially chose the food they wanted to eat, but they were guided by dieticians about their options.
"We wanted to see if they could actually do it by themselves -- because what's the point of studying this diet if you have to feed people meals prepared at metabolic kitchens all the time?" Varady said.
The subjects lost between 10 and 30 pounds, well beyond the expected loss of 5 pounds on average. The study participants also managed to lower their blood pressure, cholesterol levels and heart rate.
"It takes about two weeks to adjust to the diet, after which people don't feel hungry on the fast day," Varady said "We need to find out how long they can stay on this diet -- and if they go off it, do they automatically regain the weight?"