As a dietitian/nutritionist, I am often asked if I recommend having a cheat day. (A “cheat day,” cheat meal,” or “cheat food” — is a mini-break from a calorie-restricted diet for weight loss.) My answer is that it all depends on how you define cheat. If a cheat day is a feeding frenzy that packs in lots of extra calories, then I’m against it. But if it means making room for high-calorie favorite treats, then I’m all for it. No diet should be so restricted that it doesn’t make room for favorite foods.
Normal variations in day-to-day calorie intake may be in the best interests of health. Studies of intermittent fasting schedules in animals suggest that an intake pattern of highs and lows enhances the body’s ability to cope with biological stress and, maybe, to resist disease.* Variation is the natural course of events and evolution seems to make it work to an advantage.
Consider that healthy eaters who maintain steady weights don’t usually eat the same amount of food every day.
- They expect day-to-day variation and they use regular exercise to balance extra calories.
- They eat more or fewer calories largely depending on the social situation.
- They give themselves permission to eat favorite foods (within reason) as if it’s no big deal.
- They may choose to eat more at a special dinner or not.
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Low-calorie diet plans are increasingly popular—just last month Rocco launched his 800-calorie-a-day weight loss program—so we asked Anthony Fabricatore, Phd, vice-president of Research and Development at Nutrisystem, about the safety of this sort of calorie restriction. Here, his thoughts on the trend including where Nutrisystem’s new low-cal jumpstart week, a 7-day accelerated plan called Fast 5—which in-house trials suggest can lead to a loss of 5 pounds in one week—fits in.
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America’s obsession with rapid weight loss regimens has produced yet another unnatural diet. The glamorously titled “master cleanse” is a trending diet among celebrities and those who want to succeed in weight loss without really trying. The master cleanse is a 10-day fast wherein the only thing you ingest is a concoction made of warm water, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup, and it’s extremely unhealthy. Sounds pretty awful, but Beyonce and Gwyneth did it, so why can’t you?
The cleanse begins each day with a “salt water flush,” which can accurately be described as slamming a glass of salt water while trying not to puke. The lemon juice cocktail is designed to rid the body of harmful toxins so you can start fresh after the cleanse. While a liquid diet is almost guaranteed to help you lose weight fast, it’s the wrong kind of weight. The body will shed muscle mass and water weight, but fat remains.
Starvation also does funny things to the body. Severely reducing your caloric intake can make you impatient, dizzy, moody, and less focused. It can lead to insomnia, skin breakouts, bizarre behavior, and in some cases, shrink your heart volume. After a period of starvation, it takes a long time for your brain and your body to get along again. People coming down from a fast have a hard time satisfying their appetite, and binge eat because of it. One study found that men who had fasted gained back an additional 10% of their body weight after a fast.
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