Friday 25 January 2013

Ouch, I thought, reading this supplement in the Radio Times, this isn't good...

We get the Radio Times, the 'thinking person's' guide to what's on British TV and radio every week. It was Ben who pointed out the 8 page supplement stapled into the centre of next week's issue: The Fast Diet by a doctor that's been on TV quite a lot. Ouch, I thought to myself, this isn't good...

I know that January is the season of faddy and crash diets, but Ben and I feel there's so much wrong with this one. Especially as it's written by a doctor, backed by 'science' (tests on mice, it appears, plus tests on 33 obese volunteers in the States) and - presumably - endorsed by the Radio Times (Radio Times is printed on the title page, plus As first seen in Radio Times, just in case you want further endorsement).

Apparently you eat normally for 5 days of every week. Then on the other 2 you fast. Women eat around 500 calories a day and men around 600.

And, right at the end, under Who should avoid fasting? it says "...anyone suffering from an eating disorder".

Now I have a problem with that.

As Ben says: "I didn't know I had an eating disorder, not for several months. I knew something was wrong, but I had no idea what. Now, if I'd come across this fasting diet back then, I'd have lapped it up. Especially as it features in the Radio Times which we get every week."

And doubtless he might have been tempted to follow the diet for more than 2 days of every week...

Also, to be honest, would someone "suffering from an eating disorder" really and truly look at this warning at the end of the diet and think: "Oh, I'd better not do this, then." And discard it.

What do you think?

Maybe it's just the fact that these 8 pages in the Radio Times are a snapshot of the book this doctor is promoting (although nowhere do I see the words "Advertisement Feature"...) but I can't help but get the impression that the majority of tests have been done on mice. Not humans. Apart from those 33 obese humans mentioned at the top of this post.

And I was extremely worried by the paragraph: As one of the medical experts interviewed for the Fast Diet book puts it: "There is nothing else you can do to your body that is as powerful as fasting."

The idea is that this particular 2 days on, 5 days off diet is better than complete Calorie Restriction (referred to as CR) is that it apparently offers the "benefits of CR, but without the pain". About CR, the article says: "Calorie restriction (CR) is pretty brutal; it involves eating an awful lot less than a normal person would expect to eat, and doing so every day of your - hopefully - long life. The reason people put themselves through this is that it is the only intervention that has been shown to extend lifespan..."

Oh, but then it suddenly adds: "At least in animals."

Does this worry me? You bet it does!

The doctor says that people "began to stop me on the street" and tell him they were doing the 2 days on, 5 days off diet. He also got emails. "Among those emails, a surprisingly large number were from doctors."

Gah, more 'official endorsement' of his diet...

After that, there's an awful lot about experimenting on mice.

I know that this is just one of hundreds, possibly thousands of crash diets that are flooding the market as they usually do in January. I also know that the vast majority of people that diet are believed to put all the weight back on again. But there is a small minority that are vulnerable and who may find this high-profile Radio Times fasting diet triggering.

And these are the people that I am worried about.

What does everyone else think?


  1. As someone trying to recover from anorexia I also found this very worrying. Though I am at a stage where I know logically that restriction of this kind is unhealthy - even for only two days out of seven - reading something promoting it makes me feel as though what I was doing was okay and makes it very difficult for me to eat more (even if "more" is what I need) though at the moment I can't articulate why satisfactorily. In fact it took lots of reassurance, encouraging and repeated statements that not eating was not an option from my Mum to enable me to eat. All while I cried and fretted because the supplement had spoken not to the sensible, rational part of me but to the part whose first instinct is to do anything to lose weight and which is trying desperately to kill me. I hope this makes some sort of sense. Basically what I am trying to say is that yes, I do think you're right, the promotion of this diet is unhelpful - in fact damaging - to people with eating disorders and with the predisposition to eating disorders, and the diet it's self, despite the medics backing it, is probably unsustainable and unhealthy.

  2. I know a few people who practise 'calorie restriction optimal nutrition' ('CRON') or intermittent fasting. The three following intermittent fasting are quite healthy and have lost weight but not (as far as I know) developed an ED. The role of intermittent fasting is not to promote weight loss, but to alter the metabolic profile such that a person is (in theory) less likely to develop cardiovascular disease or cancer. I am sceptical that it is necessarily healthy, because it has the potential to cause bone loss and immune suppression - as does CRON. The guy I know who practises CRON looks really ill.

    There is some evidence to suggest that CRON enhances lifespan in animals, but not in humans. One also has to remember that in studies comparing two groups of individuals: one following intermittent fasting/CRON versus controls, the control group usually comprises overweight individuals following a 'typical' British or American diet.

    As a Physiologist who has done quite a bit of research of energy deprivation, I wouldn't recommend either intermittent fasting or CRON. I am sure that many people in Western society would benefit from consuming less saturated fat, meat and fewer calories, but I doubt that these rather wacky nutritional regimes are the way to go.

  3. Thanks, both of you. I am furious that a doctor has written this book. Ben says he used to quite like that TV doctor, but he feels quite the reverse now.

    I don't doubt that this kind of diet is relatively OK for people not predisposed towards EDs, but who can tell if someone is predisposed until they lose enough weight for the illness to kick in?

  4. Which TV doctor is it? Michael Mosley? If so, he's done quite a few programmes on the topic of diet and fitness. I've found them quite interesting, if a little biased, but as a teen with AN I'd have found them quite 'triggering'.

    1. Yes, it is, and Ben found his progs quite interesting, too...

  5. Still think that our local bishop's exhortation to fast this time last year was THE worst thing I've ever read on the subject combining as it did messages that this was healthy for your body and soul and guilt trips about giving the money thus saved to the poor. I'm getting quite irate just remembering it. It's a horrid time of year for this sort of stuff. Probably for most people it's a fad that wastes a bit of money on a book or DVD that they don't read or watch and that's about it, but for those with a genetic susceptibility to illness it's dangerous and people in the public eye, particularly those from "reputable" professions should avoid dangerous messages.

    1. Ditto the "hunger lunch" they have at school once a year to raise money for third world countries.

  6. So proud to hear Ben identifying with the detrimental impact of this article. I have not read it, nor will I even search it out to glance at it (except to find out who the Doc is perhaps?), and that you are bringing attention to it. Messages of this nature really do require a Health Warning and I look forward to the day when we can turn the perception of media around to focus on the damaging aspects of these types of articles. Batty, This is deserving of a letter to the editor; this blog post and all comments associated with it - all in the name of raising awareness of course. Oh, and for the record, the idea of 'fasting' fills me with dread - Food is Medicine!

    1. Ben wants to write a letter to the editor. He was supposed to be doing it this morning but got distracted by some baking!