The Five Day Diet

So, you’ve been putting off going to the gym and find yourself desperately trying to lose weight the week of a big event? It’s no surprise that people turn to fasting as a last resort to shed a few extra pounds. Drastic calorie reduction, while controversial, is extremely popular for those seeking a “quick fix” weight loss regimen. This technique has long been considered dangerous and extreme. But did you know that excessively cutting calories can actually have positive long-term effects?

According to a new study featured in the journal Cell Metabolism, researchers at the University of Southern California found that a calorie-restricted diet mimicking fasting for eight days a month promoted regeneration in multiple systems and extended longevity. The diet, known as the “periodic fasting mimicking diet,” was first tested on mice and then a small, randomized group. 19 participants ate the mimicking diet of less than half of their normal caloric intake featuring about 12% protein, 44% carbs, and 44% fat, while 18 of the participants ate a normal diet. Those on the mimicking diet consumed large amounts of vegetable soup, kale crackers and chamomile tea. The experimental group ate the diet for five days in a row every month over the course of three months straight, and ate whatever they wanted for the rest of the time.

Did you know that excessively cutting calories can actually have positive long-term effects?

After the study ended, the researchers found that those who participated in the fasting mimicking diet had lower risk factors than their control group counterparts when it came to aging, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. The mice that were fed the fasting mimicking diet also experienced overall better health and a prolonged lifespan, as well as positive factors including reduced inflammatory diseases and cancer, and improved learning and memory. Petronella Ravenshear, a nutritional therapist, told the Telegraph that the diet is less stress on the body than complete fasting. “It supplies most of the carbohydrates in the form of vegetables, which are packed with phytonutrients and minerals and positively good for us, rather than grain-derived carbohydrates, which don’t supply much except sugar,” Ravenshear said.

Ultimately, the low-calorie and low-protein diet had an overall positive impact on health and aging-related factors, with no major side effects. According to lead researcher Valter Longo, director of the USC Longevity Institute, the idea behind the diet is to decrease a hormone known as IGF-I, which promotes aging and makes you more vulnerable to cancer. Longo described the process as a way to “reboot” the body by cleaning out damaged cells and regenerating new ones. “It’s about reprogramming the body so it enters a slower aging mode, but also rejuvenating it through stem cell-based regeneration,” said Longo. “It’s not a typical diet because it isn’t something you need to stay on.”

Longo and the rest of the research team hope to conduct larger studies involving the diet and get the plan FDA approved, which is a rigorous process. “This is arguably the first non-chronic preclinically and clinically tested anti-aging and healthspan-promoting intervention shown to work and to be very feasible as a doctor or dietician-supervised intervention,” said Longo. The team believes normal dieters could try the fasting mimicking diet every three to six months or even as often as once every few weeks, depending on a doctor’s recommendation. Because this diet is so drastic, it is highly recommended that you consult a doctor before giving it a try.