Interviewer: …studies showing rapid weight loss, or so-called starvation diets, may work for some people. Researchers put 15 healthy but overweight men through an intense four-day program, drastically cutting their calories while increasing their exercises. The men woke up every morning. They did 45 minutes on this arm pedaling machine, and then walked for 8 hours, and were only allowed 10-minute breaks every hour, and only liquid diets. The researchers found that each man lost almost 11 pounds over the 4 days, but more significantly, a year later, those same men were 5 pounds lighter than before the study, raising the question, do some starvation diets work, and I guess for all of us, should we try them?
Our next guests are a little skeptical about this study. Joining us now Dr. Ron Noy from Prestige Orthopedics in Sports Medicine and Martica Heaner, exercise physiologist, and nutritionist. You both share some skepticism about this study. Dr. Noy, let me start with you. Why do you feel skeptical about these results?
Dr. Noy: Well, I mean, anytime that you’re going to do something as a crash over four days and lose weight rapidly, you got to be careful because if you’re not healthy and can’t handle it…let’s say if you’re diabetic, you could really cause a lot of harm.
Interviewer: So you’re saying without the proper supervisions this could really be dangerous for the average person.
Dr. Noy: Absolutely.
Interviewer: Do you feel the same way, Martica? How do you feel about this?
Martica: When they’ve treated obese people on very low-calorie liquid diets, which has been done as a medical procedure, they’ve done it under medical supervision. You have to be very careful. And in this study, they were drinking either only sugar drinks or only protein drinks, both of which are missing out on a lot of nutrients.
Interviewer: What is interesting, though, is the long-term effects, and that’s what this study is really focusing on. Dr. Noy, I know you’ve treated Olympic athletes, athletes at the highest level, and what they were saying, the researchers, is, “Listen, basically in a month, these guys lost two more pounds of fat, and in a year they were less heavy than they were at the start of the study.” So could shocking your system actually get your body going in the right direction?
Dr. Noy: Well, even the guys that did that study are suspicious of that. They think that maybe these guys actually got into a little bit of better habits and stuff and maybe didn’t eat as much and exercised more.
Interviewer: Well, when you survive after only having a liquid diet and walking eight hours a day, you might actually get a little confidence that you made it through, right?
Dr. Noy: Right, so they exercise more maybe afterward.
Interviewer: And this is only 15 men, Martica. We should mention that they didn’t do this with women. Does gender matter here, and how so?
Martica: We definitely see gender effects with weight loss, but I think the really important thing about the study that was interesting, the eight hours a day that they did of exercise, it wasn’t high-intensity exercise, not running a marathon or lifting heavy weights. They were just walking.
Interviewer: Strolling the countryside of Europe every day.
Martica: Right, and we don’t have enough studies showing us that exercise can produce dramatic effects, but it can. And that’s one thing that’s really important is that when we do diet, hopefully not so drastically, that we do include exercise as part of the program.
Interviewer: In general, when people want to lose weight, the big takeaway is eat less. And so there are people, Doctor, that come out and say, “For this week, I’m going to do a liquid fast, just to get my body back on track.” In general, is it a bad idea? Is it a good idea? When you’re trying to get, again, get your body into different habits than you’re doing on a regular basis, is this something that maybe you should consider once a year?
Dr. Noy: I mean, I think exercise is more important than just reducing your calories. If you exercise more, you’re probably going to lose more weight and maintain it, as opposed to just doing a crash diet, and then you’re probably going to gain everything back.
Interviewer: Martica, what do you think about that?
Martica: Well, yes, and I think the important thing probably about this study that may have contributed to the long-term maintenance of some of the weight loss was the psychological kick and boost you get, motivation from fast weight loss. It’s not necessarily healthy, but you do get inspired. And so that may have made the men exercise more over time.
Interviewer: So you’re saying seeing those results right away, being encouraged by the fact that, “Hey, I lost 11 pounds. Okay, a little bit of muscle mass and a little bit was water weight, but that made me feel better so I’m going to be healthier, moving forward.”
Martica: Yeah, and in the study, they also preferentially lost a lot of belly fat, and that happens with exercise alone. And you can go on an exercise program and not lose weight but lose a lot of fat, including belly fat. And that’s what help our metabolic profiles with diabetes risks and all that sort of stuff. Exercise is very underrated and we need to be doing more of it.
Interviewer: Martica, Dr. Noy, great to have you both. Thank you so much.