The first (and worst?) fad diet of 2013

dietThe new year reliably provides an unhealthy serving of new fad diets and their corresponding manuals.

And 2013’s diet book of the year, it seems, is The 8-Hour Diet. It’s a tome that advocates eating whatever you want in whatever portions you want—for just eight hours per day (ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!) followed by a fasting period. It promises lightning-fast weight-loss (what else?) and a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease.

To be fair, The 8-Hour Diet doesn’t come with the shocking ridiculousness of last year’s Feeding-Tube Diet or OMG Diet (Ice baths! Coffee!). It contains a fair amount of interesting research (that’s still in its early stages) and was written by Men’s Health editor-in-chief David Zinczenko, the author of the popular Eat This, Not That! series.

But it does offer hyped-up quick fixes for weight loss and some very bad advice for overall long-term health.

Like what? We checked in with highly-credentialed nutritionist Dana James to get her take on this diet. And she shared three solid nutritional science standards that explain why this fad diet might not make good on its promise. (Read this, not that.)

Dana James Food Coach NYC

Dana James, MS, CNS, CDN, is a triple board certified nutritionist

1. What you eat actually really, really matters. The book’s tagline is “Watch the pounds disappear without watching what you eat,” a maxim that immediately sets off alarm bells. “What you put in your mouth is much more important than when you’re eating it,” James says. (Of course, if you’re looking to lose weight, you don’t want to be eating all of the time. You want to leave enough time between meals so that your body can get into the fat stores, she says.) But ditching veggies and lean proteins and binging on Shake Shack three times a day instead is going to rob you of essential nutrients and wreak havoc on your body and long-term health—no matter when you eat it.

2. The period of fasting is way too long. When your eight hours are up, you don’t eat a thing. “There’s a small amount of validity to fasting,” James says. “But fasting for that length of time (16 hours) is likely to put the body into a state of stress. When the body is in a stress response, it will produce excess cortisol.” Cortisol is a fat storage hormone that will happily help you accumulate belly fat. And up-front weight loss may be a trick. “There’s an extraordinary amount of research on intermittent fasting. You lose water so you look leaner, but its not fat loss.”

3. A diet has to be practical to work. “It’s so fundamental for a diet to fit into your life,” says James. This one, most likely, won’t. If you’re a working professional, getting three nutritious meals in between nine and five will be nearly impossible, and having dinner with friends or your significant other will be out. (Hooray for being a skinny woman with no social life!?) Mind you, if you eat from noon to eight to accommodate a more New York lifestyle, you may get to dine out occasionally (and learn to harass the waiter about how long the food is taking). But you’ll most likely be starving by the time noon rolls around each day, so you’ll be way more likely to make poor food choices and eat much more. And you’ll probably be a low-energy grouch all morning.

While we love to try new trends, this sounds like a fad we’ll be sitting out. —Lisa Elaine Held

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6 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. January 12th, 2013 at 12:55 am

    This diet sounds terrible. I love that you got a great nutritionist to weigh in on it!

    The other thing is that this diet will make you FEEL terrible, you might lose weight (in the short term) but you will feel horrible and cranky from eating bad food and fasting, that you’re probably more likely to just keep eating badly for the rest of the day.

    My 2c! X

  2. January 12th, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    about time a dietician laid it out there as to why fasting is Soooo not productive for health and weight loss. thank you!

  3. January 13th, 2013 at 3:27 am

    Finally, someone who’s not afraid of speaking the truth. I’ve had so many friends go on these binge diets, looking to lose those final five pounds. The 8 hour diet doesn’t even make sense, and I agree with the nutritionist about cortisol production (I have tried fasts, and believe me : they make me feel irritable and stressed). I’m going to stick to sensible eating and exercise,thanks very much!


  4. January 15th, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Intermittent fasting has actually been wonderful for me. It fits into my lifestyle well, especially as I was never hungry at breakfast time anyway. I follow the guidelines of Martin Berkhan and he recommends women stick to a 14/10 window of fasting to eating. This also allows me to have bigger meals for lunch and dinner and not stress so much about the calorie count. It might not be for everyone but it is working well for me and actually one of the easiest diets I have tried.

  5. January 19th, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    The 8 Hour Diet is actually working very well for me. I feel better, I’m sleeping better and because of the 8 hour window I make better food choices. No time for mindless snacking because I have to focus on filling and healthy meals. Its helped me realize how much eating I did out of boredom or just because it was there. The book does actually lay out guidelines for what you should eat and for exercise. If people take it upon themselves to each junk for 8 hours that’s on them. I’m sure this diet isn’t for everyone and what works for one person may not work for the next. But so far, I’m pretty satisfied.

  6. January 22nd, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    If you have actually read the book you will see that the author advocates making sure you eat the eight power foods which include leafy greens, nuts, beans, berries, lean protein, and grains. When you concentrate on making sure you get a little of all the good foods there isn’t a lot of room left for junk. It is sustainable because you don’t have to follow it everyday, just as much as you can for your lifestyle.
    It is working well for me. So easy to follow and I am eating healthier than I ever did.

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