New intermittent fasting diet not best way to achieve long-term weight loss, dietitian

The intermittent fasting diet or 5:2 diet, which asks people to fast for two days and eat whatever they want for five, is gaining popularity in Canada, but dietitians are not as impressed as people who want to lose weight.

Basically, I don’t see any advantages to it for lifelong health”, says Susan Watson, a registered dietician with A Little Nutrition, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“I think that it definitely could set somebody up for overeating, binging, feeling guilty about it and then feeling like you need to fast or starve for a day”, says Watson.

One of the advocates of the new diet is Canadian Brad Pilon, author of the dieting guide Eat Stop Eat. Pilon says that fasting is designed to set up the body to burn fat.

The problem, critics say, is that besides burning unwanted fat, the body will also burn muscles.

Some people say intermittent fasting could be the holy grail of binge eating. © CBC

One of the advocates of the new diet is Canadian Brad Pilon, author of the dieting guide Eat Stop Eat. Pilon says that fasting is designed to set up the body to burn fat.The problem, critics say, is that besides burning unwanted fat, the body will also burn muscles.

“The way our body would work is that it would eventually start using up some of our muscle cells and muscle protein, instead of just the fat. That could be one of the long term consequences of [fasting],” Watson warns.

A lifelong commitment

Susan Watson doesn’t think that fasting for a day is necessarily harmful for healthy people, but she wouldn’t recommend it to her patients.

“The problem is if that whatever method people choose for weight loss, it must be continued lifelong. [When] the diet stops, that’s when the weight will come back on.”

The new fad is unlikely to gain support among dieticians.

“We want to promote balanced eating of all the healthy nutritious foods that are out there. [Intermittent fasting] definitely goes against some of our principles.” – Susan Watson, dietitian.

But if people know that eating a balanced diet is the best way to promote healthy weight loss, why do they fall so quickly for diet fads, such as intermittent fasting?

“I mean, what tastes better, a piece of whole grain bread or a side fries?” asks Watson laughing. “It does come down to taste. We all want to be able to eat all the pleasure treat foods in the world and have no consequences, but not everyone can do that and get away with it.”

Watson admits that “almost all diets out there do work”, because consuming fewer calories than you burn, will result in weight loss. The problem with most diets is that people have a hard time sustaining lifestyle changes for a long period of time.

Those who can’t resist and go back to eating as they did before dieting, usually regain the weight back. Sometimes, they can even fatter than when they started.

In order to avoid yo-yo dieting and its health related issues, Watson suggests people embrace healthy eating habits adapted to their lifestyles.


Canada’s Food Guide helps Canadians make healthier food choices.

Here are Susan Watson’s less extreme nutrition tips for weight loss:

1.     Start by making small changes and improvements to the foods that you eat and gradually add on. For example, if you are used to eating out more than once a week, try to cut back and make eating out at restaurants an occasional treat.
2.     Remember the restriction principle. The more we restrict, the more we want the forbidden item. Don’t restrict yourself too dramatically or you will feel deprived. In conjunction with healthy meals, allow yourself permission to enjoy treat foods once in a while, for example once a week, without guilt.
3.     Learn to eat healthy balanced meals that fuel you and give you lasting energy. Balanced meals should have at least 3 food groups (ex. Whole grain toast, peanut butter and a glass of milk), and a snack should have protein and carbohydrates (ex. An apple and a piece of low fat cheese).
4.     Food journaling is one of the most successful strategies I see with my clients. Use a free online program or app (like My Fitness Pal or Spark) to record what you eat and stay within your calorie budget for the day.
5.     Remember weight loss takes work (a lot of work!), every day, every meal, for the rest of your life.  You can’t diet for 3 months, lose the weight and forget about it. Once you start your weight loss journey, it is a path that you have to stick to for life, so make sure your interventions are something you can sustain for the rest of your life.

Susan Watson, a registered dietician with A Little Nutrition, in Winnipeg, Man., spoke with Gilda Salomone about the intermittent fasting diet and healthy eating habits.

Categories: Health
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