America has a “big” problem — pun intended! The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than one third of adults in the U.S. suffer from obesity, making it a significant public health issue. Look around your city or your workplace and you can see the problem. We’re a culture of fast food and limited exercise, and that’s affecting our long-term health.

Obesity can lead to serious health issues, including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, diabetes and premature death. Weight loss solutions, including prescription drugs and diet plans, are a big business. I remember the cabbage soup craze years ago — I disliked visiting my cousin’s kitchen when she was brewing her soup batch for the coming week. More recently, I see many embracing the keto and paleo diets. The truth is that lifestyle changes are the key to long-term weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight.

A current trendy approach involves intermittent fasting. One version of this is called the 16:8 diet, where you eat between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and then eat nothing for the next 16 hours. Yes, this means you can eat whatever you want, followed by just water or low-calorie beverages while fasting. Some people find it easier to diet if they don’t have to count calories or avoid certain foods. A recent study showed that people on the 16:8 plan consumed about 350 fewer calories per day. After 12 weeks, those in the study lost an average of about three percent of their body weight, and their systolic blood pressure dropped. Participants indicated that they found it easy to stick to this diet.

Another fasting diet is called the 5:2 diet. Typically, that is two days of fasting and five days of normal eating each week. Alternatively, some people fast every other day. In a recent limited study, all participants lost weight, ranging from 10 to 18 percent of their body weight, and their blood glucose levels went down. Some participants were even able to stop insulin injections for their type II diabetes while on the diet.

A larger study compared the 5:2 fasting diet with a conventional weight loss plan. This study followed 150 overweight and obese participants for 38 weeks. Both plans were designed to reduce caloric intake by 20 percent. The results showed that both plans led to weight loss and significant losses of visceral (belly) fat and liver fat, even with small changes in body weight. While there are many claims of far-reaching health benefits for intermittent fasting, both approaches showed the same level of benefits. This was also true in other measures like blood pressure, blood glucose, and other metabolic values. Together, these studies indicate that both types of diets provided positive results.

The key is to talk to your doctor, find one approach that works for you and then stay with it. Long-term maintenance requires a balanced diet to preserve the benefits gained on the diet. No more cabbage soup unless it works for you, and if you don’t want guests to visit you on cooking days!

Medical Discovery News is hosted by professors Norbert Herzog at Quinnipiac University, and David Niesel of the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more at www.medicaldiscoverynews.com.

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