This is an ongoing review which I updated frequently for over a year, monitoring my progress, starting on Jan 18, 2010. The blog-like updates follow this summary.
The Alternate-Day Diet (ADD for short) is the best plan I've found thus far for quick weight loss (I lost 43 lbs on it in six months). It truly changed my life, and I'm forever grateful for that. I was in better health, in better shape, better-looking, more confident, more social, and more physically active than I had been in decades. My four-star rating is a tribute to how it helped me achieve those changes. This diet is effective and *relatively* easy considering how drastically it restricts calories.
But make no mistake, this is a starvation diet which cuts your average caloric intake in half! It can be difficult or impossible for active people to sustain for the long term, and it slowed down my metabolism like other quick weight-loss diets. After six months, it quickly became a study in frustration, with no lasting additional weight loss. However, it's possible that less active people will find it easier than I did.
So do I recommend it? It's not that simple. You'll have to make your own decision. These are some pro and cons.
Pros: 1. It works! You can definitely expect to experience dramatic weight loss, and to sustain it for several months. 2. No foods are forbidden. After a two-week introductory period, only calories are restricted, and only every other day. You can literally have your cake and eat it, too. 3. Results come quickly, so you get positive reinforcement quickly and often. 4. No changes are required in your shopping, but you'll save money by eating less. 5. Your body will not have to adjust to a major shift in food types. 6. It's easy to recover from a slip-up, at least in the first few months. Just make the next day a "down" (low-calorie) day. In case of an extended departure, just restart from the beginning. 7. There's no carb-/fat-/protein-juggling nonsense. No macro-nutrients are demonized or deified. 8. Light exercise is part of the program (although it's not emphasized enough). 9. As a more palatable form of caloric restriction, this diet may have longevity and health benefits beyond mere weight loss.
Cons: 1. It takes discipline and planning. Read the book carefully and give yourself a week or so to prepare yourself and build a support network before starting. It will be a *major* shift in an important part of your lifestyle. 2. Social occasions, especially unexpected ones, will pose challenges. 3. Hunger happens. After the first few days it's not bad, and it becomes easier as you progress, but on down days, especially in the evening, you will need to be prepared. 4. The healthiness of the diet is up to the you. Many people will find themselves desiring and eating healthier foods, but it is possible to remain on the SAD (Standard American Diet), and not improve your actual nutrition. 5. Heavy exercisers may find it very difficult if their caloric needs require day-to-day satisfaction. 6. You do have to count calories on the down days. 7. Diet fatigue may become a serious or even insurmountable problem after several months, although some people have kept with it for years. 8. Leaving it may lead to *quick* weight regain. There is no "exit strategy"; the maintenance plan is to stay on a less-extreme version of it for the rest of your life. 9. It slowed my metabolism. (Dr. Johnson points to a study that indicates ADD doesn't slow metabolism, but that study was for 3 weeks only.
Here's my experience: ********** Start January 18, 2010 --- 225 lbs, 102 kg Height: 5' 7.75", 172 cm BMI 33.2 - Body Fat 35% waist 46in, 117 cm - WHtR 67%
I was very intrigued by this plan when I saw it, since I have been aware of the benefits of calorie restriction; on the other hand, calorie restriction always seemed way too--well, restrictive to me. This seems doable, and I'm encouraged by the testimonials of the reviewers who say they've been on the plan for two years or more.
I desperately need to lose weight, so I'm giving it a shot. One thing to be aware of as I start this is that I'm training for a half-marathon in March. So far, I haven't lost any weight since I began training (actually, I've gained a few pounds), so I'm really looking to the diet to help me with weight loss.
********** February 2, 2010 --- 218.5 lbs, 99 kg BMI 32.2 - Body Fat 35% waist 45in, 114cm - WHtR 65%
It's been two weeks, and I'm glad to be able to move out of the "shakes only" phase. I did bend the rules there a bit, eating protein bars more than shakes, and sometimes a bit a dried fruit as well, although I was careful not to go over my 500-calorie limit. Hunger wasn't too bad a problem, except late at night a couple of times. I didn't notice any problem with sleeplessness as some reviewers did. My main complaint has been "Atkins burps" on my low days... (if you've done the Atkins diet, you know what I mean). I'm thinking that that will pass as I begin eating real food on the low days. As far running goes, I've been sidelined with an Achilles injury, so that hasn't had anything to do with my weight loss.
Looking forward to continuing with it!
********** March 2, 2010 --- 212 lbs, 96 kg BMI 31.3 - Body Fat 34% waist 44in, 112cm - WHtR 64%
My lowest weight in about five years. Early last month, I wrecked several short days in a row due to unexpected food--birthdays at work, a Superbowl party, etc. so I've really been doing this for 5 wks. now instead of 6. Now if I fall off the wagon on a low day, I just start alternating again the next day. Haven't used the recipes much... on low days I tend to do a protein bar, a bag of microwave popcorn and a piece or two of fruit. Not too hungry if I don't stay up too late. My face is showing the weight loss most, and I'm seeing a younger man in my mirror. This month I should get below 203 lbs--out of obese territory. I'm excited about this. Also, I dropped out of this month's half-marathon, I'll start training soon for a later one.
********** April 4, 2010 --- 204.5 lbs, 93 kg BMI 30.3 - Body Fat 31% waist 42in, 107cm - WHtR 61%
My lowest weight in seven years. And 75% of what I've lost has been fat! My pants are getting baggy, though I'm reluctant to buy new ones this far from my goal. I'm running again, and occasionally working with light weights. This is part of the plan, though I had actually forgotten it (see pp. 92-100). My difficulty is unexpected social occasions, which I encountered even more of this month. That part isn't easy, but this plan is worth it. This is the good "ADD"!
***** Special update, April 17, 2010 ***** Yesterday I weighed in 202.5 lbs (92 kg), a BMI of 29.9. I am no longer obese! The pounds lost were exactly 10% of my starting weight; it seems 10% is a common "plateau" zone. This may be why it took longer to reach than I expected. I've also added Waist-to-Height Ratio (WHtR) to my updates, and my main goal for now is to lower my WHtR to 49% (34in waist). Four inches down, Eight more to go!
********** May 3, 2010 --- 199 lbs, 90 kg BMI 29.4 - Body Fat 27% waist 40.5 in, 103 cm --- WHtR 59%
Finally crossed the 200-pound mark! I've been looking forward to this moment for years! Other good news: I'm burning fat faster, I ran in a 5K race, and overall, the diet is much easier--didn't blow any down days this month, although I have felt a bit of hunger. Weight loss has been a bit slower, probably due to stress and my body's adaptation to the new activity and calorie levels. My plan is to keep with it, watch the short days, drink more water, and get more sleep.
********** June 7, 2010 --- 197 lbs - 89 kg BMI 29.1 - Body Fat 25% waist 40 in, 101 cm - WHtR 58%
Not bad, considering I had stalled in early May, had a knee injury that sidelined me for a while, fell off the diet for 2 1/2 weeks and *gained* weight, just got back on a week ago, and still lost overall!
The hunger was becoming way too much on down days, so a week ago, I decided to *increase* my down-days to 800 cal, and I was able to return to running as well. Since then, the diet is easy again! My new DD calorie level is still 25-30% of my up day intake; both have increased because my activity level is much higher now. (running 10-17 mi/wk)
Since the basis of the diet is to keep the body guessing, I wonder if a short departure from it every few months might actually be helpful. This week my progress has been like when I first began it. In the past, a slip like this would have discouraged me, but now I'm more determined than ever
********** July 6, 2010 -- 189 lbs - 86 kg BMI 28 -- Body Fat 24% waist 38.5 in, 98 cm - WHtR 56%
36 pounds down, and less than 5 inches to go! I had to bite the bullet and buy some new pants, even though I know I'll be doing that again in a few months. Social events caused some trouble with down days this month, but overall they're much easier now. I'm feeling very good physically. I ran in an 8K, and I'm still training for the half-marathon.
********** August 3, 2010 -- 182 lbs, 83 kg BMI 26.9 -- Body Fat 22% waist 37.5 in, 95 cm - WHtR 54%
I've now lost 43 lbs, and I'm within 13 lbs of BMI 25 -- end of the overweight zone. For two weeks I was on vacation in Spain, and I continued to lose weight there, although I certainly wasn't trying to follow the diet. (I believe the reasons were almost constant walking, and that I only ate when I was hungry. I completely fell out of the meal structure of the workaday world.) At any rate, I'm back at work, back in the States, back on the plan. Looking forward to continuing the weight loss, and running the half-marathon next month!
********** September 7, 2010 -- 184 lbs, 83 kg BMI 27.2 -- Body Fat 22% waist 37 in, 94 cm, WHtR 54%
I finally ran my half-marathon two days ago. Eleven months ago I was a couch potato--but then I took a 30-minute walk with the goal of working up to long-distance running, and my life has changed much for the better!
However, I had a great deal of difficulty adhering to the diet last month, and it shows, as I *gained* two pounds. If anyone had any doubt that it was the diet and not my running that was behind the weight loss, this is the proof. What went wrong? Mostly a lack of planning and perseverance. Instead of bringing my own food to work on down days, for instance, it was easy to accept invitations to eat out, with the thought that I could "run it off" later. I've come too far to slack off now--I know this plan works and I'm back on it.
********** October 4, 2010 -- 179 lbs, 81 kg BMI 26.4 -- Body Fat 22% waist 36.5 in, 93 cm, WHtR 52%
Although I lost 5 lbs. last month, I'm having extreme difficulty with the diet, and I'm wondering if ADD is a viable long-term solution for truly active people. I was just leaving a sedentary lifestyle when I started it, but now I'm a long-distance runner, and things have changed. Hunger management at this activity level is rough; I don't think many jocks are on this plan ... right now, *any* scheduled caloric restriction is simply odious to me.... Regardless of whether I stay with ADD or not, I am forever grateful to Dr. Johnson for helping me change my life, and I'll let you know what happens!
********** November 9, 2010 -- 178.5 lbs, 81 kg BMI 26.4 -- Body Fat 21% waist 36.5 in, 93 cm, WHtR 52%
This is embarrassing, but I just realized what the problem is. During the last 3 months I've been so obsessed with nutrition, I've ignored calories completely. I've assumed (wrongly!) that the days on which I eat whole foods have been low on calories, but it just isn't so. I despise counting calories, but ADD requires a good estimate of them on the down days. Now that I know what the problem is, it's an easy fix!
I'm training now for a marathon in March, but I'm trying to run smarter, not harder.
***** DIET REBOOT ***** November 24, 2010 -- 182.5 lbs, 83 kg Started over completely today, back to protein shakes on down days. I've effectively been off the diet for four months. Time to get back to basics. Tomorrow's Thanksgiving, and I'm thankful for a new start.
********** December 7, 2010 -- 174 lbs, 79 kg BMI 25.7 -- Body Fat 21% waist 36 in, 92 cm, WHtR 52%
Reboot successful! I learned that if you get off track, just get back on! I went back to protein shakes, although sometimes I mixed them into espresso drinks, which helped a lot with the taste. I found the EAS brand to be fairly palatable and without too many weird chemicals. Occasionally I also had a few nuts or low-fat cottage cheese. Down day calories: usually ~650 or less. it really seemed a lot easier this time around. it's going to be great losing weight over the holidays, instead of gaining. 51 lbs down! I'm really happy about that! Just one more shakes-based down day left, and then start incorporating more real food.
********** January 4, 2011 - 177 lbs, 80 kg BMI 26.1 -- Body Fat 23% waist 36.5 in, 93 cm, WHtR 52%
I may have gone as far as I can with this. I've only lost 5-8 lbs. in the last five months, no change in body composition. I know I haven't followed it well since August, but that's the problem: long-term sustainability, the very reason I began this blog. I can no longer bear eating as a series of down days and up days; for short periods, it still works, and I'm not gaining anything back. I now have a tool that will help me maintain this loss, I pray, forever.
I've changed my mind about not having a weight goal; I really want to get to 145-155 lbs. I've fallen in love with running, and running is so much more enjoyable LIGHTER. I reached and held that weight before as an adult, and loved it.
I may well stop trying to follow ADD soon. I'll let you know. At any rate, this diet has been one of the most helpful and life-changing things I've ever discovered. It was a big part of what made 2010 one of the best years of my life.
********** February 1, 2011 - 181 lbs, 82 kg BMI 26.7 -- Body Fat 24% waist 36.5 in, 93 cm, WHtR 52%
I really thought the last post was going to be my final update--I didn't follow ADD last month, and tried to avoid regaining via common-sense approaches like journaling and mindful eating. It didn't work, so I'm rebooting ADD today. I haven't found a way to keep the weight off w/o ADD alternation. There's a positive aspect here (ADD works), but also a negative: (it's like the Hotel California: you can never leave). I've downgraded my rating to 4 stars, because it's difficult to sustain, and doing it seems to have slowed metabolism, such that stopping it leads to nearly instant regaining, even with significant exercise.
Dr. Johnson doesn't provide an "exit strategy" in his book, and the resveratrol pills on his website don't fill me with confidence; his picture shows that he's clearly overweight himself. During this reboot, I'll also be seeking a more sustainable plan to take me to the next level, and keep the weight off for life.
********** Signing off - February 9, 2011
My planned reboot last week didn't "take." I can't stick with it now, even for a day. I'm simply sick of alternate-day starvation. As much as I credit it for how much it's helped me, I feel it drastically slowed my metabolism, which I need to rebuild now. I will not return to it.