Sunday, November 24, 2013

Paul Epstein's Diet Challenge -- 2 Day Diet

Beginning weight 11/3/13: 209 lbs.
Height 5'8" Age: 61
Goal weight: 165 lbs.
Total loss goal: 44 lbs.
Beginning waist size: 43 in.
Current waist size: 42 in.
Weight end of week 3: 198
Gain/Loss this week: -1lb.
Total Gain/Loss: -11 lbs.

First, a moment to revel in the glory of a third week of weight loss and a cessation of cravings, a better understanding of hunger, and, for the first time in probably thirty years, a sense that I have control of my ultimate weight. The 2-Day Diet: Diet Two Days a Week, Eat Normally for Five by Dr. Michelle Harvie and Professor Tony Howell is the book that has inspired me to -- pick your metaphor for diet: 'lose weight,' 'watch my weight', 'change my eating habits', 'adopt a healthy relationship with food' (I like that one today--it reminds me of the way many people are attracted to others who are dangerous or at least 'not good for them'). I heard about this diet on The People's Pharmacy, a radio show carried on West Virginia Public Radio. Dr. Harvie, a research dietician at a breast cancer center in U.K., was a guest on Saturday, November 2. I was so inspired by her scientific approach that I looked it up online, bought the book for my Kindle, started reading, and started my 'new eating regimen' the next day.

First, the 2-Day Diet is NOT a fasting diet or the "5-2 diet" that suggest you stop eating for x number of hours a day or severely limit your calorie intake a couple days a week, but eat however you want the rest of the week. Basically, the 2-Day diet consists of two "low carb" days and the rest of the week you are to adopt a Mediterranean Diet. In the language of the book, the low carb days are "restricted days," and the others, "unrestricted", which I find somewhat disingenuous, because it is certainly not an invitation to eat as much as you want of whatever you want those days. I would call the rest of the week, "balanced healthy eating" days. True, you are not restricted from eating any of the food groups, but you must restrict the types of foods and the amounts, otherwise you'll gain back the weight you lose on the low carb days.

If, like me, you've been struggling with your weight for some time, at one time or another you've probably tried or known someone who has tried a low carb diet. The (usually described as controversial) Atkins Diet is the best known example of that. This low carb diet, at least when I tried it and lost 25 pounds in the early 1990's, allows you to eat as much protein and fat as you want, but severely restricts your carbohydrate intake. The biochemistry of this is that without the carbs, your body cannot process the protein and fats, so they pass through. Your body is essentially being starved, so it turns to your stored body fat for energy. You lose weight. But there are potential risks to health in this regimen, and it's not a good sustainable diet for several reasons. First, there is some danger of damaging kidneys (you have to drink a lot of water to flush toxins), losing muscle tissue if a dieter runs out of fat to burn, and increased risk of heart disease and cancer from over-reliance on meats and fats. But probably the worst thing is that it does not teach you a long term healthy eating strategy. When I was on the Atkins diet, though my hunger was reduced because of the chemistry, I actually recall feeling kind of repulsed by the food I was eating after awhile, and I was craving carbohydrates. After going off the diet and bringing carbs back in, I found I was still used to eating the fats and proteins, but now I had my old carbohydrate cravings back. Within a couple years I'd gained it all back despite going back on the low carb regimen a couple times to try to control it.

The Two-Day Diet takes advantage of the fat burning advantages of carb restrictions, while avoiding the dangers of the Atkins Diet. First, during the low carb days you are given limits on the amounts and types of protein and fat you consume. Though the biochemistry might allow one to eat unlimited proteins and fats and still lose weight, that's not a healthy approach. Small portions of fish, lean meats, or beans, some dairy, plenty of vegetables, a very limited amount of fruit, these are what you are allowed on the "restricted," low carb days. As I've written in previous posts, I have not found it difficult to stay within these limits. The rest of the week, you add healthy whole grain carbohydrates in, and many of the limits stay in place. Rather than counting calories, you are allowed a certain number of "servings" of each food group.  I put 'servings' in quotes because, at least to me, in many cases it would take 2 or 3 of the portion sizes they call 'servings' of something to make a meal. But, for my age and weight, I am allowed up to 11 carb servings and 14 protein servings on healthy eating days. The serving sizes of a fairly wide range of foods is provided.

So, the two days of low-carb eating (it is suggested, but not required that the two days be consecutive) are weight loss days, but the quick biochemical shift your body makes from burning available carbs for fuel to burning stored fat does not put your body at risk like the extended periods suggested in the Atkins Diet. The rest of the week I think of as weight maintenance. This is the process of learning to eat in a healthy sustainable way. Dr. Harvie says, and my experience confirms, that the participants in her studies tended to restrict their eating more than the guidelines require on the "unrestricted" days. Success breeds success, and success in controlling hunger and losing weight after so many years of feeling helpless to do so is liberating. Because of this, many lost more than the expected 1-2 pounds per week. And so have I!

PS: This week I put copies of the book, "The Two-Day Diet.." in the mail to several friends who took my challenge and promised that if the diet worked for me, they would try it. I wish them the best of luck, and if they are successful as well, I will encourage them to let me know or post their results on Facebook or here. While I'm not buying more books to give away, if you've tried and failed in weight loss efforts, I encourage you to buy the book. It's inexpensive, easy to read, and contains charts and lists of foods that will help you get started. Good luck!


  1. Thank you Paul for the excellent and informative introduction. Looking forward to getting started myself. I will keep watching your progress as I begin monitoring my own. What a great start to a new lifestyle that actually is sustainable!

  2. I am really looking forward to it!