Asked by Robbie Bainer, Arizona
What do you think about rotation diets for food addiction and sugar addiction?
Diet and Fitness Expert
Dr. Melina Jampolis
Physician Nutrition Specialist
Hi Robbie -- I'm not sure exactly what type of diet you are talking about, but I assume it is a version of the rotation diet that has been around for 20 years or so in which you rotate through three different levels of calories over 21 days followed by a one-week "break."
The calorie levels for women on this diet range from 600-1,200 calories per day and range from 1,200-1,800 calories for men. The calories during the break week are 1,200-1,500 calories for women and 1,800-2,000 calories for men, which is still fairly low. Most experts would agree that consuming fewer than 1,200 calories for women and 1,500 calories for men is not a good idea and can lead to hunger, fatigue, nutrient deficiencies and even loss of lean body mass due to rapid weight loss, making it much easier to regain weight when a normal diet is resumed.
The diet's author feels that by rotating the level of calories, metabolism is not diminished compared with sustained caloric reduction. To my knowledge, there is no clinical validation of this assertion at these calorie levels, which are all quite low, especially for women. No major food group is excluded on this diet, which is a plus, although fat must be severely restricted to keep calories down. The ultra-low-calorie goal requires lots of nonstarchy vegetables to control hunger, which is also a plus.
But the severe caloric restriction does not really address the food and sugar addictions that you mention and could lead to binging, in my opinion. The author does suggest that taste sensitivity increases on this diet, which allows you to get more pleasure out of more plain foods, which could help somewhat with sugar and food addiction, but the behavioral component of addiction is still not addressed.
I do, however, like the idea of rotation within a weight-loss diet to improve compliance long term and minimize boredom rather than adopting an "all or nothing" approach to dieting.
I generally rotate the level of starchy carbohydrates and/or sugary foods and fat in the diet throughout the week with my patients, allowing for a bit more flexibility on weekends and heavy workout days and more strictness early in the week and on light workout or rest days. This approach is more livable and tends to diminish the cravings for off-limits and sugary or high-fat foods over time and prevent binging, which results from feelings of complete deprivation or hunger.
I am not an addiction expert, and while research suggests that food addiction shares many similarities to drug addiction, I don't believe that completely cutting certain foods or food groups (which you have to do with drugs, of course) is a realistic long-term solution in most cases. By fueling your body adequately (i.e. not restricting calories too severely) and allowing for occasional indulgences but not frequent and repeated exposure to high-risk or sugary food, some food or sugar addictions might be conquered more easily long term. I have found that an initial two- to four-week period of sugar restriction can help people who feel they are addicted to sugar begin to break the habit.
With that being said, I think it is very important to work with a qualified mental health professional if you are struggling with food addiction, because of the complex nature of this type of addiction. Diet alone will probably not allow you to conquer food addiction, which may include alterations in brain chemistry and anatomy, hormones and environment cues.
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