The 2-Day Diabetes Diet: What to eat to lose weight

In the new Reader’s Digest book, The 2-Day Diabetes Diet, dieting just two days a week blasts fat and balances blood sugar

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Weight loss for diabetes

For folks with diabetes, weight loss is a natural form of "medication." Reams of research prove that losing even just a few pounds is an effective way to control blood sugar or reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the first place. But in an ironic twist, losing weight may be more difficult if you have type 2 diabetes. And the reason isn't just a lack of willpower. Too often, diet plans don't work for people with diabetes because the metabolism changes associated with blood sugar problems may increase appetite, slow down fat burning, and encourage fat storage.

Now breakthrough research has revealed a better way for people to lose weight and reduce insulin resistance. The secret is a concept called intermittent fasting. British researchers created this revolutionary new diet, which strictly limits caloric intake for two days of the week but permits larger portions for the remainder. Women who followed the plan lost almost twice as much fat as those who restricted calories every day. Within three months, participants reduced insulin resistance by 25 percent more on nonfast days and inflammation by 8 percent more than people who dieted continuously.

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Why it works

It counteracts the effects of "diabesity," where blood sugar problems and excess body fat meet. Just a small amount of excess weight and a genetic tendency for metabolism problems can trigger a cascade of health issues, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, immune system problems, and hormonal imbalances. This constellation of health problems is caused by a modern lifestyle that is out of sync with our genetic inheritance. Researchers theorize that because humans evolved during alternating periods of feast and famine, many of us inherited various "thrifty genes" that cause us to conserve energy (hoard fat stores) when calories are scarce and swiftly store energy (plump up fat cells even more) when food is plentiful. Thousands of years ago, humans with robust sets of thrifty genes were much likelier to survive and pass them on to future generations.

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Blasting fat and balancing blood sugar

But now our thrifty bodies are confronted with an abundance of food and no famine. As a result, it's incredibly difficult to maintain a healthy weight. Once we gain a little bit, the first hints of diabesity set in, making the upward progression of the scale hard to stop. This excess fat also causes chronic inflammation. Fat tissue contains an abundance of immune molecules called cytokines, which respond to the excess fat as if it were an infection. This activates a process that seems to dull the body's sensitivity to these key hormones: insulin, which cues cells to absorb sugar from the bloodstream; the "stress hormone" cortisol; and leptin and ghrelin, which regulate hunger and appetite. Researchers believe that intermittent fasting helps to reduce or quell inflammation and normalize the function of key hormones. By reversing this metabolic imbalance, intermittent fasting seems to control or prevent diabetes better than other ways of eating.

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How it works

When Reader's Digest editors heard about the intermittent fasting research, we knew it was huge. We decided to devise a plan that took the stunning results-that intermittent fasting helped dieters lose twice as much fat and significantly lower inflammation and insulin resistance-and translated them into a diet that would allow everyday people with real lives to put the research into practice. So we asked registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Erin Palinski-Wade to create a simple and delicious menu that incorporated the findings. She developed the book 2-Day Diabetes Diet. You don't have to count carbs, calories, fat grams, or anything else-all you have to do is follow the special eating style in which you "Power Burn" two days a week and "Nourish" on the rest.

On Power Burn days, you'll fill up on low-calorie, low-carbohydrate foods that include delicious soups, tasty stir-fries, and luscious homemade smoothies. You'll put weight loss into high gear by consuming only 650 calories without hunger or cravings thanks to three satisfying meals and a snack. This shifts your metabolism into fat-burning mode, which shrinks fat cells and helps cut down on inflammation and insulin resistance. The other five days, you stoke your metabolism with 1,500 calories' worth of Mediterranean-inspired foods that are proved to cool inflammation and reverse insulin resistance. (See next page for a sample menu.)

This plan is superior to many other common diabetes diets because it reduces inflammation as it promotes weight loss. In contrast, some strict low-carb diets require you to eliminate many foods that are beneficial for your metabolism, such as fruits, starchy vegetables, and whole grains. A low-carb diet also calls for many foods that may worsen inflammation, like red meat. Extremely low-calorie plans backfire over time because willpower can hold out for only so long.

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Our test team's results

To be absolutely sure of the effectiveness of the 2-Day Diabetes Diet, we tested it on a group of people who were diabetic, prediabetic, or at high risk for developing blood sugar problems. Their results were impressive and startling: One panelist dropped 12 pounds in three weeks, more than halving her risk of developing diabetes. Another dropped her fasting blood sugar by 30 percent over six weeks. On average, our dieters lost seven pounds in nearly three weeks. Losing just two pounds drops your diabetes risk by a whopping 16 percent, according to research published in the journal Diabetes Care. "I've had more success on this diet than on any other weight-loss plan that I've tried in the past ten years," says Annette Sweeney, 55. She lost 14 1/2 pounds as well as six inches from her waist. Echoes panelist Jeanne Plekon, who shed 16 pounds, "I figured that on the days after I'd taken in less fuel, I'd wake up feeling sluggish. But I didn't-on the mornings after Power Burn days, I would wake up early. Trust me: The two days a week are not hard. And they work."

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The diet plan

Fight fat with this new intermittent fasting strategy.

Talk to your doctor before starting a weight loss plan. To learn more about the breakthrough science behind the 2-Day Diabetes Diet and to buy the book, click here.