Between preparing healthy lunches, carefully measuring portions and tracking every calorie, being on a diet can just seem like too much work. Does it have to be so hard? Turns out the answer is no! Breakthrough research proves that dieting for just five days — and forgetting about it for the rest of the month — is a surefire way to melt stuck-on fat and keep it falling off your frame.
In fact, the body’s fat-burning system actually needs a break from time to time. That’s because 90 percent of women over 40 have overworked mitochondria — the mini power plants in our cells that turn incoming calories and stored fat into energy that the body can burn for fuel. “We’ve beaten our mitochondria to death with asking them to do too much work,” says cardiologist and longevity expert Steven Gundry, M.D., NYT bestselling author of The Energy Paradox (Buy on Amazon, $25.49). Studies show that mitochondria need time to rest and repair between meals in order to function optimally. “But the average American now spends 16 hours a day eating and digesting, and that creates the cellular equivalent of rush-hour traffic,” explains Dr. Gundry. “Our energy — much like the roads during rush hour — literally grinds to a halt.” When this happens, the body can’t convert incoming calories or stored fat into fuel. Metabolism slows down, you have no energy — and that leads to a pileup of excess pounds.
Remarkably, groundbreaking research shows that it takes just five days to reboot the body’s slimming system. The key to doing that, says Dr. Gundry, is eating a low-calorie, plant-based diet for five consecutive days each month. This limits the amount of work required of the mitochondria, giving them time to relax and heal. “You’re literally giving them a five-day spa vacation,” he says. “It’s unbelievable the capability of mitochondria to repair themselves to enhance their energy-making ability if you give them a little break. They can regenerate — dust themselves off and pick themselves up — in a very short period of time.” That means the little cellular energy engines are able to burn incoming calories more efficiently.
Dieting for just five days also prods cells to burn stored fat — especially from the belly. “When you don’t have much energy coming in, where does the system go to get fuel? It goes for the abdominal fat,” explains longevity expert Valter Longo, Ph.D., from the University of Southern California (who has no affiliation with Dr. Gundry or his plan). In studies conducted by Dr. Longo and his team, adults who followed a low-calorie, plant-based diet for five days in a row every month had 86 percent less belly fat and 66 percent less overall body fat after three months than those following a standard diet 24/7. Women FIRST spoke to lost as much as two belly inches a week.
The benefits go beyond slimming. The dieters in Dr. Longo’s studies also experienced a host of additional benefits, including improvements in blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol. “It’s like the diet is triggering processes to rejuvenate the whole body,” Dr. Longo says. “Things go back to where they were when you were 18 years old. The body goes back to being youthful and functioning optimally.”
The changes happen fast, Dr. Gundry says: Most women report feeling less sluggish in the first week of the plan. “The word ‘diet’ has never been in my vocabulary, but I have reclaimed myself mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually,” cheers Tamara Quarles, 58, who lost 261 pounds by following a plant-based detox five days each month. “I’m so proud!”
Ready to get started on your transformation? Read on for the five-day plan.
Delicious and Effective
Following a plant-based diet for five consecutive days each month gives the mitochondria — the “power plants” of the body — a much-needed break to recharge and heal, speeding metabolism and fat burning. This mini vacation for our cells offers a respite from the standard American diet, which is full of animal fats and sugar, leaving us “over-nourished and underpowered,” asserts longevity expert and NYT bestselling author Steven Gundry, M.D. “But if you try this five-day plan just once a month and if you do it consistently every month, the evidence shows that you’ll get the same benefits as if you were eating 30 percent fewer calories every day for the rest of your life!”
Best of all, adds Dr. Gundry, you can get the benefits without actually giving anything up. Indeed, because you can eat whatever you want the other 25 days of the month, this plan is easier to stick to than other diets. “You get all the benefits of fasting without the downsides,” like being hangry or feeling fatigued.
On Dr. Gundry’s mitochondria-boosting diet, you’ll eat small, plant-based meals, totaling about 800 calories for the day. He recommends following the plan from Monday to Friday, so you’ll have the weekend to look forward to. But you can pick any five consecutive days you’d like, so the monthly diet needn’t interfere with any special events or celebrations.
On the five “diet days,” you’ll fill your plate with vegetables, beans and nuts, making sure to eat plenty of leafy greens, which are rich in antioxidants that support the mitochondria. “I have done this plan just eating salads for five days,” Dr. Gundry says, and some women report they made a huge pot of vegetable soup for meals. “It’s so easy, and I never feel hungry.”
A note about beans: Dr. Gundry recommends pressure-cooking them, which breaks down the lectins, natural compounds that damage the gut, cause gas and stall weight loss. If you don’t have a pressure cooker or time to pre-cook beans, reach for Eden brand canned beans — they are pressure cooked before canning.
The only things off the menu are animal-based foods, like meat and dairy, as well as grains (which contain lectins) and fruit (its sugar can slow results). And for the rest of the month, follow these tips to further heal your mitochondria and lose even more:
Enjoy plenty of healthy fats.
Short-chain fatty acids-like those in fish and olive oil — have been shown to nourish mitochondria. Plus, these fats activate the genes that fire up the cellular energy engines, spurring cells to burn stored fat fast. The payoff: In a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, overweight postmenopausal women who upped their intake of healthy fats lost five times more body fat in two months than women who didn’t eat the fats.
Sugar can harm mitochondria, maintains Dr. Gundry. He advises cutting back on sugar from processed foods and considering limiting high-sugar fruits as well. He suggests going for blackberries and raspberries, instead-they tend to have less sugar than other fruits.
Add a supplement.
An antioxidant called pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) has been shown to activate the genes that make new mitochondria, boosting fat burn and revving energy by up to 38 percent. “I’m a big fan of PQQ,” Dr. Gundry says. He recommends taking 10-20 mg. of PQQ per day. One to try: Life Extension Super Ubiquinol CoQ10 with PQQ.
Will limiting calories lower immunity?
While you may think that restricting your calorie intake would tax the body and lower immunity, Dr. Gundry says the opposite is true! “This plan actually improves your immune system,” he maintains.
“Calorie restriction puts your immune system into high gear.” Research shows that during a fast, the immune system tries to save energy by eliminating tired cells. This triggers the body to replace old cells with new immune cells after the five-day diet. “There is a rejuvenation of the immune system,” Dr. Longo says. The more damaged the immune system is, the more of it gets replaced. “For some, this plan can generate a new immune system.”
And a healthy immune system is better able to protect against everything from colds to cancer to COVID-19. Fasting also helps turn back the clock, which makes you less susceptible to illness, adds Dr. Longo. “The diet has the potential to allow us to become healthier and stay that way for a long time.”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.