Eat-Stop-Eat Diet Beginner’s Guide: How To, Benefits + Drawbacks

Dissecting another face of intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting diets are time-restricted eating schedules that are among the most popular diets for weight loss and health.

The Eat-Stop-Eat diet plan is an iteration of intermittent fasting that restricts and permits food on a cyclical schedule.

With this particular form of intermittent fasting, you cycle through some days where you fast completely for a 24-hour period and days where you eat regularly.

But, is the Eat Stop Eat meal plan good for weight loss and health overall?

This diet guide will discuss how to follow the Eat-Stop-Eat diet plan and its pros and cons for weight loss and health.

Let’s jump in!

A person eating a salad.

What Is the Eat-Stop-Eat Diet?

The Eat-Stop-Eat diet plan is an approach to intermittent fasting that’s characterized by having one or two days of fasting per week and five or six days of regular food intake.

The two fasting days must be spaced apart by at least one day of eating, hence the eat-stop-eat diet name.

The Eat-Stop-Eat plan was developed by Brad Pilon, who then authored a book on the diet titled Eat Stop Eat: Intermittent Fasting for Health and Weight Loss.

The Eat-Stop-Eat diet program was borne from his research at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, investigating the effects of short-term fasting on metabolic health.

According to Pilon, the Eat Stop Eat method isn’t a typical weight loss diet but rather a method to reframe or reconfigure how you approach meal timing and frequency to support your overall health.

This is not to say that you can’t experience the Eat-Stop-Eat diet’s weight loss benefits; most people do follow the Eat-Stop-Eat diet for weight loss specifically.

However, the primary intention of Pilon’s Eat-Stop-Eat diet is to bring about some of the health benefits of intermittent fasting along with behavioral changes related to habitual meal consumption without necessarily paying attention to hunger cues and the body’s need for fuel.

A person eating a sandwich.

How Do You Follow the Eat-Stop-Eat Diet Plan?

Following the Eat-Stop-Eat diet method is quite straightforward.

You can choose to have one or two days of fasting per week. The fasting days should be 24 hours without caloric food or beverage intake.

However, you should stay very well hydrated with water, herbal tea, black coffee, club soda, or other non-caloric beverages.

Adding electrolytes can help maintain proper electrolyte balance on your fasting days.

The only other stipulation is that the days you fast during the week must be non-consecutive days, meaning that you have to have at least one day of regular eating between the two days of fasting.

On the “non-fasting days,” you can theoretically eat whatever you want, although the diet plan recommends following a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet.

Studies have not found that the macronutrient ratio does not seem to affect how much fat you lose on an alternate-day fasting plan like Eat-Stop-Eat diet.1Klempel, M. C., Kroeger, C. M., & Varady, K. A. (2013). Alternate day fasting (ADF) with a high-fat diet produces similar weight loss and cardio-protection as ADF with a low-fat diet. Metabolism62(1), 137–143. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.metabol.2012.07.002

A person drinking a glass of water.

In other words, people seem to lose the same amount of body fat and total weight whether they follow a high-fat or low-fat diet when fasting 24 hours with an alternate day type of intermittent fasting diet.

However, if you are following the Eat-Stop-Eat diet for weight loss specifically, you should be mindful of your calorie intake on your eating days so that you don’t completely negate the calorie deficit generated on the Eat-Stop-Eat fasting diet days.

Finally, as with any weight loss diet, it is highly recommended to exercise regularly when using the Eat-Stop-Eat diet method for weight loss. 

Studies have found that those who combine exercise with an alternate-day fasting diet lose more weight than those who are inactive.2S, B., Mc, K., Cm, K., Jf, T., & Ka, V. (2013, July 1). Alternate Day Fasting and Endurance Exercise Combine to Reduce Body Weight and Favorably Alter Plasma Lipids in Obese Humans. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23408502/

‌Plus, physical activity provides additional health benefits and reduces the risk of lifestyle diseases so it should be a mainstay in your health routine whether or not you are doing an intermittent fasting diet for weight loss or just improved health.

A person drinking a cup of tea.

What Are the Benefits of the Eat-Stop-Eat Diet Approach?

Because the Eat-Stop-Eat diet method is essentially an iteration of intermittent fasting, much like the alternate day fasting diet or the 5:2 intermittent fasting diet, the Eat-Stop-Eat diet benefits are akin to the health benefits of intermittent fasting.

Here are some of the potential Eat-Stop-Eat diet health benefits:

#1: Supporting Weight Loss

Studies have found that intermittent fasting with an alternate-day fasting schedule can promote fat loss, improve body composition, and support overall weight loss.3Alhamdan, B. A., Garcia-Alvarez, A., Alzahrnai, A. H., Karanxha, J., Stretchberry, D. R., Contrera, K. J., Utria, A. F., & Cheskin, L. J. (2016). Alternate-day versus daily energy restriction diets: which is more effective for weight loss? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Science & Practice2(3), 293–302. https://doi.org/10.1002/osp4.52

Studies have also found that alternate-day fasting diets like the Eat-Stop-Eat diet pattern seem to increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which plays a role in energy balance and body weight.4Catenacci, V. A., Pan, Z., Ostendorf, D., Brannon, S., Gozansky, W. S., Mattson, M. P., Martin, B., MacLean, P. S., Melanson, E. L., & Troy Donahoo, W. (2016). A randomized pilot study comparing zero-calorie alternate-day fasting to daily caloric restriction in adults with obesity. Obesity24(9), 1874–1883. https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.21581

‌Furthermore, most evidence suggests that this style of 24-hour fasting and then eating and then fasting does not increase compensatory eating in the way that traditional caloric restriction weight loss diets do.5Hoddy, K. K., Gibbons, C., Kroeger, C. M., Trepanowski, J. F., Barnosky, A., Bhutani, S., Gabel, K., Finlayson, G., & Varady, K. A. (2016). Changes in hunger and fullness in relation to gut peptides before and after 8 weeks of alternate day fasting. Clinical Nutrition35(6), 1380–1385. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2016.03.011

‌Compensatory eating refers to overeating after caloric restriction.

Compensatory eating is deleterious to weight loss efforts because it can essentially undo the caloric deficit you have generated.

However, everyone responds to fasting 24 hours differently, and this may not be the case for you.

A clipboard with a diet planner on it, weights, and a measuring tape.

#2: Preserving Muscle Mass

One of the risks of regular calorie cutting to lose weight is that it has the potential to lead to loss of lean body mass, particularly if you are in a prolonged state of a net caloric deficit.

When you lose muscle mass, your metabolic rate drops. This can make it harder to maintain weight loss over the long term.

Although not true in all studies or in all cases, some studies have found that alternate-day fasting may help preserve lean body mass more than daily caloric restriction.6Trepanowski, J. F., Kroeger, C. M., Barnosky, A., Klempel, M. C., Bhutani, S., Hoddy, K. K., Gabel, K., Freels, S., Rigdon, J., Rood, J., Ravussin, E., & Varady, K. A. (2017). Effect of Alternate-Day Fasting on Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, and Cardioprotection Among Metabolically Healthy Obese Adults. JAMA Internal Medicine177(7), 930. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.0936

#3: Improving Markers of Health

The Eat-Stop-Eat fasting method may improve blood sugar management and reduce the symptoms7Barnosky, A. R., Hoddy, K. K., Unterman, T. G., & Varady, K. A. (2014). Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. Translational Research164(4), 302–311. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2014.05.013 and risk of type 2 diabetes, improve heart health8Varady, K. A., Bhutani, S., Church, E. C., & Klempel, M. C. (2009). Short-term modified alternate-day fasting: a novel dietary strategy for weight loss and cardioprotection in obese adults. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition90(5), 1138–1143. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.28380 and other risk factors for heart disease such as cholesterol and abdominal obesity, and support autophagy, the process of cellular cleanup.9Alirezaei, M., Kemball, C. C., Flynn, C. T., Wood, M. R., Whitton, J. L., & Kiosses, W. B. (2010). Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Autophagy6(6), 702–710. https://doi.org/10.4161/auto.6.6.12376

A person eating a salad.

In addition to the health benefits of the Eat-Stop-Eat diet plan, there are some logistical benefits for weight loss versus a traditional caloric restriction weight loss diet.

Intermittent fasting diets use time-restricted windows of eating and fasting every day.

For example, compared to time-restricted intermittent fasting diets such as the 16/8 intermittent fasting diet, (where you have a 16 hour fasting window and an 8 hour eating window), you do not have to truncate your eating window every single day of the week on the Eat-Stop-Eat eating plan.

This can be more conducive to social eating, work schedules, and fueling before and after workouts because you are only fasting two days per week at most.

There are no food groups you need to remove from your diet, which can appeal to people who don’t want to feel limited by food choices or feel that certain foods are “off-limit” when trying to lose weight.

This may increase adherence to the Eat-Stop-Eat diet vs restrictive weight loss diets.

A person eating a salad.

What Are the Drawbacks of the Eat-Stop-Eat Diet Approach?

While there are benefits of intermittent fasting with alternate day fasting like the Eat-Stop-Eat diet schedule, there are also some potential drawbacks. 

The lack of structure on the eating days can be difficult for people who need more “rules“ or guidelines for weight loss.

Some people find that if they do prolonged fasting, they have compensatory overeating once they are able to eat again.

If you are binge eating or eating well over the number of calories your body needs per day on regular eating days, you may not see significant Eat-Stop-Eat diet weight loss results because you will be offsetting the caloric deficit generated when you fast.

Prolonged fasting may result in adverse health and metabolic changes.

Therefore, the Eat Stop Eat diet is certainly not appropriate for anyone with medical conditions such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, a history of eating disorders, difficulty regulating blood sugar levels, or who is pregnant, underweight, or breastfeeding.10Ogłodek, E., & Pilis, Prof., W. (2021). Is Water-Only Fasting Safe? Global Advances in Health and Medicine10, 216495612110311. https://doi.org/10.1177/21649561211031178

Speaking with your healthcare provider before attempting a 24-hour fast is important. Along with a nutritionist or registered dietician, you can find which type of eating pattern is best for you!

A person shaking hands with a nutritionist.

References

  • 1
    Klempel, M. C., Kroeger, C. M., & Varady, K. A. (2013). Alternate day fasting (ADF) with a high-fat diet produces similar weight loss and cardio-protection as ADF with a low-fat diet. Metabolism62(1), 137–143. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.metabol.2012.07.002
  • 2
    S, B., Mc, K., Cm, K., Jf, T., & Ka, V. (2013, July 1). Alternate Day Fasting and Endurance Exercise Combine to Reduce Body Weight and Favorably Alter Plasma Lipids in Obese Humans. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23408502/
  • 3
    Alhamdan, B. A., Garcia-Alvarez, A., Alzahrnai, A. H., Karanxha, J., Stretchberry, D. R., Contrera, K. J., Utria, A. F., & Cheskin, L. J. (2016). Alternate-day versus daily energy restriction diets: which is more effective for weight loss? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Science & Practice2(3), 293–302. https://doi.org/10.1002/osp4.52
  • 4
    Catenacci, V. A., Pan, Z., Ostendorf, D., Brannon, S., Gozansky, W. S., Mattson, M. P., Martin, B., MacLean, P. S., Melanson, E. L., & Troy Donahoo, W. (2016). A randomized pilot study comparing zero-calorie alternate-day fasting to daily caloric restriction in adults with obesity. Obesity24(9), 1874–1883. https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.21581
  • 5
    Hoddy, K. K., Gibbons, C., Kroeger, C. M., Trepanowski, J. F., Barnosky, A., Bhutani, S., Gabel, K., Finlayson, G., & Varady, K. A. (2016). Changes in hunger and fullness in relation to gut peptides before and after 8 weeks of alternate day fasting. Clinical Nutrition35(6), 1380–1385. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2016.03.011
  • 6
    Trepanowski, J. F., Kroeger, C. M., Barnosky, A., Klempel, M. C., Bhutani, S., Hoddy, K. K., Gabel, K., Freels, S., Rigdon, J., Rood, J., Ravussin, E., & Varady, K. A. (2017). Effect of Alternate-Day Fasting on Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, and Cardioprotection Among Metabolically Healthy Obese Adults. JAMA Internal Medicine177(7), 930. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.0936
  • 7
    Barnosky, A. R., Hoddy, K. K., Unterman, T. G., & Varady, K. A. (2014). Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. Translational Research164(4), 302–311. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2014.05.013
  • 8
    Varady, K. A., Bhutani, S., Church, E. C., & Klempel, M. C. (2009). Short-term modified alternate-day fasting: a novel dietary strategy for weight loss and cardioprotection in obese adults. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition90(5), 1138–1143. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.28380
  • 9
    Alirezaei, M., Kemball, C. C., Flynn, C. T., Wood, M. R., Whitton, J. L., & Kiosses, W. B. (2010). Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Autophagy6(6), 702–710. https://doi.org/10.4161/auto.6.6.12376
  • 10
    Ogłodek, E., & Pilis, Prof., W. (2021). Is Water-Only Fasting Safe? Global Advances in Health and Medicine10, 216495612110311. https://doi.org/10.1177/21649561211031178
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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