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What’s the allure of “protein-sparing fasts”? These low-calorie diets offer liquid protein formulas or small amounts of chicken, fish, and beef. They motivate you because you lose pounds quickly. One person in five polled by Parade fasted on his or her last diet. Men seemed to fast more than women.
Protein fasts are risky, particularly over a long period. Total fasting, in which dieters eat nothing at all, is especially dangerous because it uses up the body’s stores of protein, such as the muscles (including the heart muscle). It also depletes your potassium level, which could send your heart into a paroxysm. Some years ago, several people on a liquid protein diet died. At best, liquid formulas claim 50 percent success.
Doctors who use protein fasts to treat the grossly obese (people who are 80 or more pounds overweight) prescribe 400-to 600-calorie daily diets of either a special liquid egg formula or tight portion control of protein foods and no carbohydrates.
Dr. George Blackburn, of Harvard Medical School, says that 25 percent of those he treats with controlled portions of protein foods achieve normal weight and stay there. But his program stresses exercise and behavior modification to teach people to eat normally after they’ve lost weight; the diet is supplemental.
Parade’s survey found that people who drank liquid formula diets were more successful in keeping weight off 6 months or longer than those who followed other methods. But if you try these protein fasts on your own, the chances are that you’ll eventually gain the weight back and possibly endanger your health.

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