Life Extension Magazine®

Family using nutrition plan for caloric restriction at holiday dinner

Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain with Nutrient-Supported Intermittent Calorie Restriction

A few pounds added over the holiday can turn into hard-to-lose body fat stores. A clinically tested intermittent program has been shown to prevent holiday weight gain while reducing vascular risk markers.

Scientifically reviewed by Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, in August 2023. Written by: Kirk Stokel.

For some people, the holiday season is notorious for overeating and consuming the wrong kinds of foods. This is when people put on a few extra pounds they never seem to shed.1-4

These extra few pounds build up year after year. After a few holidays, suddenly your clothes don't fit, and the pounds don't come off.

This weight gain is not just unattractive—it's harmful. Over time, excess weight becomes its own organ, spewing out inflammatory compounds that inflict systemic damage. The list is long of the diseases that can result from just a few extra pounds.

While dieting is difficult and good intentions often fail, recent research has found that less restrictive dietary programs, such as intermittent calorie restriction, may be as effective as calorie counting, providing the same degree of weight loss along with other health benefits, but in a program that is easier to stick to.

Scientists at Life Extension® have developed and studied an intermittent calorie restriction nutrition program that aims to help avoid holiday weight gain. The program utilizes intermittent calorie restriction, with the added benefit of supportive nutrients to help make adherence easier and maximize beneficial outcomes.

The goal of this study was to prevent weight gain during the holiday season where unhealthy overeating is the norm.

The results of this study showed that participants on the intermittent calorie restriction program did not gain weight and experienced a modest amount of weight loss. In addition, this nutrition program demonstrated other benefits, including improved lipids.5

What you need to know

  • Studies show that the winter holiday is a significant contributor to cumulative weight gain.
  • Cumulative weight gain and obesity are associated with increased risk for many diseases and overall mortality.
  • While calorie-counting diets are often difficult to follow and fail frequently, intermittent caloric restriction programs can lead to an equivalent degree of weight loss and other health benefits but with a better success rate.
  • Scientists at Life Extension have developed a nutrition program that utilizes the increasingly popular 5:2 intermittent caloric restriction approach, only limiting food intake on two days out of each week.
  • By providing dietary support through nutritionally balanced shakes, as well as supplements aimed to reduce food cravings and jump-start the metabolism, this program aims to improve upon the benefits associated with an intermittent calorie restriction approach to weight management.

The Advantages of Intermittent Caloric Restriction

Intermittent Caloric Restriction  

Traditional weight loss diets limit the number of calories an individual can eat each day. When adhered to, these diets can result in weight loss and improved health. However, this requires counting calories for everything one ingests, every day.

These restrictive diets often fail because compliance is poor.6,7 Typical low-calorie "diets" drastically change the types and amounts of food an individual is accustomed to eating. As a result, overweight people often give up their good intentions and return to their previous dietary habits.

Studies published in 2018 uncover an approach that only restricts dietary intake part of the time. Findings from these studies show they can be as effective as continuous caloric restriction for weight loss, while being easier to adhere to.8,9 Rather than restricting food intake all day and every day, these intermittent calorie restriction programs only restrict food intake on some days, allowing individuals to eat as they usually do on the other days of the week.

There are several versions of intermittent calorie restriction diets. Variants of what's known as the "5:2 diet" have become increasingly popular with people seeking safe and easy weight loss along with some of the benefits of calorie restriction. A growing body of medical literature supports the efficacy of these diets.9-11

These 5:2 programs restrict caloric intake on just two days of the week, allowing one to eat normally (both in types of food and in quantity) on the other five days. Most people find this simplified calorie restriction easy to follow.

Weight Loss & Other Health Benefits of Intermittent Caloric Restriction

Clinical studies have proven that various forms of intermittent caloric restriction not only result in weight loss, but also yield other positive health effects.12-15

The amount of weight loss observed in 5:2 programs is comparable to that seen in those who follow a traditional full-time caloric restriction diet.9-11

For example, a group of randomized obese subjects were put on a 5:2 intermittent diet or a continuous caloric restriction for six months.11 Both groups lost significant weight compared to their baseline, with a similar degree of weight loss in each group. Those on the intermittent calorie restriction diet lost an average of 14 pounds.

Intermittent Calorie Restriction Nutrition Program

Image with Caption
Maqui berries

Having observed this trend in the medical literature, scientists at Life Extension set out to improve upon existing calorie restriction programs, particularly to help people avoid the insidious holiday season weight gain that plagues so many people.

The intermittent calorie restriction program utilizes the calorie restriction approach of two consecutive days of limited calories (730 calories/day) and five days of normal eating. In addition, it aims to improve upon that basic concept in two ways:

  1. Provide a healthy balance of protein, fats, and carbs in tasty protein shakes to make the work of calorie counting on the two calorie-restricted days per week easier, improving adherence.

  2. Provide a specific blend of nutrients that help maintain adequate nutrition, reduce cravings, and increase metabolism.

In a pilot study conducted at the Life Extension Clinical Research Center, the goal was to see if this 5:2 program could limit weight gain during the holiday season. This particular study was not designed as a weight loss study. Overweight adults were randomized to a nutrition program with nutrient shakes and supplements for two consecutive days, followed by five days of regular eating. The control group ate in their usual way, with the addition of a daily multivitamin for a period of 52 days over the winter holidays.5

On average, individuals in the control group who ate their regular way did not lose meaningful weight, while those in the nutrition program lost a modest amount (average 2.9 pounds) of weight. If extended for six months, as was done in the 2018 published study,9 greater weight loss would possibly occur. However, the focus of this study was to limit holiday weight gain which was successfully achieved.

In addition, subjects on the nutrition program saw increases in beneficial HDL cholesterol levels and reduced levels of triglycerides. These changes indicate a reduction in cardiovascular and metabolic risk. (It is challenging to boost beneficial HDL as people age.)

People in the control group who continued on their normal diet and did not have the advantage of the nutrition program saw their risk factors change for the worse. Their total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and fasting insulin all increased significantly.5

Supporting Caloric Restriction: Nutrients to Help Maximize Benefits

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The nutrition program was designed to build upon the benefits that have already been demonstrated with other intermittent calorie restriction diets. In particular, an assortment of nutrients and supplements have been carefully selected to support the weight-management program.

Any nutritional program that limits calories should be carefully designed to ensure an adequate intake of key essential nutrients, including minerals, vitamins, and metabolic supporting blocks. A daily multivitamin can help provide many basic minerals and essential vitamins.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also an important component of a healthy diet and support healthy cardiovascular and nervous system function.16-21 Cardioprotective effects of omega-3 fatty acids include reduction of triglycerides and prevention of cardiovascular disease. In addition, some studies have suggested that these fats may have direct anti-obesity effects.21-24

Coenzyme Q10 is an important cofactor for a healthy metabolism. It helps to optimize cellular utilization of nutrients and energy supply.25,26

Another approach to help stimulate the metabolism and optimize our nutritional program is to activate AMPK, an important regulator of cellular metabolism. Gynostemma pentaphyllum is an herb that has been found to have many beneficial properties, including AMPK stimulation and anti-obesity effects.27-30

Extracts of clove bud and maqui berry have further metabolic supportive functions. They have both been found to help support healthy glucose metabolism and maintain normal levels of blood sugar following meals.31-35

Another important factor to consider for any nutritional program that limits calories, even intermittently, is the risk for food cravings and snacking that can sabotage the diet.

Even though calorie intake is only limited on two days out of the week in the nutrition program, any period of calorie restriction can potentially cause unhealthy food cravings. Cravings are a notorious problem for people following diets that restrict food and calories, and irresistible urges to snack have sabotaged many weight loss plans. Supplements that have been found to provide appetite suppressant effects can be useful in this context.

Extracts of the herb saffron and some types of beans have been found to be helpful in controlling cravings as they can contribute to satiety, or the feeling of fullness after a meal, thus reducing cravings and the chance of snacking.36-38

Calorie restricted diets have been shown to have healthy effects on the beneficial microorganisms that reside in the digestive tract.39 Intake of a prebiotic supplement can help support gastrointestinal health and promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.40,41

Finally, curcumin, a compound found in turmeric root, is a potent anti-inflammatory that helps boost the body's defenses. Curcumin has been found to have many health benefits, including support for weight loss.42-44

The Many Health Benefits of Calorie Restriction and Intermittent Fasting
holiday treats

In addition to aiding in weight loss, which reduces risk for chronic disease, evidence supports several other health benefits influencing many different body systems and the risk for age-related and chronic disease. Some of the notable effects that have been reported include:

  • Improvement in memory in elderly subjects45
  • Reduced risk for cancer and improved efficacy of cancer treatment46
  • Improvement in blood lipid profiles, including decreased triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels and increased HDL cholesterol9,11,14,47
  • Improved blood sugar control with improved levels of insulin and glucose, including among those with type II diabetes15,48
  • In addition to weight loss and improved blood lipid and glucose control, caloric restriction appears to offer several other benefits to overall heart and metabolic health, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease12,47,49
  • Improvement in normal gut flora, an important marker of health39


holiday meals and weight gain  

For many people, the winter holiday season is a time to enjoy good food with good company. Unfortunately, it is also often associated with significant weight gain, which can contribute to the development of obesity and risk for many chronic diseases.

Restriction of calorie intake is associated with many health benefits beyond weight loss alone. However, continuous calorie restricted diet programs are often burdensome and difficult to stick with, resulting in failure and rebound weight gain.

Intermittent calorie restriction, where dietary intake is only restricted on some days of the week, has been shown to provide the same level of benefit, leading to weight loss as well as reduction of other risk factors associated with chronic disease.

A newly designed nutrition program aims to optimize this intermittent calorie restriction approach, providing additional dietary and nutrient support to improve adherence and prevent weight gain during the winter holiday season.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.


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