A weight loss program that works

Krista Varady

Krista Varady: finding a diet people can stick with. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

This year, UIC honors 10 outstanding researchers with the Researcher of the Year Award, a $5,000 cash prize. Five established faculty members were named Distinguished Researchers and five early career scientists were honored as Rising Stars.

Krista Varady
Rising Star
Clinical Sciences

Inventing a new weight-loss diet that is easy to stick to and has real health benefits would seem as likely as winning the lottery — but that’s what Krista Varady has done as she begins her career in science.

Varady studies dietary interventions that can help obese individuals lose weight and lower cardiovascular risk.

The most common weight loss regimens restrict calories to about 25 percent less than daily needs. Unfortunately, that leaves most people feeling deprived and most give up after about a month, Varady said.

After she had a baby, Varady found herself in the same boat.

“A calorie restriction diet was really hard,” she said.

At the time she was doing a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California-Berkeley, where researchers had studied a diet that asked people to fast one day, drinking only water, and eat the next. They did two small studies but the results weren’t promising. Participants were miserable.

Varady devised a different plan: modified alternate-day fasting.

With alternate-day fasting, dieters have a fast day followed by a feed day. They consume a good-sized lunch — 400 to 500 calories for women and 500 to 600 calories for men — between noon and 2 p.m. on the fast day.

“Then on feed day, they eat whatever they want,” said Varady, who has published more than 25 research papers on the diet since joining UIC in 2008.

Her research shows that alternate-day fasting dieters can shed 10 to 30 pounds in about eight weeks. For most people it’s much easier to stick with than a simple calorie restriction diet.

The bonus? Varady’s studies show that the alternate day fast reduces blood pressure, cholesterol levels and inflammatory factors (all signs of cardiovascular risk) more than calorie restriction diets, even after adjusting for the amount of weight loss.

In addition to continuing her research, Varady is working on a book about the diet that she hopes to see published early next year.

“It’s really nice to know that what you’re doing may directly affect people’s lives,” she said.

Other Researchers of the Year

Natasha Devroye: Rising Star, Natural Sciences & Engineering 

Xiaoping Du: Distinguished Researcher, Basic Life Sciences 

Leon Fink: Distinguished Researcher, Humanities 

Stacie Geller: Distinguished Researcher, Clinical Sciences 

Rachel Havrelock: Rising Star, Humanities 

Seungpyo Hong: Rising Star, Basic Life Sciences

Bing Liu: Distinguished Researcher, Natural Sciences & Engineering 

Ben Superfine: Rising Star, Social Sciences 

Maria Varelas: Distinguished Researcher, Social Sciences 

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