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The Salerno 4-Week Fat Fast: Is This Very High-Fat, Low-Carb Plan A Long-Term Weight Loss Solution?

One of the most controversial and misunderstood components of the Atkins diet over the years has been the use of what Dr. Robert C. Atkins described in his books as the “fat fast.” The traditional Atkins fat fast includes 1000-1200 calories daily with upwards of 90% of the caloric intake from dietary fat sources. The “meals” are broken up into 200-250 calorie increments to be consumed every 3-4 hours.

Unlike Atkins Induction where you get 20g carbohydrate mostly from green, leafy and non-starchy veggies and you don’t need to worry yourself with counting calories, the fat fast is for those people who are especially insulin resistant and are having trouble losing weight following Induction. Dr. Atkins recognized that some people needed a little extra boost to get their body into fat-burning mode and the fat fast generally did the trick. However, it was not meant to be stayed on for long than a few days.

But last month I interviewed a physician named Dr. John Salerno who worked with Dr. Atkins for a few years and was a willing disciple of the low-carb way of eating. During that podcast, Dr. Salerno mentioned that he put his patients on his own “fat fast” for upwards of four weeks which immediately caught my attention. His reasoning for it was that it produced quick weight loss so you can transition to eating a regular low-carb plan again and that he didn’t see anything especially dangerous or wrong with utilizing such an approach (in fact, he said during our discussion that he himself has used this to shed a quick 15 pounds).

When I inquired about the details of the Salerno Fat Fast, he was willing to send it to me in a nutshell so I could share it with you. Since I’ve been inundated with requests to see this plan, here it is:

Usual duration is 4 weeks.

Five feedings of 200 calories each containing 90% dietary fat

Sample foods to be consumed on the Salerno Fat Fast
- 1 oz. Macadamia (15 nuts), Brazil (7 nuts), or Walnuts (15 nuts)
- 2 oz. Cream, St. Andre Cheese, or Brie.
- 2.5 oz. Beef (Chuck or Round).
- 3 slices of Fresh Slab Bacon
- 2 Egg yolks mixed with 1 oz. of mayonnaise or mixed with 1/2 a California avocado.
- 2 oz. Sour Cream (not for yeast free diets) mixed with 1 Tbsp. Caviar (This may be served on 3-4 pork rinds).
- 2 Egg yolks mixed with 2 Tbsp. of mayonnaise served on 3-4 pork Rinds.
- 2 oz. chicken, egg, shrimp, salmon, ham or crab mixed with 1 1/2 Tbsp of mayonnaise.
- 1 oz. chicken, egg, shrimp, salmon, ham or crab mixed with 1 tsp. of mayonnaise served in 1/2 a California avocado.
- 2 oz. heavy whipping cream, sweetened with DaVinci syrups. This may be beaten to make a fluffy mousse.

Choose any 5 of the above items to have during the day. The items may be repeated. Space the meals evenly throughout the day. Choose organic/free range produce whenever available. Drink at minimum 8 eight-ounce glasses of filtered water daily.

As you can see, it’s not much different from the Atkins fat fast except for the duration. And I think that’s what most people will find peculiar about Dr. Salerno’s plan more than anything–can you really do this very high-fat, low-carb plan over a four-week period and expect a long-term weight loss solution? It seems that this temporary plan to shed the pounds does nothing to change your overall habits. How is the person who has been on the Salerno Fat Fast supposed to ease back into a regular low-carb diet after eating 1,000 calories for nearly a month? These are my biggest concerns.

Dr. Salerno noted in my interview that it’s okay for the body to go into “starvation” mode for a period of time to bring about the weight loss, but is that truly a healthy way to shed the pounds? Isn’t pushing something like this to overweight and obese patients taking the Atkins concept to an extreme level and further ostracizing the overall message of livin’ la vida low-carb further? I don’t see why a traditional Atkins Induction phase wouldn’t be attempted FIRST to see if weight loss can be produced with that before resorting to a calorie-restricted, fat-based low-carb diet. It’s seems like overkill to me.

And with any weight loss attempt, the real key is keeping the weight off with a long-term solution for making that happen. Sure, this four-week fat fast may melt away upwards of 15-25 pounds in a month, but what is that teaching someone who needs to keep that weight off for good after it is over? One thing I’ve learned in the past five years of eating a healthy low-carb diet is it pays to be consistent with the basics of low-carb living. Straying too far away from the path that got you there is inviting disaster in the form of weight gain and slipping back into some old habits again.

Although it might be motivating to see quick weight loss results on the Salerno Fat Fast, to what end would it accomplish? Are my concerns about this completely unwarranted or do you feel this is merely another way for people to fall into the trap of thinking weight loss can be super-fast and simple? Share your thoughts in the comments section and let’s hear what YOU think.

  • Miriam

    I am assuming that he is monitoring his patients. Is he doing this before induction or for his patients who cannot lose on the first round?

    As far as healthy low carb eating goes, I seldom see it on too many forums. Many people just eat low carb junk for the high carb junk they used to eat instead of real food. Finding and hunting substitutes and using artificial ingredients is probably not good for anyone.

    And Jimmy that is what you were doing just a few weeks ago. Your diet is finally truly healthy low carb. It’s been a long time coming. I hope you keep it up.

    What is so hard about people reading the book on the plan they wish to follow and eating the foods it recommends?

    Unfortunately, even Dr Atkins got involved with substitutes. There are so many wonderful food choices out there which are real, healthy, and delicious.

    Makes life simpler and it costs a whole lot less to shop for real foods instead of chemicals.

    Sure, he’s watching his patients through this, but it just seems unnecessary unless you try Induction first. And maybe he does, but it sounds like he’s putting a LOT of people on this fat fast first. Is it good for them to be on it for four week? I dunno.

    As for the low-carb substitutes when you first start livin’ la vida low-carb, I think they can be an incredible transition from the high-carb crappy diets that most people eat these days. I would not have been successful in 2004 losing the weight had it not been for some of those sugar-free products, so I’m not gonna say anything bad about them. Let’s just say now I don’t need them anymore. :)

    While it’s easy to say “just eat real low-carb foods” when you’ve been acclimated to doing that for a while, you have keep in mind that some people may need to be eased into it a little more than others. This is not an all-or-nothing proposition…it’s about getting people to make BETTER choices and hopefully they’ll KEEP making those better choices as they progress in their lifestyle change.

    THANKS for your comments, Miriam!

    –Jimmy

  • http://lynnslowcarb.com Lynn

    I think the fat fast offers hope to those who don’t lose easily. When you’re trying to do Induction and not losing much, and you hear of people losing big amounts really fast, it’s quite upsetting. I guess if you did it four weeks and did lose, you might worry that if you have only a few more carbs you’ll start gaining again.
    I do see it as helpful to those people who can’t seem to lose weight period. It would be so encouraging to actually start losing; then you could make tiny adjustments and hopefully keep losing. Then just stay very low carb.

  • http://lowcarbist.com Eugene

    I am not in love with this idea. First of all… 1,000 calories for me or for a 160 pound soccer mom? There is a big difference. At that level she might lose some nice pounds without feeling too out of it… I on the other hand might lose my teeth and hair. These things need to be calculations, not hard numbers.

    Second, it’s well known that starvation diets reduce fat-burning capacity. When on a diet like this, the body cannibalizes muscle, further lowering the metabolisms of individuals that probably should have just pumped some iron to begin with.

    I don’t know much about this Dr. Salerno, but after what you’ve said about his advice, I don’t much like him.

    To top it off, the diet sounds like the kind of solution a person would use after a binge. Just staying on Atkins and doing a little exercise works fine… and in a few extra weeks you can get the same results without risking damage to your body.

    Go listen to that podcast interview I did with Dr. Salerno, Eugene. I don’t think he’s totally off-base in his dietary philosophy, but this particular part of it gives me pause.

    –Jimmy

  • Stephanie

    Hmmm….I guess I have been doing this not knowing that it had a formal “name”. Sometime around the beginning of November I started eating eggs, meat , cheese, and a few nuts, no coffee or artificial sweeteners and no food at all after 5 pm. I have lost over 20 pounds to date. I’ve been “cheating” (eating after 5 and a cup of coffee this weekend) a little since Thanksgiving mostly due to extreme busyness (hence poor meal planning). But I have kept it off and in fact have lost about 7 pounds since Thanksgiving. I am hoping to lose 8 pounds by January 1st. Then I will only have 25 to go! I feel great. I went surfing Sunday for the first time in a month and a half ,and it was so much better with less of me to lug around.

    As for not knowing how to eat: I do know how to eat on low carb, but lately I just haven’t seemed to be able to lose. I tend to get frustrated as I want it off “now” and tend to do better for losing when I do something radical. I do know how to keep it off. Seven pregnancies have been my problem–actually the pregnancies haven’t been the issue; my body seems to try to see how much weight it can put on when I am breastfeeding.

    It sounds like you’ve been doing what many call an “intermittent fast,” Stephanie. But if whatever you are doing is working and you are eating low-carb as well as you describe, then GO FOR IT! THANKS for sharing your comments.

    –Jimmy

  • http://www.gohealthygofit.com Andrew R – Go Healthy Go Fit

    “…it pays to be consistent…”

    That’s a universal truth as far as weight loss and keeping the weight off is concerned. If you find a healthy approach to nutrition that takes into account the proper caloric intake and macro-nutrient requirements for your body, you’ll be on the right track. It’s simple, but the simple things tend to lead to the best results.

    Thanks for the post Jimmy

    All the Best,

    Andrew R

  • http://weight-in.blogspot.com Lora

    I thought I would share with your readers my experience on the modified fat fast.

    On October 20, 2008, I joined a group of ladies on LowCarbFriends on the Egg/Protein Fat Fast thread. I never was able to have a successful induction and thought this would be a good idea to at least become familiar with a low-carb plan. I lost 9lbs. in 4/5 days! I couldn’t believe it! I had to retrieve my glasses. (Analog scale by the way). I stepped on it several times. Heck, I even woke up my boyfriend for a second look!

    I’m not saying what I’ve been doing over the past couple of months is perfect. There have been a few tense moments involving homemade bread and pizza. Yet, I was still able to maintain my weight loss and in fact, losing inches from my waistline. Going sweet-free has helped me burn even more fat, too.

    Please note: I did not consume red meat, nuts, or cream.
    I ate a few ounces of feta, bleu, or mozzarella cheese, here and there, but basically staying away from it. My taste-buds love cheese but my stomach rebelled!

    Take care,

    Lora

  • Sue

    I don’t think you would lose your hair or teeth – its not low fat and its for a short period of time.
    Maybe for some 4 weeks may be too long – cut it down to 2 weeks. I don’t think you would be hungry once you are well into it. Its a really good start.
    Its no different to going zero carb but with calorie restriction.

  • Tim

    To me it sounded like he tried it on those patients that were too insulin resistant for the ordinary Atkins diet to work. And he also said that they responded better to carbohydrates (although they are few) after these 2-4 weeks. So I don’t see why this is not a long-term solution.

    Being shortly on starvation mode is perhaps not bad either. Steven Gundry thinks we should do that more often.

    It’s a curious concept, Tim! My concern is how do they transition from the “starvation” mode of 1,000 calories (and even lower) a day of a very high-fat diet to regular low-carb after the four weeks?

    –Jimmy

  • Nancy

    I think that once one learns how to maintain their weight that taking an extreme measure to reduce their weight, especially if they’re stalled, isn’t a bad idea.

    I’ve done a fantastic job of maintaining my weight on a low carb diet, but I just can’t seem to lose any longer and I’m stuck at a weight that really is higher than it should be.

    I’m definitely considering something extreme to get that some of this remaining weight off.

    If you haven’t learned how to maintain or haven’t really adjusted to low carb eating then I don’t think it is a good idea. But I’ve been low carb (Paleo-ish) for 5 years now and I think I have it down pat.

    I can see a veteran low-carber doing this, but it concerns me about newbies doing it.

    –Jimmy

  • Patricia

    I don’t see any problem with it. Carbohydrates simply aren’t needed in our diet, yet we find any excuse to add them in like a smoker who convinces themselves they’ve “quit” because they only smoke a few cigarettes a week. I’d much rather see someone replace carbs with fat than the reverse which I see quite often in the low carb community. Fat is essential to health, carbohydrates are not.

  • Amanda

    Jimmy, It has been almost a year since you posted this topic. I am curious to see if you have followed up with Dr. Salerno to see how his patients did well after the 4 week period.

    Great comment, Amanda, and it just so happens I have a follow-up interview to share with Dr. Salerno featuring his new SILVER CLOUD DIET plan coming up on my podcast show on December 10, 2009. Hope you can hear it!

    –Jimmy