The ABC diet originated and rose to fame as an internet meme. A meme is an idea that spreads from one person to another in a movement. In the case of the ABC diet, the movement concerned is the pro anorexia (pro-ana for short) community. The pro anorexia movement promotes anorexia as a lifestyle choice as opposed to the general perception of anorexia as a disorder. The diet has become popular through forums and message boards frequented by people interested in this subject. The ABC diet has derived from the 2468 diet which is another popular diet in the same community. It appears that the popularity of the ABC diet stems from its relatively short duration which renders it attractive to individuals seeking quick weight loss results.
Specifically, the diet is said to have originated on LiveJournal, a virtual community that allows its users to host their blogs, diaries or journals. An analysis of communities still active on this website (as at February 2012) showed that the journal at anabootcamp.livejournal.com has been deleted whilst the community at Ana Bootcamp remains in existence. The website also contains a few diaries that document the authors’ progress during the diet. However, most of these diaries stop short of the diet’s fifty day duration. Interestingly, the website’s formerly largest pro anorexia community, pro-anorexia has now been converted into an anorexia recovery and support community.
Due to its drastic calorie restriction, the ABC diet does bring about weight reduction in the short-term. Dieters who completed the diet have claimed that they lost around nine kilograms upon completion. The only problem is that the weight reduction resulting from the ABC diet is achieved through plain lack of food and not through effective dieting strategies. As a result, the weight that the dieter would seem to lose materializes from loss of fluids and muscle mass, certainly not the type of weight one would want to dispose of. Both liquids and muscles are essential to the proper functioning of the body, and their loss comes at the expense of harmful consequences. For instance, due to the loss of tissue, muscles tend to waste away, bringing about lack of strength and the anorexic appearance. This process can be accentuated if one exercises during the diet.
Even worse, the diet prompts the body to descend into starvation mode, the condition which induces the body to cling on to stored fats for energy. As the body learns that calorie intake is minimal, it starts conserving as much calories as possible to make up for the depletion resultant from the diet. In a way, the dieter would have trained his/her own body to store more fat. Accordingly, once the dieter completes the ABC diet and resumes a regular diet, he/she gains even more weight that originally lost, and he/she does so at a quicker rate.
Thus, as a final verdict, we can say that undoubtedly the ABC diet, along with other pro-ana weight loss plans, does deliver in terms of weight reduction, but the process is extremely risky, and the outcome never lasts.
In a previous article we outlined the two theories over which the ABC diet is based – calorie restriction and calorie shifting. In this article, we dig deeper to analyze whether these theories and the way the ABC diet utilises them is reasonable or not.
We had said that when the body has more calories than it requires, it stores the surplus energy in the form of fat. Hence, it follows that a good strategy to avoid the build-up of fat is to reduce the dieter’s calorie intake. This theory is sensible, and it is in fact applied successfully in numerous other diets. In the ABC diet, however, the application is taken to an extreme. On average, during the ABC diet, the dieter consumes 250 calories every day. This is a far cry from the recommended daily calorie intake which exceeds this amount by a thousand calories per day at the very least*. When the calorie intake is lowered to such a low level, the body ends up starving, and hence losing essential water weight, muscle tissue, and bone strength, apart from straining the heart. These side-effects are of course very detrimental to the dieter’s health.
The second notion utilized by the ABC diet is calorie shifting. This is the idea that alternating the calorie intake each day would prevent the body from descending into the metabolism-slowing starvation mode. Whilst there may be some truth in the underpinning idea, the effectiveness of calorie shifting in diets is already controversial on its own rights. Critics claim that the concept of starvation mode as employed in dieting does not hold since the level of efficiency the body can achieve during a weight loss diet is inadequate to change the rate of weight reduction. Furthermore, even if calorie shifting does work, the ABC diet’s execution of the concept is hampered by the fact that the amount of calories the dieter is allowed to consume on feast days (in the range of 500-800 calories at most) is too low. As a result, the small calorie shift would fail to trick the body into believing that it is not short of food.
Editorial note: This article is merely intended to document the premises over which the ABC diet is claimed to work. The emphasis is on the words “supposed to”. The ideas over which the diet is based transcend from scientific theories, and this may trick you into trusting the diet and the claims made by its advocates. However, we strongly believe that the implementation of these theories in this particular diet is both extreme and in some cases incorrect. We invite you to read the follow-up article on the reasons why the diet defies the theories mentioned in this article when you finish reading this one.
The Ana Boot Camp diet is mainly based on two concepts, calorie restriction and calorie shifting. Calorie restriction is easy to understand. Our bodies are essentially engines that take in energy (measured in calories) through food and expend energy through exercise. Whenever the calorie input exceeds the output, the body stores the excess calories as fat. This is accentuated by our contemporary lifestyles, in which food is easily available, and exercise hardly needed. The ABC diet, just like other diets that limit the calorie intake aims at preventing the body from storing fat by limiting its inputs.
The calorie shifting theory is slightly more complex to understand. When one follows a diet that confines the calories consumed to a fixed amount on a regular basis (say 1200 calories every day for seven days), it is typical that at some point the dieter reaches a plateau, a point at which it becomes increasingly difficult to lose further weight. This is due to the fact that the body would have switched to starvation mode. The starvation mode instinct kicks in when the body “realizes” that its fat stores are being endangered by a consistent food scarcity. In order to compensate and conserve the remaining fat, the metabolism slows down, thus making it harder for the dieter to achieve his/her weight loss goal. Therefore, by varying the daily calorie intake calorie shifting diets try to trick the body to prevent it from switching into starvation mode. In turn, this prevents the metabolism slowdown and allows the dieter to continue losing weight.