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This past January when Goop Lab premiered on Netflix, Gwyneth-devotees tuned in to to binge watch the wellness entrepreneur (along with her loyal employees) test out everything from extreme cold therapy, psychedelic mushrooms, and a diet designed to mimic fasting that was said to lower one’s molecular age (amongst its many benefits).
No one could have anticipated that the five-day program, known as Prolon, would soon become the go-to response to the “Covid-cushion” (the extra pounds acquired during months of hermetic indulgence during lockdown) for those who could afford $250 for five days of starvation rations.
The timing couldn't have been more fruitful. In the wake of social distancing, the social set—whose calendars are normally filled to the brim with events, cocktail parties, and dinners out every night of the week—was now freed up to commit to five full days of a meal program that offers little-to-no wiggle room. In the absence of social obligations, and thus dietary obstacles, so came the fasting.
ProLon FMD, or “Fasting Mimicking Diet,” was developed by Dr. Valter Longo as a five day program low in proteins and sugars, but rich in healthy fats, that does exactly what the name suggests: It mimics the effects of fasting on the body, without actually forgoing food. Studies of the program have demonstrated that it helps promote autophagy, replacing damaged cells with functional new ones, and shifts the body into visceral or abdominal fat-burning mode, which is said to continue even after a return to one’s normal diet.
The program is designed to make the body think it's in a fasting state, without actually requiring the participant to avoid food altogether. And while you do have three meals a day, and some days even have snacks, don't be fooled—the rations are small. Much like Paltrow, who documented each day of her experience on the program, Harry Slatkin attests that it’s no walk in the park.
Participants receive a five-day supply of food, and are instructed to drink no other beverages than water and herbal tea (coffee is discouraged). Day one provides about 1,150 calories and the subsequent four days hover around approximately 400 days. All meals are plant-based, and each day includes soups, bars, teas and supplements to ensure the participant still ingests essential micronutrients.
Slatkin, who lost 12 pounds and was still able to play tennis during the program (in the Palm Beach heat, no less), remarks that you don’t necessarily feel hunger, but the cravings were acute. “The craving part is probably the part that does you in. This happened for me around the third day. I was missing food but yet not hungry, which is an odd feeling. By the end it felt very restrictive,” he says.
Results are results, however. And ProLon FMD certainly boasts a variety of appealing benefits aside from inches off the waist. Not only have published studies shown that the program jumpstarts fat loss without affecting lean muscle mass, but it has also been shown to encourage healthy systolic blood pressure. “ProLon users will report they feel greater energy, mental clarity, and focus as a result of the five-day meal program," says Dr. Will Hsu, chief medical officer of L-Nutra, the nutritional technology company that helped develop the program alongside Dr. Longo. "Typically, they also report that mindfulness about what they consume after they finish, able to control their portions immediately after their fast, and reported they felt more motivated to adopt a healthier lifestyle.”
Benefits aside, Slatkin says you'll be happy when it's over. “We celebrated with a glass of wine and literally it could’ve been the cheapest wine known to man—we would’ve looked at it as if it was a Rothschild. I had horseradish as a condiment as if I was having caviar on my shrimp.”
My own introduction to the ProLon FMD five-day program came after binging the entirety of Goop Lab. Even watching Gwyneth lament that the soups were not her favorite and that she was feeling low-energy, my interest was piqued. I wasn't necessarily trying to lose weight, but after months of traveling and indulgence, my system was in need of a reset. I wanted to feel a little more energetic and less dependent on my afternoon sugar fix.
I started ProLon on Monday, March 9. You could say I was ProLon's first pandemic participant—just don't check me on it. The five days of soups, olives, crackers, and teas flew by. And unlike Gwyneth, I didn't feel like the soups were all that bad. If you are partial to savory rather than sweet, you won't really feel like the meals lack in flavor. I did however add a touch of nutritional yeast to the mix, per the recommendation of a dietician friend, for added B12.
I wasn't exercising save for a daily walk, but I didn't feel all that exhausted. Or hungry for that matter—and I was around people who were eating regularly. That said, encroaching contagion does make one want to sit on the couch and eat girl scout cookies to cope, so I will admit to moments of temptation. I held out.
On day one and two, I did distinctly miss substantial food. The third day of the program has what felt like the least amount of food—and it was by far the hardest. I was definitely hungry. By day four I noticed less hunger and in general felt fantastic—spritely energy and deep, restorative sleep. It was a palpable change to how I felt in the days before I started. Day five was more of the same—though with the program so close to done, I found myself eager for a real meal.
Once I had finished, I didn't weigh myself, but my clothes fit differently. And I no longer felt compelled to anxiously nosh in the afternoon to kill time. My stomach shrank noticeably while on the program so once I finished, I had considerably more control over portion size at meals—and this effect lasted too.
Most importantly, I was craving less sugar and caffeine, both of which I leaned on pre-cleanse to cope with low energy and anxiety.
After I'd finished the program, I vowed I would do one again. But how soon is too soon? Dr. Will Hsu explains that if you want to maximize your results on the program, ProLon suggest doing it once a month for three consecutive months. "After completing the first three cycles, you can do one five-day cycle from time to time when you are looking for weight loss, cellular rejuvenation, metabolic balance and healthy aging."
It's no easy feat, but for a quick tune up it's pretty painless to consider another five days on ProLon. Particularly if restaurants are still off limits.
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