Making a ‘fast’ buck in Silicon Valley

April 27, 2018

Many Americans are “on the fast track” today—at least intermittently.  Each week, they eat for a few days and fast for a few days in order to lose weight and “purify” their digestive systems.

And those who practice intermittent fasting say it helps them to lose as much as 3% to 8% of their overall weight, Bloomberg reports, as well as 4% to 7% of their waist circumference, over periods between three and 24 weeks.

Indeed, according to a 2017 report by CNN, “Intermittent or alternate-day fasting requires routinely alternating between eating little or no food and then feasting in your daily diet. It has become a growing weight loss trend in the USA, the UK and other regions around the world.”

And although there are no data on how many people have tried fasting, several celebrities praise the practice, Longevity reports—among them, Miranda Kerr, Liv Tyler, Christy Turlington, Ben Affleck, Beyonce and Hugh Jackman.

What’s more, monthly Google searches for “intermittent fasting,” which has become a catchall term for various forms of the practice, have risen tenfold over the past three years, to as many as one million.

It also has caught on in a big way in Silicon Valley, the high-tech bastion near San Francisco. Like most of the health fads that sweep through the valley, this one broke through thanks to word-of-mouth—and a Medium website post.

Entrepreneur Sumaya Kazi told the site’s 650,000 readers that she had dropped 50 pounds on the regimen, while venture capitalist Phil Libin and others preached about it to anyone who would listen, Bloomberg states.

Indeed, Bloomberg notes, a number of meal programs have sprung up in Silicon Valley, in an attempt to profit off fasting—among them:

  • Plate Joy, a $230-a-year meal-plan subscription app that is part of a diabetes prevention program, and has attracted about 20 million followers to its site;.
  • HVMN, a ketone drink formerly known as Nootrobox, which has attracted more than $5 million in venture backing from the likes of former Yahoo! Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer and Zynga founder Mark Pincus;. And
  • ProLon, a very-low-calorie, five-day, $250 diet package that is supposed to mimic the effects of a fast—and includes small portions of soups, drink mixes, breakfast bars, vitamin supplements, and even desserts.

Should you try it? Lauren Smolar, director of programs at the National Eating Disorders Association, thinks the answer is no. “We consistently see cases where people have tried to control their intake of food, and it’s led to an eating disorder,” she told Bloomberg, adding, “There ends up being this kind of reward feeling they’re going through, which triggers them to continue on this diet. And slowly this feeling of losing control, and not being able to know when to stop, can occur.”

 The bottom line, according to Bloomberg: Startups focused on time-restricted feeding and low-calorie meal regimens plan to expand aggressively, but they may be a bit too far ahead of the science.

Research contact: inquiry1@bloomberg.net

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