Back in the late 70s, a diet made the rounds of offices, college campuses, and other gathering spots of the weight-obsessed female, called “The Four-Day Diet” or “Lose Ten Pounds in Four Days.” It was presented as a “fit into that dress by Friday” solution for women who couldn’t afford to hit the spa for a chemical or seaweed wrap to suck the water (temporarily!) out of your fat cells. Unlike the spa treatment, though, the diet has an impact on your insides, and if you are healthy enough (no glycemic or kidney problems, for sure) to tolerate a VERY restrictive diet for four days, it can teach you some important lessons.
Be prepared, because it will not be the most pleasant four days of your life, but it’s nowhere near as horrific as some of those hot-sauce-and-worcestershire “juice fasts,” and much more balanced nutritionally. But it is dairy-free, gluten-free, and high-acid, so be sure none of those are no-nos according to your doctor. There is also grapefruit, which interacts badly with a number of prescriptions meds, so check on potential interactions before you start. You can drink as much water as you like on this diet, and more is certainly healthier as the high-acid tends to have diuretic effects, but if you want to see if you can lose the whole ten pounds, remember part (though not all) of that total is water. You are allowed to season with black pepper and a reasonable amount of salt, but the more salt you use, the more your body will want to hold onto water.
Breakfast is half a grapefruit and coffee or tea. Your beverage can be caffeinated or not as you choose, but NO whitener (dairy or non-dairy) and NO sweetener (sugar or artificial). I’m one of those odd people who actually likes grapefruit, but I like it a lot better with a tablespoon of brown sugar on top. Not allowed.
Lunch is roughly four ounces of broiled or grilled (with no added fat) lean beef (that can be anything from lean steak to extra-lean ground beef) and a salad of one cup lettuce (romaine is good) and one small tomato. No dressing. Okay, if you can’t stand it with no dressing you may have a squeeze of lemon or lime juice or a spritz of a zero-carb, zero-calorie vinegar, but no carbs and no oil.
Dinner is two eggs, one cup of green beans, and half a grapefruit. The original diet called for hard-boiled eggs, but I find hard boiled eggs revolting. There should be no reason why you can’t cook them any way you want as long as you add no fat, so scrambled in a good non-stick pan works for me.
Same breakfast (all four days!), half a grapefruit and coffee or tea. Lunch is one lamb chop, a cup of lettuce with no dressing (see dressing cheats above), and 6 ounces of tomato juice. If you don’t like lamb, I don’t see why you couldn’t have another four-ounce lean beef serving, or even pork, but avoid chicken or turkey– there are compounds in poultry that will mess with the chemical balance. You get chicken tomorrow.
Dinner is veg, veg, veg. One cup of raw or steamed squash, one cup of raw or steamed cauliflower, and one cup of raw or steamed green beans. This was, for me, the low point, both culinarily and psychologically. But it’s also the halfway point in the diet, so you can think of yourself waking up in the home stretch.
Your mileage may vary, but I woke up on Day Three feeling like someone had plugged my recharger in overnight. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I hate mornings and consider getting up in single digits a form of torture, but I jumped out of bed on Day Three bright (for once) and early, and attacked my day feeling like the Energizer bunny.
After your now-typical breakfast, lunch is one cup of lettuce and one cup of celery (no dressing) with 4-5 ounces of broiled skinless chicken breast. It is not your imagination if you think your chicken tastes sweet.
Dinner is your broiled 4-ounce lean beef serving, one cup of stewed tomatoes, and 6 ounces of prune juice. I’m not a prune juice fan, but as little sugar as you’ve had in the past few days, it will taste like dessert.
Last day! Same breakfast; lunch is two eggs, one cup of green beans, and 6 ounces of tomato juice.
Dinner is a repeat of Day One’s lunch (4 ounces of broiled lean beef, one cup of lettuce, and one small tomato), plus 6 ounces of unsweetened pineapple juice, which you will be convinced is the single best thing you have ever tasted in your life. And you will go to bed dreaming of all the fabulous things you can eat… tomorrow.
What This Diet Will Teach You
The first lesson is one you’ll learn on the first day, because you’ll probably be hungry. This diet is a not unreasonable amount of food, and more than many people get on a regular basis, but it’s likely nowhere near the volume of food you’re putting in your body every day. So lesson one is “Rethink portions and snacks.” Your stomach is much smaller than you think it is.
Lesson two you’ll learn around Day Three, “Your diet is slowing you down.” The total lack of refined sugars and starches forces your body to readjust its energy processes, and most people find they suddenly have a lot more get-up-and-go. It’s honestly an amazing feeling. If you also find that your tummy is happier than usual, you may want to talk to your doctor about your gluten tolerance; tell him you went gluten-free for four days and felt great.
Lesson three will hit you on Day Five, when you try to go back to your normal diet. Just about everything will taste like sugar. You’ll taste the lactose in milk. You may find your old salad dressing will taste so sweet that it’s downright unpalatable. Ketchup will taste like you’re putting pancake syrup on your food. “You have totally undermined your sense of taste regarding sweetness.” For better or worse, this lesson won’t stick for long. A few meals and snacks with very sweet things will have your tongue back to craving pure sugar again in no time. But it helps to remember how that prune juice and pineapple juice tasted after being off refined sugar for a couple days. A friend of mine was on a macrobiotic regimen to help with her Crohn’s disease, and she was forbidden refined sugar; she used unsweetened apple juice concentrate as a sweetener. I think of her every time I see sweetened apple sauce or juice, because I can hear her saying, “It amazes me that people think they have to add sugar to something I use AS sugar.”
This is a good diet to try with a friend. For one thing, misery loves company. For another, you can share groceries, because if you don’t normally buy prune juice, you can’t just buy 6 ounces. But mostly it helps to compare notes. You may not notice something about your changed body or palate until your friend mentions it.
I learned something very sad. I’m weak. I’m a slave to my taste buds. I felt SO GOOD off dairy and with no refined sugar or starch in my system. Better than I can remember feeling in my life. And I gave it all up for a croissant. Cheesecake. A warm chocolate chip cookie and a glass of cold milk. Maybe you’ll be stronger than me, and the knowledge you gain will change your life. If you’re morbidly obese, and dairy, sugar, and starch are your trigger foods, it just might save your life if you let it. Or you’ll learn that you’re weak like me. Hopefully that’s a lesson in humility, at least. And maybe having proved to yourself how much better you feel without eating certain foods will make you a little more circumspect about eating them at all, let alone to excess.