Intermittent Fasting

In recent years, a new trend in the world of health and wellness has gained significant attention, intermittent fasting. This eating pattern has captured the interest of many individuals seeking to improve their health, lose weight, and enhance their overall well-being. 

What Is It?

Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating pattern in which individuals alternate between periods when they consume food and periods in which no or only limited food consumption takes place. It has recently gained popularity within the health and fitness community due to its apparent ability to help individuals lose weight and decrease inflammation.  However, not all individuals should adopt an intermittent fasting diet plan. Always consult your medical professional if considering making this dietary change, because this pattern may affect chronic illness and increase dehydration.

Intermittent fasting can take many forms, with most plans including breaking your day or week into eating and non-eating windows. When eating during your “eating window,” be sure to choose high-fiber, high-protein foods that will leave you feeling full and satisfied.

Intermittent fasting works by giving your digestive system a break from digesting food so it can focus on breaking down stored fat for energy, or autophagy (cellular renewal) processes such as clearing away damaged cells from your body.

Intermittent fasting has proven beneficial in helping individuals manage their calorie consumption and lose weight more easily, as they no longer indulge in mindless snacking throughout the day or late at night. Many have even found success using intermittent fasting when not strictly adhering to meal plans.

On the other hand, intermittent fasting may be difficult for some to maintain long-term. Forming new habits around eating less or fasting is often challenging if food doesn’t appeal to your palette, or there is limited time available for preparation.

If intermittent fasting doesn’t suit you, other healthy diets could still help with weight loss and improving health markers without as many restrictions or requirements.

Intermittent fasting may not always be safe, such as during pregnancy and breastfeeding, when at risk for hypoglycemia and when menstruating (especially premenopausal women). Furthermore, intermittent fasting should be avoided by people engaging in heavy physical activity or using heavy machinery.

What Is Involved?

Intermittent fasting takes many forms, but most commonly involves restricting daily food intake to one to two six- or eight-hour windows each day. For instance, the 5:2 diet advocates eating normally on five days each week before going without food for 24 hours twice every week and then returning to eating normally in between fasts.  A daily pattern may include eating within a 4-6 hour window and abstaining for the next 18-20 hours.

Intermittent fasting practitioners emphasize that it does not involve starving yourself or only eating junk food, yet some photos accompanying news reports show people stuffing themselves with high-calorie items like burgers, fries and cake. Unfortunately, filling your feeding window too rapidly with high-calorie items can force your body into starvation mode and start storing fat instead of burning it, leading to unintended weight gain.

Eating less frequently is one way to help reduce calories while feeling full when eating higher-calorie foods. Furthermore, this practice may stimulate autophagy, an action by your body that removes damaged cells and may decrease risk for chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.

If you are new to intermittent fasting (IF), be sure to ease into it gradually. Rushing too fast into it could prevent your body from receiving essential vitamins and minerals it requires for health.

Benefits

Intermittent fasting offers numerous health advantages, including weight loss and improved cardiovascular health. Studies suggest it can reduce blood pressure, cholesterol levels, inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity.  Its long-term effectiveness will depend on whether or not its implementation can be sustained over time.

Your body will begin to more effectively utilize stored fat for fuel during fasting days, while also eating nutritiously on non-fasting days to achieve other health benefits, such as maintaining a healthy weight and better controlling blood sugar.

Many who follow intermittent fasting (IF) report losing similar amounts of weight as those following traditional diets, and may help protect against certain diseases by improving how their bodies utilize glucose and nutrients.

Contrary to its growing popularity, intermittent fasting should not be treated as a diet. While intermittent fasting may offer health advantages, it should never be a coping mechanism to counteract a junk diet.

Risks

Intermittent fasting may present potential drawbacks if done too frequently or without paying close attention during your “eating window.” According to research published in 2021, obese adults who consumed most of their calories before 1 PM for three months did not lose more weight than those following an ordinary eating pattern.  Although intermittent fasting has been found to improve sleep and lower cholesterol levels temporarily, those effects diminish once people return to eating normally again.

Intermittent fasting may not be suitable for certain individuals, such as pregnant women or frail or elderly individuals. Intermittent fasting can lower blood sugar, which may result in dizziness, weakness and fainting for these vulnerable groups. Furthermore, disrupting our natural circadian rhythm may contribute to insomnia, and poor quality sleep resulting from this form of eating regimen.

Intermittent fasting may also contribute to eating disorders in some individuals, as studies have linked IF with extreme dieting behaviors such as binge eating, compulsive exercise and laxative use. Furthermore, feelings of anxiety or shame associated with dieting could serve as indicators of disordered eating behaviors.