This is a question I have been asked numerous times by clients, and that is, "What are your thoughts on intermittent fasting?" It is a great question to ask and most certainly something to be investigated as it has become extremely popular. Most people have at very least heard the term, "intermittent fasting", and many at one point or another have tried it out for themselves.
So let's first define what a diet is so we have a sense of what we are talking about. A diet is simply bringing my awareness to what and how much I am eating. Very simply, when I go on a "diet", I am PAYING ATTENTION to what I'm eating. However, diets can be dressed up and sold by giving them names like, "keto diet", "Mediterranean diet", or the, "atkins diets". All of which follow basic eating principles of consuming mostly whole foods and a variety of macro and micro nutrients. Changes such as how much of each nutrient we will consume is usually what differentiates one diet from the next. For example, following a keto diet is a high fat/low carb diet. As a result of consuming low carbs, no more than 20-50g per day, the liver produces ketone bodies from stored fat for energy instead of glucose from carbohydrates.
So what is intermittent fasting? Well, let's break down the name. Intermittent means, "occuring at irregular intervals; not continuous or steady. Fasting means, "to abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink". So intermittent fasting is when you are not eating regularly or on a steady schedule. Essentially, sometimes you eat and sometimes you don't.
As I mentioned above, most diets focus on what or how much to eat but with intermittent fasting, it focuses on when to eat. There are different intermittent fasting plans with some focusing on daily fasting periods and others having specific days each week for fasting. To decide which one may be best for you, I would encourage trial and error and come to your own decision. If you are considering fasting from food specifically, I recommend speaking to your general physician as well before you begin. I feel it is important to add that we can fast from anything we feel has had a hold on us such as coffee, technology, music, sweets, or our daily news intake.
Some of the intermittent fasting plans I have come across are daily fasting or time-restricted feeding which is when you have a 4-8 hour window each day for eating. The remaining hours would be for fasting or abstaining from food. These are the 16/8 plan and the 20/4 plan. During the fasted periods, water and low calorie beverages are permitted such as tea or coffee. During the 4-8 hour window for eating, it is recommended that we eat normally because if we over indulge during that period, we may not lose weight or improve health. During the eating window, the goal should still be to consume mostly whole foods such as lean proteins, fruits and veggies, healthy fats, and whole grains. Simply fasting for a longer period than normal doesn't magically help me lose weight if I am still exhibiting bad eating habits. Also, fasting periods of 24 hours or longer can actually have the opposite intended effect. Our body could enter a catabolic state where it stores fat instead of burning it as a response to starvation.
There is also the 5:2 approach or partial fasting where we eat regularly 5 days a week and the other 2 days we have one low calorie meal each day around 500-600 calories. Lastly, there is fasting mimicking diets where 1 week a month you eat about half as much as usual and 3-4 weeks you eat normally. This cycle is repeated on and off.
Bottom line, the primary factor with intermittent fasting is TIME. When am I eating and when am I not? When it comes to weight loss/fat loss, one thing holds true regardless of what "diet" we are following and that is if we are eating fewer calories than we burn, we lose fat. Some people may benefit from intermittent fasting because they have specific windows for eating and specific windows for fasting which can prevent them from fighting hunger all day long. Also, after 2-3 weeks, however we are eating, if we follow a consistent schedule, our metabolism will adapt to that schedule.
According to precision nutrition, some of the health benefits that might come from intermittent fasting are it could slow the aging process.
Intermittent fasting might improve brain health, might reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, might reduce the risk of cancer, might improve heart health, and it might increase fat loss.
All of these benefits can also come from getting 7-9hrs of sleep, regular exercise, managing stress well, and eating mostly whole foods during the day. Reducing our overall body fat regardless of how it happens will improve our overall health and metabolic indicators.
Two important questions to ask yourself whether it's about intermittent fasting or anything else you may be considering is, "Can I do this well for the rest of my life?" Or, "Is the lifestyle change I am considering sustainable?"
One important thing to remember is that fasting too long is really just starvation and depriving our body of nutrients it needs to function.
Some other things to consider before intermittent fasting is that intermittent fasting is not for:
-people with health issues that necessitate regular meals.
-Anyone with a history of disordered eating as fasting is essentially an eat/don't eat experience which is very similar to the binge/restrict cycle.
-People who don't do well with hunger because if they deprive themselves and experience hunger, they are likely to overeat later.
Intermittent fasting may not necessarily be a magic pill but simply a pathway to living a healthier life. Creating healthy habits for ourselves will most likely serve us better in the long run.
If you have ever experimented with intermittent fasting or are currently following one of the plans above,