Does Intermittent Fasting Live Up to the Hype?
Fasting from time to time has been used in many cultures for a variety of reasons. But, now fasting, specifically intermittent fasting, has become popular as a weight loss method and is touted to have many health benefits. So, what is intermittent fasting and is it actually helpful?
Intermittent fasting (IF) simply means not eating for a specific period of time. The amount of time spent in a fasted state depends on the type of IF, which can vary from 16 to 24 hours. Fasting goes against the traditional thought that breakfast is the most important meal of the day or that we need to eat every 2-3 hours to maintain muscle mass. Research is suggesting that periods of fasting may actually be beneficial to health and might help control weight.
Benefits of Fasting
The many potential benefits of fasting include:1,2
- Reduced risk of diabetes due to lower fasting glucose and insulin levels
- Lower cholesterol and triglycerides
- Improved HDL cholesterol
- Improved heart rate and blood pressure
- Decrease in inflammation and oxidative stress
- Reduction in weight due to lower overall calorie intake
There is a significant body of research developing to support these benefits. Proponents believe that based on evolution our bodies are adapted to periods of fasting. The theory behind why fasting shows these health benefits is because of a process called autophagy. This process allows the body to remove any damaged cells to be recycled. Allowing the body to clear out damaged cells helps lower inflammation and reduce the risk of cancer and chronic disease.3
Types of Fasting
IF can be done in many different ways, here are a few of the most popular methods:4
- 16/8 method. This method involves eating all your food in an 8 hour time frame and fasting for 16 hours, most of which occurs overnight. This may mean only eating between 12-8pm.
- 5/2 method. This involves eating only 500 calories two days a week and eating normally the other five days.
- 24 hour fast. This method requires fasting for 24 hours at a time once or twice a week.
The type of method that works best likely depends on the individual. Overall health, hunger, and lifestyle should also be considered when fasting.
IF would not work well for someone who prefers to eat smaller meals and snacks throughout the day. If you have diabetes or other health conditions, you should check with your doctor before trying IF. Those who are pregnant or nursing or those with a history of an eating disorder should avoid IF.
Research on IF has focused on short-term trials.5 Therefore, more research is needed to investigate the effects of IF in the long term.
Is intermittent fasting right for you?
For most healthy people, IF is likely safe and possibly beneficial. At least in the short term. It may be a good way to lose weight and it has been shown to be as effective as traditional calorie restriction for weight loss.6
If you are considering trying IF, the important thing is to stay hydrated during fasting periods. Additionally, during the feeding period, you want to eat a balanced diet to help ensure you are meeting your nutrient needs. IF does not give you a free pass to eat whatever you want; you will not see results or benefits if you overeat even if you fast.
Overall, the research on IF is promising at this time, but further studies are needed to determine if fasting does help reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
- Blog Contributor