If you’ve ever been very sick, very busy, stressed and anxious or on a demanding work deadline or otherwise preoccupied you’ve probably been on a so-called intermittent fasting diet. By default. For a day or two, or the better part of one day, you eat very little. Then you go back to normal eating. This happens to people all the time, due to life’s circumstances. Periodic fasting is also a feature of many religions.
People have been fasting for thousands of years. It’s not a new phenomenon. Over the past few years, periodic fasting earned a new sciency name — Intermittent Fasting. Weight loss “experts” started making money selling books touting intermittent fasting as the answer to the obesity epidemic. If only people would follow the rules!
Intermittent Fasting logistics
While health professionals always recommend a diet of healthy unprocessed foods, the Intermittent fasting diet has no official food recommendations. It’s all about timed eating. There are three basic variations:
- You eat normally five days per week, and then you eat very little (or nothing) on the other two days. This is referred to as The 5:2 Diet.
- You eat normally every other day, fasting on the days in between.
- Time-restricted feeding, which means you can only eat during a specific time period during the day, say between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Then you fast for the remaining 16 hours overnight. The fasting time period can vary anywhere from 12 hours to 21 hours.
Twenty-one hour fast? That means you only have a 3-hour timespan during which you can eat. The likely result is that you end up eating less each day, because how much can you eat in 3 hours? And “eating” includes beverages, even coffee and tea. So during the non-eating hours, you can only have plain water.
Whichever variation you follow, you likely end up eating fewer calories and losing weight. Can you expect more weight loss compared to a regular low calorie regimen? Research suggests No. When intermittent fasting is compared to regular low calorie diets, everyone loses weight to varying degrees. Months later, people from both diet groups regain some weight. The main difference seems to be drop out rates. Intermittent fasting study subjects ditch the diet at higher rates. The time restrictions just don’t fit into everyone’s lifestyle.
That might be the most important point. If you can’t stick to a diet plan, it doesn’t matter how wonderful it sounds on paper. It doesn’t matter if the numbers theoretically add up to predict weight loss. It doesn’t matter if the “permitted” foods are perfectly healthy. This diet truism applies to all diets: low fat, high protein, low carb, keto, intermittent fasting, Mediterranean, low calorie, gluten free, Weight Watchers, Atkins and on and on and on.
There’s another truism about diets: some people ‘click’ with a particular diet. It does work for them. They become very enthusiastic and motivated by their weight loss success. Sometimes they’re so motivated, they start proselytizing other people to follow their diet. New converts may or may not have the same success.
What about the fasting aspect?
Thanks to renewed interest in intermittent fasting, researchers are examining other potential health benefits besides weight loss. There is evidence that fasting leads to improvement in metabolic systems. Lower triglycerides, improved glucose and insulin levels, beneficial changes in circadian hormone cycles, gut microbe populations and gut function are just some of the changes shown with fasting. The potential for metabolic benefits unrelated to weight loss are intriguing. I look forward to seeing more research about this effect.
Should you try?
Whether you want to try one of the regimens is entirely up to you. I don’t recommend any particular one. Your work schedule, family responsibilities and social life all come into play in such a decision. Of course, if you have any chronic disease like diabetes, kidney disease or heart disease, you shouldn’t undertake a fasting type diet until you’ve discussed it with your physician.
It’s interesting that something as simple as not eating for several hours a day is being sold as a strange new diet idea rather than an age-old way of life. Giving your body more time to digest and process what you do eat it not a bad idea. We’re constantly encouraged to Eat Eat Eat, non-stop all day, with portions that are too large. It’s time to rethink that, whether you call it Intermittent Fasting or just cutting back on food.