To Fast or Not to Fast
New “ground-breaking” diets and eating patterns continue to bombard the media, each claiming they have the secret to guaranteed weight loss. Currently taking the lead in popularity, however, is an eating pattern that promises benefits that go beyond just weight-loss: intermittent fasting. What exactly is intermittent fasting, and does it work?
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. Unlike most diets that are based on prohibiting certain foods, intermittent fasting allows the consumption of all foods but prohibits when they’re consumed. While many methods of intermittent fasting exist, the most common include daily 16-hour fasts or weekly/biweekly 24-hour fasts. Regardless of the method, intermittent fasting promises weight loss as a result of reduced food intake.
Losing weight by going long intervals without food, but then being able to eat whatever you please may seem too good to be true; but it isn’t, as long as, and here’s the catch, that you’re watching the amount of food you’re eating. To make sense of this let’s explore the energy balance equation:
calories in (energy input) - calories out (energy output)
If the difference between the energy input and output is:
Zero, weight is maintained
Positive, weight is gained
Negative, weight is lost
With intermittent fasting, the goal is to decrease the number of calories going into your body so that the energy balance equation’s difference is negative. This is achieved by both fasting and by eating in moderate amounts in non-fasting hours. If you were looking forward to eating an endless amount of food after fasting, don’t turn away just yet, since, luckily, the discipline acquired from fasting for long intervals should in turn aid you to control your food consumption in non-fasting hours. Also, beyond decreasing one’s energy input, studies have shown that intermittent fasting increases metabolic rate, which increases your energy output, further making the energy balance negative and leading to greater weight loss.
And so, to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting, individuals should keep in mind the energy balance equation and be cautious of the amounts they’re eating in non-fasting hours. Moreover, while intermittent fasting doesn’t recommend the consumption of any certain foods, eating wholesome, nutritious meals can only further benefit the fasting individual.
Weight loss, however, isn’t the only reason intermittent fasting has become so popular. Other attractive benefits intermittent fasting promises include:
1- Declined Insulin Resistance-
Insulin resistance is when your cells resist or ignore insulin’s signal to take up glucose in the blood, which is the case in diabetics. Thus, reducing insulin resistance helps to protect against type 2 diabetes.
Since insulin levels are decreased, stored glucose is broken down, and more fat is burned.
2- Reduced Inflammation-
While acute inflammation helps our bodies fight off infections, chronic inflammation could have serious consequences on our health, especially our cardiovascular health. So, reducing inflammation can lower susceptibility to chronic diseases.
3- Improved Heart Health-
The major risks for heart disease are obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol. By leading to weight loss, declined insulin resistance, and the reduction of LDL and blood triglyceride levels, intermittent fasting, in turn, can reduce the risk of heart disease.
4- Greater Brain Power-
Fasting increases the brain hormone BDNF, which boosts memory and improves mood and learning.
So, is intermittent fasting worth the hype? Results will vary from each individual, but overall, if done right, intermittent fasting has proven itself to be an eating pattern that not only leads to weight loss but enhances one's overall wellness as well. It's important to remember, however, that intermittent fasting isn't going to be realistically sustainable for most people over time, but what's great about it is that it provides a great starting point to help you rebuild your habits around eating. Also, always talk to your health care provider and/or dietitian before trying any diets or eating patterns to ensure they’re safe for you.