Flip through any celebrity magazine or nutrition blog and you’ll most likely hear about the new diet called intermittent fasting. This way of eating has been gaining accolades as an “anti-diet” approach to health and weight loss. Rather than the conventional calorie counting, it emphasizes when you eat. Find out why fasting has been gaining a lot of attention in the nutrition and health worlds and if it’s right for you.
Fasting is an eating pattern based on the concept that our ancestors didn’t have access to constant and convenient foods such as the market and in refrigerators. Some religions also practice intermittent fasting for spiritual and religious reasons such as Ramadan, Lent, and Fast Sunday. (1)
Fasting has been modernized by alternating between fasting and eating on a daily or weekly basis, according to different time schedules. Since it focuses on when you eat rather than what you eat, some people find it easier to reap the benefits.
One reason intermittent fasting works for people is that it helps decrease mindless eating. Say, for example, you tend to get post-dinner munchies. Intermittent fasting encourages you to consider if you’re hungry or if it's just a craving.
Intermittent fasting may also have an impact on weight and health for some people. Since the eating time is restricted, it may reduce calorie intake and therefore encourage weight loss. (2) Additionally, it may help regulate appetite hormones and insulin. When insulin is elevated over time, it may contribute to more stored body fat. (3)
Some research has suggested that intermittent fasting helps with cell health, and therefore age-related disease prevention, such as type 2 diabetes. That’s because giving your metabolism and body a break from digesting food helps initiate cell repair. (4) However, more research is needed before any solid conclusions can be drawn.
There are different types of intermittent fasting according to times that suit you and your lifestyle. They are all based on periods to eat and periods to fast. The fasting period may only include water, or there may be restricted calories depending on the plan.
One of the most popular and generally easier approaches to intermittent fasting are the types that have specific hourly periods to eat and fast during the day. Most of the fasting happens at night. One of the most popular types is 16:8, meaning you fast for 16 hours then eat for 8 each day. A more gentle approach and a good place to start if you’re new to fasting is the 12:12 plan. You can also try patterns such as 14:10.
The 5:2 intermittent fasting plan recommends eating normal amounts of healthy food for 5 days per week and then reducing calorie intake on the other 2 days per week (about 600 for men and 500 for women). This can be done on back-to-back days or separate days during the week, such as a Monday and Thursday.
Alternate day fasting is when there is a modified approach to eating every other day. For instance, you may choose to limit your calories to 500-600, 25% of your regular intake, or even no calories those days. On the other days, you’ll eat normally. (5)
For this type of intermittent fasting, eating is stopped for a full 24 hours. This is usually done once or twice a week. Since this method is more extreme, it’s important to get back to a normal eating plan on the non-fasting days.
If you have a health condition, it’s vital to check with your physician before trying intermittent fasting. It’s not safe to try if you have a history of an eating disorder since there are restrictive time frames of eating. It is also unsafe to fast when pregnant or breastfeeding because you’ll have fewer calories and nutrients needed to support your body and baby.
Although intermittent fasting may help improve blood sugar, it’s still our brain and cell’s main fuel. If we don’t get enough calories and food to provide healthy blood sugar levels, it can lead to problems thinking and functioning. It could also be dangerous for people with diabetes since there’s an increased risk for low blood sugar levels. (6)
Whenever you start a new diet or fitness plan, it's essential to consult with your physician, especially if you take medication or have a medical condition. Once you have the ok to give it a try, you may want to start with a more gentle approach such as 12:12 and see how you feel. If an eating plan makes you feel sick or lightheaded, it's best to listen to your body and eat normally.
Eating in a shorter time frame makes it difficult to get enough calories and nutrients. So it’s very important to focus on well-rounded nutrition or intermittent fasting plans such as with the help of credible nutrition apps like Lifesum app.
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