Intermittent fasting has been trending for quite some time now. Is it simply hype or is there science to back up the grandiose claims of weight loss and improved overall health?
Laying the Foundation
Before we get into the details of intermittent fasting, it’s important to lay the foundation: no fasting or weight-loss program in the short term can undo the effects of a poor diet. Meaning, intermittent fasting (as you’ll soon see) can be a powerful tool for your overall health, but a nutrient-dense diet of whole foods will always reign supreme. The most effective way to boost your long-term health is to maintain a high-quality diet while staying hydrated and moving your body.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Simply put, intermittent fasting happens when an individual goes extended periods with little or no food intake. There are varying degrees to which one can practice intermittent fasting, but ultimately they fall into two categories: time-restricted eating and whole day fasts.
Time-Restricted Eating vs Whole-Day Fasts
With time-restricted eating, you shrink the window of time during which you eat each day. Typically, that involves extending the duration of your regular overnight fast, anywhere from 12 to 20 hours, by skipping either breakfast or dinner. Whole-day fasts are just as they sound, where one will fast for 24 hours for as little as once or twice a month or as much as once or twice per week (1).
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has been shown to be a powerful tool for health in a variety of ways, such as decreasing inflammation, reducing cravings, improving efficiency at fat-burning, and supporting healthy blood sugar levels by making your cells more sensitive to the hormone insulin (a key player in regulating blood sugar) (2). Studies have also found that certain behavioral changes occur during the fasting period, including increased alertness and increased mental sharpness (3).
Ultimately, intermittent fasting gives your body time to reset. When you take a break between meals, your body needs to produce less insulin, your blood sugar levels are able to to stabilize, and your body has a chance to clean up shop — all of which can support major benefits like weight loss and longevity (4).
If you’ve never done a fast before, consider a simple form of intermittent fasting where you limit the hours of the day when you eat. For example, you may eat three meals between 7 am and 3 pm, or 10 am and 6 pm – allowing 12-16 hours until your first meal the next day. If you’re not quite ready for that, perhaps you can start by avoiding snacks throughout the day or avoiding eating anything after dinner (meaning no dessert on the couch!). If you are a veteran intermittent-faster, perhaps you could benefit from a whole-day fast.
Who Should Not Intermittent Fast
If you are considering intermittent fasting, or whole-day fasting, make sure to discuss it with your health care provider, and work with your Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner to guide you along the way. Skipping meals and severely limiting calories can be dangerous for people with certain conditions. For example, people with advanced diabetes or who are on medications for diabetes, people with a history of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and children shouldn’t attempt intermittent fasting unless under the close supervision of a physician who can monitor them (5).
If you’re looking to lose weight, lower blood sugar, or improve how sensitive your cells are to insulin, intermittent fasting may be the perfect health strategy for you! Always remembering that the ultimate foundation of optimal health will be a nutrient-dense whole food diet.
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- Alex, et al. “Intermittent Fasting: The Science Behind the Trend.” Chris Kresser, 16 Aug. 2019, com/intermittent-fasting-the-science-behind-the-trend/.
- Moodie, Alison. “The Complete Intermittent Fasting Guide for Beginners.” Bulletproof, 5 Dec. 2019, bulletproof.com/diet/intermittent-fasting/intermittent-fasting-guide/.
- Mattson, Mark P, et al. “Impact of Intermittent Fasting on Health and Disease Processes.” Ageing Research Reviews, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5411330/.
- Nair, Pradeep M K, and Pranav G Khawale. “Role of Therapeutic Fasting in Women’s Health: An Overview.” Journal of Mid-Life Health, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4960941/.
- Tello, Monique. “Intermittent Fasting: Surprising Update.” Harvard Health Blog, 16 Dec. 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156.