It seems as if every day, a new diet fad comes along. Intermittent fasting, however is far from new — many people have gone on fasts throughout the ages for either physical or spiritual reasons. Some nutritionists claim that intermittent fasting can reset the body and make previously difficult weight loss easier.
But is it safe to intermittently fast? The answer is both yes and no. Human beings can go only so long without solid food before their metabolism and their digestive system grow sluggish, leading to further concerns, but fasting for short periods spanning hours, not weeks, may provide health benefits.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting refers to the practice of restricting eating to certain days of the week or certain hours of the day. Some people do survive lengthy fasts lasting a week or two or more, but many suffer as many negative effects from doing so as they do positive ones. While individual genes, body size and fitness level all influence how long someone can go without eating, for most, going three weeks without food will lead to death.
The principle behind intermittent fasting is twofold. The majority of those who adopt the practice do so with weight loss in mind. Allowing the stomach to empty completely cuts down on the amount of insulin produced by the body, forcing the cells to release and burn fat for fuel. Additionally, intermittent fasting can, depending on the approach the individual takes, cut down on the number of calories consumed each week overall.
The Potential Pros of Intermittent Fasting
Some health care professionals and nutritionists swear by intermittent fasting for improving a number of health issues, weight loss being the most obvious. Other benefits claimed by proponents of this eating plan include better insulin resistance overall, Supporters claim that intermittent fasting can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and some research does support these claims.
For example, a recent study performed on pre-diabetic men exhibiting signs of insulin resistance found that those in the target population who restricted eating to the eight hours between seven and three p.m. lowered their blood pressure as well as the amount of oxidative stress in their bodies more than a control group who ate between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Oxidative stress refers to the balance between antioxidants and free radicals in the body, and an overabundance of such radicals contributes to the aging process.
Proponents of intermittent fasting claim that doing so for 16 hours each day reduces Alzheimer’s risks while slowing or halting the aging process. While such claims may sound extreme, the fact remains that restricting eating to an eight-hour window does benefit health in several ways.
The Downsides to This Practice
The same study which indicated that daily 16-hour fasts improved cardiovascular health also noticed that participants did increase their triglyceride levels through intermittent fasting. Triglycerides are a type of fat that can contribute to heart disease. While everyone needs some degree of triglycerides in their blood, high levels can lead to increased risk of heart attacks.
Another problem with intermittent fasting lies in the western lifestyle. Many people in the U.S. work during the day and go home to enjoy a meal with their families at night or head out with their friends to grab a bite. Those following intermittent fasting on the 8- to 16-hour ratio must choose between going hungry in the morning or waving goodbye to relaxing after work over food and drink shared with family and friends. Failing to eat breakfast may result in running on empty during the most productive part of the day for many.
Anecdotal evidence exists that suggests going without solid food, even when taking nutrients in liquid form, results in low energy and grumpiness. Furthermore, doing this may slow down digestion, meaning once someone transitions from a liquid diet back into eating solid foods, they regain the weight lost. Those who have gone without solid food for more than a short period of time may find returning to eating difficult, as their turtle-speed digestive tract makes consuming more than a few bites at one sitting nauseating.
Tips to Keep in Mind When Attempting Intermittent Fasting
Thinking of giving intermittent fasting a try? Keep the following tips in mind to protect health and negate any adverse effects.
- Keep it short. Some people find sticking to an 8:16 hour ratio difficult and instead choose to fast one day, then eat for two, etc. Yes, rapid weight loss through fasting for longer periods can get folks back to their high school fighting trim quickly, but at a serious toll to their health. Yes, fasting for several days will decrease the levels of ghrelin, the hormone responsible for making people feel hungry, but once they return to normal eating, the weight comes back on rapidly as cravings return.
- Eat healthy foods. Many celebrities who embrace intermittent fasting by eating every other day pay little attention to the amount of calories they eat on days they chow down. Likewise, they ignore nutritional guidelines. To make the process of fasting more efficient, be sure to eat a combination of protein, complex carbs and healthy fats to adequately nourish the body. Protein gives us the bulk of our energy, so it’s very important to ensure you’re getting enough of it.
- Getting everything needed by food alone can prove tricky when fasting, even intermittently. Pay attention to cues of malnutrition. such as deeply-furrowed fingernails which can indicate iron deficiency or angular cheilitis, painful cuts at the corners of the mouth, which may indicate a vitamin deficiency.
- Take a break sometimes. Those following a 8:16 intermittent fasting plan can do so pretty much indefinitely as they do fuel their body daily. However, those who fall off the fasting wagon often beat themselves up for going off track. Make allowances for the occasional dinner out with friends or midnight movie snack without guilt.
As with most eating plans, people are more likely to stick with intermittent fasting as long as they don’t feel hungry. One way to ease hunger pangs is to make sure most meals contain adequate amounts of fiber and protein to stay fuller longer.
Intermittent Fasting — the Cure for What Ails You?
When performed with caution, intermittent fasting can help people, especially those suffering from insulin resistance, finally shed the excess pounds. When you combine common sense with reasonable diet plans, you’ll not only look great, you’ll feel energized, too.