You may have heard of intermittent fasting, which essentially is starvation done in a strategic manner. People who follow this practice take periodic breaks from eating, for up to 24 hours, once or twice a week. This popular diet touts intermittent fasting as an effective way to lose weight and to improve health. But is it for you?
Proponents of intermittent fasting suggest that you eat sensibly most of the time, fast for an extended period of time, and indulge on a designated cheat day. A common method is the 5:2 diet, in which one restricts calories for two non-consecutive days a week and eats normally the other five days. Another method is to eat every day, but only during a specific six or eight hour time window. The research that has been done on intermittent fasting has been conducted on animals rather than humans. Some results are promising, including reduction in oxidative stress, inflammation, and LDL (bad) cholesterol. While your body is fasting, cells are under mild stress. The cells respond to stress by enhancing their ability to cope with stress and to possibly resist disease. Other possible benefits include weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, protection of memory, and lower risk of chronic disease. The long-term effects of intermittent fasting are not well understood, and more studies need to be done before it can be widely recommended.
Intermittent fasting may help to promote weight loss because it could result in an overall reduction in calorie intake as long as one does not overeat on non-fasting days. The problem is that when people go for long periods without eating, they often crave high-calorie, high-fat foods, which may result in binge eating on non-fasting days. For many people, it may be more effective to cut back on food intake slightly seven days per week rather than fasting for two days and then eating normally for five days.
Intermittent fasting is not practical or sustainable for everyone. It may not be safe if you have diabetes because prolonged fasting could result in low blood sugar. Before you try intermittent fasting, it is important to talk with your healthcare provider to see if it is something that is safe for you to incorporate into your lifestyle. A healthcare provider can help to be sure that you are including the right foods in your diet. Remember that what you eat is probably more important than when you are eating.