Diet fads come and go. One method, which has existed throughout human history, has once again gained prominence in the mainstream. Intermittent fasting, or IF, is seen more as a lifestyle change than a diet, as it doesn’t restrict what food is eaten, but rather when. Let’s take a quick look into what IF is, its potential benefits and how it isn’t suited for everyone.
What is intermittent fasting? Essentially, it is the practice of following a pattern of eating and fasting windows. These periods of time change by the chosen method, as do a few other restrictions. For instance, one common form of IF is the 16:8 method. It involves intentionally fasting for 16 hours each day, during which you only drink water. Then, you eat normally — without overeating — within the remaining 8 hours. Many dieters find this lifestyle attractive since it doesn’t eliminate entire food groups or call for specific products or supplements.
Another example is the 5:2 diet. It’s different from the first, as you eat normally and at whatever times you want for five days a week. Then, for the other two nonconsecutive days, you eat lightly. Typically, “lightly” refers to 500 calories or less for women and 600 or less for men. The idea for IF methods — despite any differences in approach — is to allow our bodies to burn through energy reserves and make necessary cellular repairs due to the time restrictions.
A lot of research has been done on the subject. Although studies vary, much of it backs up the notion that intentional time-restricted eating can benefit health. How so? One way is by facilitating weight loss and improving metabolic measures. IF has also shown it may lower blood insulin and sugar levels as well as reduce cardiovascular risk factors by lowering “bad” cholesterol, blood triglycerides and blood pressure in some participants.
Aside from these wonderful health benefits, many people report improved concentration, increased mental clarity and higher energy levels. Of course, as our bodies and experiences are unique, some people report the opposite, including fatigue, irritability and other undesirable side effects.
It’s important to note that IF is not for everyone. Generally, for those in good health, the most notable side effect is hunger pains. However, for those with medical conditions, the side effects could be much worse. Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive are advised against IF, as are individuals with diabetes or low blood pressure. Overall, effectiveness for IF and other eating modifications comes down to an individual level, body type and lifestyle.
As with any significant change in dietary habits, it’s best to consult a medical professional beforehand and to not expect results right away. If you plan on starting an IF regime, be sure to listen to your body throughout the process, don’t push too hard and give it time to adjust. For more information on intermittent fasting, please see the accompanying resource by Center for Weight Loss Surgery.
Infographic provided by Center for Weight Loss Surgery, a clinic for bariatric weight loss surgery