Looking for an easy way to lose weight which doesn’t entail learning a bunch of new recipes or making major changes to the contents of your pantry? Sometimes less is more. Such is the case with intermittent fasting (IF) according to the proponents of this popular diet.
And this is a diet with a lot of proponents, quite a few of them famous. Beyonce, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck, and Hugh Jackman are just a few stars who swear by the IF diet.
But does intermittent fasting live up to all the hype? And is it the right diet for you? Let’s check out what science has to say, and talk about some of this diet’s pros and cons.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
First of all, let’s lay out a clear definition for intermittent fasting.
If you do not eat for 16 hours a day, you are intermittently fasting.
It is that simple. The word “fast” tends to be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Think about this for a moment.
Say you eat dinner between 7 and 8 pm, and do not eat after 8 pm. You go to bed, you wake up, you get to work, and then you grab something to eat at noon.
You have just completed an intermittent fast.
You did most of it in your sleep, so unless you wake up hungry in the night a lot, this part probably barely phased you. And it is common for people not to eat late at night anyway, so the only tough part might be the morning.
And actually, how many times have you skipped breakfast because you’re in a rush to get to your job?
You may have already done plenty of intermittent fasts in the past without thinking about it or intending it.
If you turn it into a deliberate habit, you could lose weight and enjoy some other health benefits.
The best thing is that you do not have to learn any new recipes or pick up new ingredients.
In fact, you are pretty much free to eat whatever you want at night. You are probably only going to eat one or two meals a day, or maybe a mid-afternoon snack and dinner.
So those are going to be your only calories.
What is also nice is that if you are trying to eat low carb, you can get away with eating some carb-rich favorites this way.
You may even be able to enjoy bread or pasta without busting over your carb limit.
Do You Have to Stop Eating Altogether for a Fast to Count?
This is something I’ve been looking into, but have yet to find any solid answers.
For example, I tend to fast 16 hours, grab a small snack around noon, and then eat nothing until 6 or 7 pm.
Does that snack totally disrupt the process? Do I only get a 16 hour fast benefit, or do I get the benefits of fasting 22 hours? I don’t know.
There is something called “fasting mimicking diets”. These diets are not the same as intermittent fasting, but they are certainly related.
With a fasting mimicking diet, you eat certain select types of food in small amounts which provide you with nutrition, but which apparently do not take your body out of “fasting mode.”
Do not forget that there are also “juice” fasts where you can drink nutritious beverages while still abstaining from foods.
If something like this works for you better than a complete fast, it may be a good fit for your needs.
What are the Key Benefits of Fasting?
Researchers investigating the effects of fasting believe it can do the following for your body:
Promote fast and effective weight loss (including visceral fat).
Improve insulin resistance and prevent or treat diabetes.
Reduce risk factors for heart disease.
Protect brain health.
Reduce inflammation while supporting proper immune function.
Don’t forget that fasting has some other benefits as well! For example:
Clear your mind a bit. Anytime you take time off from something (even something as simple as eating) in a controlled, methodical way, you clear some space in your mind and your life for other things.
Save money by not eating breakfast (or whatever meal or meals you choose to skip).
Save time. Anytime you are going to stop what you are doing, make food, and eat it, you are going to spend time—often anywhere from 15 minutes up to an hour. Freeing up that time at least once a day means you can get a lot more done.
Food can become a motivator. For example, I have a rule that I can eat at noon if I have met a certain productivity quota at work. If I haven’t met it yet, I cannot eat until 12:30.
A lot of people simply swear they feel better when they are fasting. They say they have higher energy levels and function better all around.
Looking for the science behind intermittent fasting?
Check out some of the research below:
According to this research, intermittent fasting can “enhance cardiovascular and brain functions and improve several risk factors for coronary artery disease and stroke including a reduction in blood pressure and increased insulin sensitivity.”
Researchers believe that intermittent fasting and calorie restriction may have a neuroprotective effect which could aid in combating diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Looking for an intermittent fasting weight loss study? This study points out that our typical pattern of eating three meals daily may be common, but “a scientific rationale for this meal frequency with respect to optimal health is lacking.” These researchers are clear about the fact that not a lot of studies have looked into the effects of intermittent fasting on humans, but note that such a diet has resulted in improved health and longevity for animals. During this study, subjects fasted intermittently, but without calorie restriction, over a six month period. It was found that this resulted in “a significant modification of body composition, including reductions in fat mass.” Cortisol decreased, but blood pressure increased, as did both LDL and HDL cholesterol.
Another study found that when we fast, a compound is produced in our bodies which can block a maladaptive inflammatory immune process. This type of inflammation plays a role in Alzheimer’s type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In this way, fasting may combat these disorders.
This study shows that intermittent fasting may be able to help reduce insulin resistance, which means it may help to prevent type 2 diabetes. The same study also found that intermittent fasting can help dieters in shedding stubborn belly fat.
It is even possible according to some studies for periodic fasting as well as dietary restriction and fasting-mimicking diets to be used in the treatment or prevention of cancer. This may be possible even without calorie reduction.
How to Intermittent Fast
There are a lot of ways you can approach intermittent fasting. That is one of the best things about it. It is flexible enough that you can tailor it to your needs. Here are some possible approaches:
16 hour fast. Pick 16 hours during which you will not eat. Obviously it is easiest to include overnight hours. So you could fast from 8 pm until noon, or from 7 pm until 11 am, or from 9 pm until 1:00 pm, or so on. You can eat however and whenever you want outside of that. Some people do one big meal, others do a couple of smaller meals, still others do some snacking.
Fast for 24 hours once a week. For example, you can eat a big dinner on Sunday night at 6 pm, and then simply skip breakfast and lunch on Monday. At 6 pm on Monday, you can eat again. The rest of the week, you can eat regularly.
Eat only during certain small windows. For example, you could only eat during 3 or 4 hour windows. You might for example confine yourself to only eating between 5 pm and 9 pm each day. The rest of the time, you fast.
Some people consider it a “fast” if you restrict yourself to just 500-600 calories during a day. Is that actually a fast if you are eating throughout the day, or just calorie restriction? Again, I have yet to find a clear answer on this.
Regardless, the bottom line is that you can easily adjust fasting to fit the needs of your body and schedule.
I for example would not do well fasting 24 hours; going that long without food seems to set off my chronic pain and exacerbate my brain fog. But I can manage 16 hours easily.
On the other hand, some people report fantastic results fasting for 24 hours. So you just need to find what works for you.
Intermittent Fasting Pros:
Intermittent fasting can help you lose weight.
Initial research shows that intermittent fasting may also have benefits for cardiovascular health, brain health, and more.
You do not need to learn any new recipes or change what you eat, just when you eat.
In a way, fasting is effortless. You just have to decide not to do something.
Fasting intermittently can save you time and money, and may even make it easier to adhere to other diets (like low carb).
A lot of people discover that they actually like fasting once they get used to it. They report that they not only are losing weight, but that they also feel and function better.
It is possible to adjust intermittent fasting to your personal needs.
Intermittent Fasting Cons:
There is still not a whole lot of human research data on the benefits of intermittent fasting.
It may be hard to get other family members onboard with intermittent fasting—or they may have different scheduling needs. This may mean you have to eat some meals at separate times.
For some, intermittent fasting demands a bit much in terms of discipline (though this may just mean that they haven’t found the right approach yet).
Is Intermittent Fasting a Good Fit For You?
Personally, I don’t believe in “one-size-fits-all” diets. But I do think that intermittent fasting is one of the most flexible diets out there, and it can work for most people.
Intermittent fasting may be right for you if:
You want to save time, money, and hassles.
You are looking for a low-effort diet plan.
You want to be able to eat all the foods you love.
You feel fine when you spontaneously skip a meal now and again.
If that describes you, intermittent fasting may be the diet you’ve been searching for.
Conclusion: Intermittent Fasting Can Help You Lose Weight While Saving Time, Money and Effort
There are a lot of reasons why people struggle to stick with their diets, and why attrition rates are generally high.
But the complexity and expense of following many diets certainly plays a role.
Fasting intermittently is different. They are no special, expensive diet foods to buy, and you do not need to learn new recipes. You do not have to give up foods you enjoy, or spend lots of time in the kitchen trying to change how you eat.
The only thing you really have to do is commit to skipping breakfast or eating it a little later than you normally would.
That’s it! Not doing something is simple, easy and straightforward. Your grocery bills will drop, and you’ll find yourself with some extra time each day to get more done. And you’ll be losing weight! How awesome is that?
So consider giving intermittent fasting a try if you haven’t yet. Adjust it to fit with your schedule and needs, and you will have a personalized dieting plan which can contribute to lasting weight loss and long-term health and well-being.