Fasting has been part of life for many cultures for hundreds of years whether for religious reasons, lack of food supply, or health.
More recently, intermittent fasting has become trendy as a way to lose weight and enhance brain and body function. Intermittent fasting, as opposed to traditional fasting, involves alternating short-term fasts with periods of eating,
Many intermittent fasting protocols were started as adjuncts to fitness programs to improve lean body mass but have evolved to focus on the fasting part without specific exercise plans.
So, should you try intermittent fasting?
1. Improves longevity
Intermittent fasting has been shown in animal studies to reduce blood pressure, aging, and insulin resistance.
2. Repairs cellular damage from oxidative stress (i.e., free radicals)
This, in turn, mitigates cancer cell growth and aging.
3. Lowers risk of type-2 diabetes
Reduces insulin resistance and overall insulin levels.
4. Reduces levels of chronic inflammation
Chronic inflammation can lead to heart disease, cancer, and depression, among other conditions.
5. Weight loss
There are a variety of intermittent fasting regimens to choose from, so you can find one that works for your lifestyle and metabolism. Below are three alternatives.
The 16/8 method
This method is my personal favorite. You fast for 14 to 16 hours each day with water and other noncaloric beverages and eat only for a timespan of 8 to 10 hours during the day.
This diet can be as simple as not eating anything after dinner and skipping breakfast. It's recommended that men fast for 16 hours and women for 14 to 15 hours.
Alternate a day of fasting with a day of eating, throughout the week.
The 5:2 diet or the "fast diet"
You fast with just a small amount of food for any two days of the week and eat normally for five days of the week.
And you don't have to be an athlete to benefit, as intermittent fasting can benefit all types of lifestyles. While regular exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle, the benefits above apply whether you are an extreme athlete or don't exercise at all.
1. Energy dips
Some people complain of not being able to get through a fasting day without energy drops, wooziness, inability to think straight, irritability, or extreme hunger until the body gets accustomed to fasting.
2. Hormone imbalances
If women do too much fasting and have too severe a calorie deficit, hormones may be thrown off balance. As with other extreme caloric deficit situations, a woman can develop amenorrhea.
3. Eating disorder trigger
Intermittent fasting can be dangerous for those who may have an underlying eating disorder.
4. Lifestyle factors
There may be detrimental effects from fasting if you're pregnant, breastfeeding, very young, or elderly — i.e., life situations that need adequate, consistent eating.
5. Blood sugar issues
Fasting may be difficult if you're diabetic or need to closely control your blood sugar. Going longer periods of time without eating changes your insulin production and how your cells use glucose.
6. Lack of robust research
Although some proponents of intermittent fasting make claims, there are no scientific studies that support developing lean body mass from fasting programs.
7. Could lead to injuries
Some believe that exercising in a fasted state will burn more calories. This has not been proven, and a few studies suggest there may be more injuries while exercising during fasting.
The bottom line
There are still mixed reviews in the scientific community about whether intermittent fasting is an effective tool for weight loss and overall health. But it's important to remember that it's not for everyone. Fasting is a more extreme way to achieve results, and this may or may not suit your personality and lifestyle.
Do you have to fast or fast intermittently to be healthy or to lose weight? No. This is just another tool to put in your health box. If it appeals to you, try fasting. It can't be bad to get in touch with your mental and physical hunger.
If you're using intermittent fasting as a tool for weight loss, remember, calories still count. It may not result in weight loss if you fast some days then gorge on high-calorie junk food on other days.
All of these fasting tools recommend healthy, whole foods for the periods you are eating. In fact, it simply may be that periods of fasting reduce your overall caloric intake resulting in weight loss. Remember, healthy food choices are always the base of a healthy lifestyle.