Intermittent Fasting: Good for Your Health or Diet Fad?
Anna Redko lost just over 20 pounds in 3 years following a vegan diet, but she still couldn’t get to the weight she wanted to be. She was looking for something more. After doing some research, she decided to try intermittent fasting. The results changed her life.
Though her weight loss was minimal in 2 months of intermittent fasting, Anna noticed a leaner, more toned body composition. Not only that, but she also noticed that she looked younger and her mood had improved.1
What is intermittent fasting?
Many people like Anna have found success with intermittent fasting, or IF for short. The idea is that going several hours without eating forces your body to turn to its fat reserves for energy. Research shows that this is indeed the case. Eating only within a range of about 3 to 12 hours a day, for example, has been linked to reduction in body weight, glucose, insulin, and total cholesterol, and can also improve insulin sensitivity.2
The short-term results are promising, but is intermittent fasting a good diet strategy in the long run? To better answer that question, we should first clarify the many different types of IF fasting.
- 16:8 Fasting – Consists of limiting all calorie intake to 8 consecutive hours a day and fasting for the remaining 16 hours. This IF method was made popular by Hugh Jackman, who used it to get shredded for his role as Wolverine. It is also the method Anna benefited from using.
- 20:4 Fasting – A more extreme form of 16:8 fasting in which eating is limited to a 4-hour eating window at night. A modified version of 20:4 fasting includes eating small amounts of food during the day (typically fruits and vegetables) and a large meal at night.
- 5:2 Fasting – An IF method in which you consume only 500-600 calories for two non-consecutive days each week and approximately 2,000 calories for the other 5 days. A Mediterranean diet is recommended with this fasting approach.3
- Alternate-Day Fasting – Fasting every other day, either with a 500-calorie restriction or consuming no calories at all. This method offers the benefits of fasting and may be easier for some people to follow. However, it can be hard to commit to in the long run and may make you more tired and hungry than other methods.
- Full 24-hour Fasting – Going without food for a full day, typically once or twice a week. Some people may find fasting for a full 24 hours more beneficial than partial-day fasting, including more significant weight loss.
- Meal Skipping – Skipping meals from time to time, usually when you’re not hungry or are too busy to eat. This IF method pairs well with the philosophy that you should only eat when you’re hungry, and not necessarily have 3 set meals at specific times of the day.
In its strictest form, fasting means not drinking any food or water for a period of time, typically 12 hours or a day. However, with intermittent fasting, you will want to make sure to continue to drink water even during the fasting period. Intermittent fasting may increase your risk of dehydration, making consistent water consumption even more critical. And along with water, some may also choose to drink black coffee and/or tea during fasting periods.
Benefits of intermittent fasting
The short-term benefits of intermittent fasting are well-established. These include improved metabolic function, weight-loss, reduced oxidative stress, and reduced body inflammation.4 Interestingly, a recent study also found that intermittent fasting for a period of 6 weeks reversed insulin dependence for 3 men suffering from type 2 diabetes.5
Proponents who practice intermittent fasting often say that they have more energy, more focus, and reduced cravings. It’s also common to hear that they drink more water and have improved digestion.
The long-term benefits of IF, however, are less concrete. This is mainly because intermittent fasting hasn’t been researched for long periods of time. The immediate benefits, however, may project out if intermediate fasting is practiced for an extended period of time. Some of these benefits may include reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.
Despite the lack of clear scientific evidence, many people have adopted IF as a long-term strategy to improve their health and wellness. As an example, after practicing IF without any type of calorie restriction for 2 years, James Clear noted that he was in better shape and had healthy blood, cholesterol, and hormone levels as well.6
It’s also worth noting that members of religions that fast routinely generally live longer and healthier lives that those who don’t. A study found that Seventh-day Adventists in California, for example, live an average of 7.3 years longer than other people in their state.7 In addition to practicing other healthy habits, many Seventh-day Adventists adhere to the practice of eating only 2 meals per day.
Risks and drawbacks of intermittent fasting
As with any diet change, there can be some risks and drawbacks to intermittent fasting. If you have diabetes or take certain medications, such as those for blood pressure or heart disease, you should only consider IF under the supervision of your doctor. And if you are prone to dehydration, you may want to avoid IF. Additionally, IF can pose risks if you are a competitive athlete or have a physically demanding job.
Another potential drawback of intermittent fasting is that it can increase stress levels, especially when you are starting out. This may lead to lack of sleep and headaches. Of course, headaches may also result from hunger or because your body isn’t getting the nutrients it’s used to getting at specific times.
A more obvious concern with IF is stomach aches caused by hunger. Similarly, a lack of food can lead to digestive issues. One potential issue is that thinking about food while fasting triggers acid production in the stomach, leading to heartburn.8
Intermittent fasting may also lead to binge eating. Some mistakenly believe that because they fasted, they can eat anything they want during the eating period. But any successful diet requires eating healthy foods consistently and limiting the junk.
At its worst, IF could potentially lead to an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. This risk can be combated by ensuring that you have a strong support network as you go through your diet modifications.
Intermittent fasting tips
As you can see, intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone. Additionally, you may not experience any more weight-loss benefits from restricted-calorie intermittent fasting than you would from a typical restricted-calorie diet.
On the other hand, people like Anna Redko and Hugh Jackman have found success with intermittent fasting that goes beyond weight loss. But if you’re considering following in their footsteps, the key is to find an approach that’s both sensible and sustainable for you. Whatever method you choose, make sure to follow these tips to give yourself the best chance for long-term success:
- Drink plenty of pure water
- Try to stick to low-glycemic foods
- Eat fiber-rich fruits and vegetables
- Limit caffeine during fasting hours
- Work out close to when eating hours begin
- Keep snacks out of sight
- Limit processed and sugary foods
Along with these tips, keep in mind that intermittent fasting isn’t some sort of magic pill. You still have to have the right nutrition, get plenty of exercise, and have the necessary emotional and social support to optimize your health and wellness regardless of the diet strategy you practice. A ZYTO scan can assist you in making better decisions about your nutrition, as well as these other areas of personal wellness support.
1. Redko, Anna. “My Intermittent Fasting Results Blew Me Away – 5 Ways It Changed My Life.” Peaceful Dumpling LLC. Peacefuldumpling.com.
2. Rothschild, J., K.K. Hoddy, et al. “Time-restricted feeding and risk of metabolic disease: a review of human and animal studies.” Nutrition Reviews 72, no. 5 (2014): 308-318.
3. Migala, Jessica. “What to Know About the 5:2 Diet and Intermittent Fasting.” Daily Burn, Inc. Dailyburn.com.
4. Johnson, J.B., W. Summer, R.G. Cutler, et al. “Alternate day calorie restriction improves clinical findings and reduces markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight adults with moderate asthma.” Free Radical Biology and Medicine 42, no. 5 (2007): 665-674.
5. Nedelman, Michael. “After intermittent fasting, these 3 men no longer take insulin for diabetes — but experts stress caution.” Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Cnn.com.
6. Clear, James. “What I’ve Learned from 2 Years of Intermittent Fasting.” James Clear. Jamesclear.com.
7. Fraser, G.E. & D.J. Shavlik. “Ten Years of Life: Is It a Matter of Choice?” JAMA Internal Medicine 161, no. 13 (2001): 1645-1652.
8. Whiteman, Honor. “Fasting: health benefits and risks.” Healthline Media UK Ltd. Medicalnewstoday.com.