Is Intermittent Fasting Right For You?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is hugely popular right now in the world of nutrition and fitness. The concept is fairly simple: alternating periods of eating and fasting, with the end goal being weight loss, disease prevention, and a longer life.
Perhaps you’ve heard of IF, and are curious to know– is intermittent fasting right for you?
Let’s dig a bit deeper.
What is Intermittent Fasting, Exactly?
Intermittent fasting is a system of alternating between fasting and eating, in cycles that can vary depending on your approach. While IF does not specify which foods you should eat, it very specifically dictates when you can eat them.
Many people practice IF by extending their natural night time fast (due to periods of sleep) a bit longer by skipping breakfast every day. For example, you might eat dinner at 7pm, and then fast until 11am the following day. This method is the most common, and is known as the 16/8 method (16 hours of fasting, 8 hours of eating).
Other methods might include fasting for one, 24 hour day per week (or twice per week), or seriously restricting calories for several days per week. Some might decide to reduce the amount of meals they have each day, for example skipping breakfast and lunch and then having a big dinner, or making their mid-day meal high in calories and nutrition and then fasting in the morning and evening, or doing very low-calorie meals.
There are several ways to go about IF, and all are backed by research that proves their benefits.
Why Practice Intermittent Fasting?
The next logical question is: why would I want to fast? What are the benefits? Humans have fasted for various reasons throughout history, whether for religion or simply periods of scarce food supply.
Lowered Insulin Levels
Studies have shown that one major benefit of fasting is lowering insulin levels and blood sugar, which could be particularly useful for those with insulin resistance.
Increased Human Growth Hormone
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is a hormone that is responsible for cell reproduction, regeneration and growth. Studies show that this hormone is released in higher quantities during periods of fasting.
IF is almost guaranteed to boost weight loss (especially fat loss around the belly). One obvious reason for this is calorie restriction, but another reason is that fasting can actually effect your hormones and increase your metabolic rate by up to 14%!
For increased weight loss, try taking a branched chain amino acid supplement before a fasting workout (exercise done while fasting).
Anti-aging enthusiasts also claim it helps to extend your lifespan.
Not only is IF thought to help in the prevention of certain diseases such as cancer and neurological conditions (like Alzheimer’s Disease), but anti-aging enthusiasts also claim it helps to extend your lifespan. One rat study found those who fasted every other day lived twice as long as those who ate daily.
Is Intermittent Fasting Right for Me?
Unless you have a medical condition or other specific reason that fasting could be dangerous (see the list below), IF can probably benefit your health.
Especially if you are looking to lose weight, reduce cravings, stabilize your blood sugar, increase energy and cut down the time you spend in the kitchen, trying IF to see how you feel definitely can’t hurt.
Who Shouldn’t Practice Intermittent Fasting?
While IF can benefit many people, certain groups should avoid it.
If You Have a Medical Condition
Always check with your doctor if you have any sort of medical condition are are considering IF, especially if you have diabetes (or another blood sugar related issue), a history of eating disorders, have very low blood pressure or are taking certain medications.
You are a Woman Trying to Conceive, Pregnant or Breastfeeding
More research is needed, but initial research has shown that any type of fasting could be detrimental to conception in women. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, restricting calories is a bad idea.
Children should also not restrict their calories, because their growing bodies depend on nutrient dense foods at regular intervals.
While the idea of fasting might seem extreme, it has actually been shown to be quite safe, effective and health-promoting. Incorporating some version of IF into your weekly eating routine might just be the change you need to take your health to the next level.
Rachel Fiske is a Holistic Nutrition Consultant and graduated from Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition in Berkeley, California. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Rachel focuses on issues of weight management, GI problems, hormonal imbalances, fatigue and more via a whole foods diet and lifestyle changes.