Read This Before You Try Intermittent Fasting

“I’ll take my coffee black, until noon, please.”

Registered dietitian, Jessica Kelley, MS RD gives us the run down on what you need to know about intermittent fasting before you skip meals.

Remember when breakfast was the most important meal of the day? In fact, new research is showing there may be benefits from skipping your overnight oats and avocado toast in the A.M. Intermittent fasting is becoming increasingly popular but it’s actually not a new concept at all. Back in hunter-gatherer times, meals were not always guaranteed. Chinese medicine and Ayurveda practices encourage regular fasts as a way to provide mental clarity and overall wellness. Finally, fasting is often observed in various religions for various spiritual and physical benefits.

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is by definition a brief time period where we refrain from eating or drinking (with a few exceptions like water, tea, coffee and bone broth). This shouldn’t be confused with starvation or calorie restriction. It’s simply shorting your time-window of eating.

It might be helpful to think of it as an eating pattern rather than a diet. Think about it. With food easily accessible we’ve been programed to eat anywhere from 3-6 times per day – and that’s if we’re not grazing on trail mix or sipping on a green juice in between meals. Intermittent fasting sets a limited time window of eating so your body can take a break from digestion (which uses a lot of energy!) and instead spend dedicated energy taking care of other processes like cellular repair and fighting oxidative stress.

What are the benefits?

Intermittent fasting enthusiasts claim numerous benefits from increased energy and mental clarity to reducing disease risk and aiding in weight loss. While this trendy eating pattern may seem too good to be true, there is research to support the benefits.

Some of the latest evidence-based benefits on intermittent fasting include:
– Reducing inflammation
– Lowering total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides and blood pressure
– Managing blood sugar by normalizing insulin sensitivity
– Weight loss from decreased calorie intake and temporary increase in resting energy expenditure
– Improvements in degenerative brain disorders
– Lowering inflammation in the gut

How do you do it?

While there are several different ways to fast, there isn’t research to support a superior way. The key (as with any new routine) is consistency. Below are some of the most popular methods of intermittent fasting. Some methods are more extreme than others.

Option 1: Time Restricted Eating

In this broad fasting scenario you abstain from food for 12-16 hours. In the most popular version you fast for 16 hours and have an 8 hour window of eating in a 24 hour time period. For example, you stop eating at 8pm and eat your first meal around 12pm the following day.

Option 2: 5-2

This is an eating plan that allows for 5 days of normal eating and 2 non-consecutive days of eating only 500-600 calories per day.

Option 3: Stop-Eat-Stop 

In this plan, two or three times per week you go an entire 24 hours without eating.

Are there negative side effects?

Some side effects of prolonged fasting include increased stress levels, disrupted sleep, headaches and moodiness. Hanger is real, people. It’s important to listen to your body. If you feel faint, lightheaded, shaky or nauseous you’re better off breaking your fast and eating something.

There is also the possibility of forming a restriction-binging cycle. This is typical with calorie-restricted diets. When individuals feel deprived they may overeat or binge when “allowed” to eat. This can set individuals up for creating a negative relationship with food and even weight gain.

Intermittent fasting can also be hard on your social life. If you are committed to the consistency, what happens when you have a brunch celebration? Intermittent fasting can get in the way of life’s many celebrations which are often centered around meals.

Not so fast – who isn’t this okay for?

Most research on intermittent fasting has been done on men. These results do not automatically transfer over to women. Women have more complex hormone systems and research shows that intermittent fasting can cause hormone imbalances and irregular periods in women when not done correctly.

Anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding should not fast. Those who are underweight, have history of eating disorders, people with diabetes or problems with blood sugar control, those with adrenal fatigue and chronic stress and anyone with a medical condition and people taking medications should never fast without consulting with a doctor first.

In general it is very important to talk with your doctor before making any drastic change to you diet or exercise program.

Should you be intermittent fasting?

As with any changes you are making to you diet and lifestyle, it’s important to understand your reasons. For instance, are you looking to break through a weight loss plateau? Intermittent fasting may help you break through a weight loss plateau but there are other diet and lifestyle changes that have this benefit as well.

If you don’t have any of the conditions mentioned above and want to give intermittent fasting a try, here are some questions to consider. Is it a sustainable way of eating for you? Does it interfere with your social life? How does it actually make you feel? Do you enjoy it and can you create a lifestyle around it? Different eating patterns work for different people. If you think intermittent fasting is the way to go, I recommend starting out slow with a 12 hour fast 1-2 times per week.

Just remember, there is no one-size-fits-all plan when it comes to diet and lifestyle. Intermittent fasting may work for you, and that’s awesome! But don’t feel like you have to adhere to this eating pattern to live a healthy lifestyle.

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