One growing trend in the health and fitness world is intermittent fasting. But what is it, and does it work? We have a closer look at this latest diet approach.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting, or IF, is restricting calories for a certain period of time. Most people use it as a weight-loss method, although there are other benefits.
IF can be done in different ways. Some may restrict their window of eating over 24 hours – for example, eating over 8 hours, and fasting for 16. Some may include a full day fasting. Others still may significantly reduce calories for 2-3 days a week and have a normal intake on the other days. IF has existed for thousands of years. Many religions include some form of fasting ritual, including Ramadan and Yom Kippur.
What is the science behind it?
There are a few reasons why IF is believed to be effective. The main reason is obvious – it allows for calorie restriction, while still allowing some normal eating. This makes it an option for people who struggle with dieting every day.
However, it has other effects. During fasting, your body cells are put under mild stress. They adapt to this stress and become more resistant to stress and disease. This has a huge impact on many areas of health and illness.
IF is different to simply not eating. You are eating, just only at certain times of day or week. However, some people may take it too far – this is not intermittent fasting, but just fasting.
What are the benefits?
Many people find it easier to restrict calories for 1-2 days per week or reduce calories without trying by only eating in a short period of time. However, there are also reported health benefits for IF, including:
- Prevention and/or halted progression of type 2 diabetes
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Increased longevity
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced inflammation
- Reset of circadian rhythms, aiding with sleep disorders or jet-lag
- Improved cholesterol ratios
What are the downsides?
There’s no such thing as a perfect diet. Some downsides of the IF approach include:
- Weight loss in people who don’t need to lose weight
- No restriction on the type of foods consumed
- Many people struggle to adapt to the diet
- It is not advisable for people with a history of eating disorders
- It is not advisable for people in need of calories, e.g. pregnant and breastfeeding mothers
Choosing a diet is a personal decision. However, if you do decide to pursue IF, there are a few things to keep in mind:
You may have to try a few types to find what works for you, be sure to focus on mostly healthy foods, to prevent nutrient deficiencies.