There are as many diets which dictate which foods you’re allowed to eat as there are stars in the sky. (Okay, technically there aren’t one billion trillion diets, but you catch our drift.)
But intermittent fasting (IF) is different. Instead of which foods you eat, it is more concerned with when you eat them. In a sense IF is less a diet than it is a pattern of eating.
The concept behind IF is scientifically sound. Your body does begin burning fat after a certain amount of time has passed since you have last eaten. This is called intermittent metabolic switching (IMS); it occurs when liver glycogen stores have been depleted, but will virtually never affect your metabolism if you eat three or more meals a day.
IMS is your body’s way of acclimating to an environment which provides only sporadic meals. While it was a lifesaver for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we can also use IF to exploit this natural process when we would like to lose some weight.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
Several types of IF are used by dieters including 16/8 fasting (fasting for 16 hours, eating during 8), 5:2 fasting (eating regularly five days a week, severely limiting caloric intake for two), and longer, continuous periods of fasting spanning one, two or even three days.
While all fasting schedules can provide effective methods for weight loss, it is important that you consult a medical professional before making any change so substantial to your diet. Women who are pregnant or nursing are often advised not to try IF, as are people who have a history of eating disorders, suffer from blood sugar problems, or are under the age of 18.
Outside of weight loss, what are the benefits of IF? And what are the downsides? Let us briefly elaborate the pros and cons of this increasingly popular diet trend.
The Pros of Intermittent Fasting
- Hormonal changes: IF significantly reduces insulin levels in the blood, which in turn accelerates fat loss. The resultant increase of human growth hormone levels may also help burn fat. IF can additionally boost resistance to insulin, which in turn may help prevent the onset of diabetes.
- Visceral fat: In addition to increasing your metabolic rate, IF may target fat which has accumulated around the center of the body. This benefit is more than cosmetic, as high levels of visceral fat are associated with multiple health conditions including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
- Oxidative stress: IF may improve the body’s resistance to free radicals. These are “rogue” molecules that can damage your body’s proteins and amino acids to increase the likelihood of chronic diseases. IF’s tendency to lower levels of free radicals may also promote a longer lifespan, as has been demonstrated in animal studies.
- Heart health: Some studies have shown that fasting may improve blood pressure, sugar levels, and triglycerides. In addition, it may also reduce cholesterol that could contribute to heart disease.
- Cognitive health: IF may stimulate the growth of new neurons in the brain and prevent damage resulting from strokes. IF may also prevent or delay the development of neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.
- Cancer: Studies have also suggested a correlation between fasting and a reduced risk of cancer. In addition, fasting may help alleviate side effects of chemotherapy.
The Cons of Intermittent Fasting
- Weight gain: Counterintuitively, IF may actually lead to weight gain. Those who aren’t accustomed to the sensation of starvation may compensate by binging when eating. If they eat enough to tip the scale of calories-in-calories-out against them, they may wind up gaining more weight.
- Eating disorders: In rare cases, IF can trigger behaviors commonly associated with eating disorders such as anorexia. It is crucial to practice IF responsibly, and to cease the practice at once if you notice obsessive thought patterns.
- Discomfort: IF can deliver a shock to a body which is accustomed to constant mealtimes. Many people who are first getting used to IF report headaches, nausea and lightheadedness. Their friends and family are also likely to notice that they have become crabby (to use a not so technical term).
IF can have seemingly miraculous benefits, but it is vital to proceed with caution before embarking on any new diet plan. It’s especially important for a diet which so dramatically changes the way you eat and live.
If you would like to discuss intermittent fasting and determine whether it is appropriate for your unique lifestyle and health condition, then we welcome you to reach out to Calhoun Spine & Wellness’s very own registered dietitian today. Even if intermittent fasting isn’t right for you, we are certain there is an ideal weight loss solution for you!