Disclaimer: Before starting a new food behavior or nutrition plan, first consult with a healthcare provider or dietitian.
If you’ve been scoping around for weight-loss strategies, intermittent fasting has probably caught your eye at some point or another. Instead of focusing on what to eat (types of food, calorie counting, measuring portion sizes, etc.), it’s about when to eat.
Intermittent fasting is in the eye of the beholder. It can work wonders for some and be unsustainable for others. However, if this eating plan is something you are considering,, here is a brief overview of how intermittent fasting works.
Intermittent Fasting: An Overview
Intermittent fasting works by timing your meals each day to effectively lose weight. It continues to gain the attention of top scientists and weight-loss experts. However, the concept has been around for many years – typically for religious purposes.
Not every plan that uses intermittent fasting works the same. Here are a couple of examples:
Concept: A 24-hour fast one or two days per week. You would eat dinner and then…
- Skip any nighttime snacks
- Skip breakfast and lunch
- Skip all other snacks until dinner the next day
Concept: Alternate day fasting
- Eat only about 400 – 600 calories total for one day
- Eat as you normally would the following day
- Repeat this pattern every day
Concept: Restricted feeding
- Eat as you normally would for a specific period of time (i.e. 8 hours)
- Fast during the remaining time (i.e. 16 hours)
Important Factors to Note
There have been many human studies as well as animal studies to answer questions about intermittent fasting. Does it work for weight-loss? What are the risks?
The studies aren’t conclusive, but many of the findings (though varied) have been hopeful. Some have shown that people who used this strategy for three months lost about 5-7 percent of their starting weight (average 12-14 pounds). Some have shown that even if significant weight-loss wasn’t achieved, the faster’s amount of visceral fat decreased (fat that surrounds the organs, mostly in the abdominal area) and their fat cells shrunk in size.
Smaller waist sizes were also noted, as well as positive changes in blood pressure, blood sugar and aging. So the answer is yes — intermittent fasting IS effective. However, experts cannot conclude at this time whether it is more effective than other methods for weight control. In fact, many studies show that weight-loss in its subjects who did intermittent fasting was about the same when compared to those who only reduced their total calorie intake.
Unfortunately, very few studies include insight on safety. That being said, problems may occur if the individual does not do intermittent fasting correctly, or as prescribed:
- Increased hunger
- Weakness and exhaustion
- Irritability or difficulty concentrating
- Vitamin or mineral deficiencies
- Hair loss
- Disordered eating
It’s safe to say that someone experiencing these side effects probably won’t find success this way. Any weight lost is likely to come back. So yes, it can potentially have risks. However, this is all we know right now.
We still have a lot to learn about intermittent fasting, but it IS a different way to approach weight-loss. If you get easily overwhelmed by counting calories or avoiding certain foods, this can be a change of pace.
No matter how you choose to approach weight-loss, make sure you can keep it up long-term and that your healthcare provider approves. He or she can help you determine if intermittent fasting is a safe option.
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