Meal timing…Does it make a difference? Many say yes and are now looking at the timing of when they do and don’t eat to improve their health. Intermittent fasting is gaining popularity and new information about it continues to arise.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. Instead of focusing on what to eat, it focuses on when you eat. During periods of fasting, food is not eaten, but calorie-free beverages are allowed so you can stay hydrated. Supporters relate this practice back to hunters and gatherers because they didn’t have regular access to food and therefore ate sporadically. Your body processes the food for the short time you are eating and then has a longer period of time to fast. This is where health benefits occur.
New research about IF is emerging rapidly, but there is already evidence that suggests health benefits.
- Weight-loss is one of the biggest benefits. People typically eat less when they restrict calories to a smaller window of time. After not having food for several hours, the body burns its carbohydrate stores and starts burning fat.
- Metabolically, studies show improvements in heart rate, blood pressure and risk of diabetes.
- Fasting can reduce the risk for inflammation.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
There can be many variations of IF, but these are the most common:
- 16-8: With this method, eating occurs for 8 hours and fasting occurs for 16. People commonly make their eating window from 10AM-6PM and fast during the rest of the day.
- 5-2: With this plan, food is restricted to 500 calories per day during two days of the week. Normal eating resumes on the other days.
- 24-hours: With this method, fasting occurs for 24 hours one or two days per week.
How to Make IF Work for You
- Take it slow. Instead of jumping in head-first, take your time. Rather than starting with the 16-8 method, for example, start by not eating anymore after dinner. That on its own can have huge health benefits. If you want to try the 5-2 method, start by cutting your calories by a third. It’s okay if you take smaller steps to meet your goals.
- Don’t “make up” for the times you are not eating. Some eat as much as they can during the eating window. Focus on eating normally and choose lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Over time, your body will adjust.
- Find a window that works for you. Everyone is different and your window for eating may be too. It might take time to find a pattern that works for you.
- IF is not for everyone. Some struggle with IF and that’s okay. If a restrictive eating plan isn’t for you, move on. This is just one strategy. People who have diabetes, are breastfeeding or who have other health conditions may choose a different plan.