Intermittent fasting is everywhere. It’s in weight loss circles and “biohacking” groups. It’s lauded as a “miracle” way to boost your brain, heal from injuries, lose weight, and overhaul your metabolism. But does intermittent fasting live up to all the hype? Is it as powerful as people think?
We asked our nutritionists what they think of intermittent fasting and whether or not they recommend it to their clients. We’ve gathered all the information to help you make the best choice for your health goals.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an eating style in which people fast for an extended period between eating normally. There are a few types of intermittent fasting:
Time-restricted eating (sometimes called 16/8 or 14/10 IF) is when people refrain from eating for 16 or 14 hours, respectively, and then eat within an 8 or 10-hour window. Time-restricted eating is the most common form of intermittent fasting.
5:2 fasting allows people to eat normally for five days and fast for the remaining two days.
OMAD (one meal a day) fasting is exactly what it sounds like. People eat one large meal and then fast until the next day.
Alternate day fasting involves eating every other day and fasting in between.
Why do people (and many doctors) believe in Intermittent Fasting?
When we consume carbohydrates, our bodies release insulin from the pancreas. This insulin helps carry the glucose from the carbs to all of our cells and breaks down the starches. The process takes between 4 and 6 hours. When the insulin stops breaking down carbs, our bodies start burning fat.
Since most of us eat every 6 hours or so, we’re effectively constantly digesting. There is rarely any time in a 24-hour window when insulin isn’t present in the body. Intermittent fasting allows us to have more fat-burning hours during the day, which may help with weight loss. Also, since we’re eating for fewer hours daily, most people consume fewer snacks and calories overall.
What do you need to remember when intermittent fasting?
The most important thing to remember about intermittent fasting is that it won’t work the same for everyone, so you need to remain flexible and be honest with yourself about whether or not it works for you. If you work in a profession with long shifts – like nursing – IF might come naturally to you. If you have to be awake for 20 hours straight because of swing shifts, you might not be able to make it work.
Try 14 hours fasting before trying 16 hours. Try cutting off your eating window at different times to find the time that makes the most sense for your life. And if you find that you’re extremely hungry outside the eating window or feel the need to binge during your eating window, then IF might not be for you.
Listen to your body! It will tell you what it needs.
What are not to do of intermittent fasting?
First, don’t cut back on calories. You still need to eat a healthy balanced diet of protein, carbs, and fats and get your recommended daily calories. Intermittent fasting is a way of eating – not a diet.
Second, don’t forget to stay hydrated. Not only does your body need water throughout the day, but staying hydrated can help fight cravings for food during your fasting window.
Is it safe to intermittent fast every day?
Everyone is different. Some people succeed while intermittent fasting every day. Others need to take breaks throughout the week to maintain their energy levels. Also, even if you usually can fast daily, you may sometimes experience more hunger because of hormones or stress. On those days, don’t feel like you have to stick to fasting.
Isn’t it unhealthy to skip breakfast?
If you’re eating “normally” (aka not intermittent fasting), skipping breakfast can be detrimental to your health. Most people who skip breakfast do so to cut calories, but they end up eating more calories later in the day to make up for their hunger.
When you practice intermittent fasting, you’re not technically skipping breakfast; you’re just eating it later. It’s still important to break your fast with a healthy meal and to get all your recommended calories during the eating window.
What should I eat when I break my fast?
It’s best to break your fast with a combination of protein and fats. When you’re in a fasted state, your body isn’t producing insulin. If you break a fast with carbohydrates, it will cause an insulin spike. Frequent insulin spikes can lead to insulin resistance and, ultimately, diabetes.
Can I take supplements while fasting?
Yes, you can take supplements, but pay attention to when you take them. Some supplements are fat-soluble and need to be taken with food for maximum absorbency.
Can I work out while fasting?
Generally speaking, it’s safe to exercise while fasting as long as you consider the kind of exercise and the duration. You’ll be low on energy, so heavy workouts may deplete you. You may also find that you have muscle loss from exercising while fasting.
However, some people swear by exercising in a fasted state and claim that they feel more energy. If you decide you want to exercise while fasting, do it safely. That means drinking a lot of water (ideally with electrolytes) and eating a meal directly after your workout.
What are the other (not weight-related) benefits of intermittent fasting?
Many people start intermittent fasting as a way to lose weight and stick with it because of all the other benefits.
Improved focus and memory: Studies on mice have proven that intermittent fasting can improve long-term memory. Most people who practice IF also claim they have more focus and clarity.
Heart health: Doctors and researchers don’t yet understand why, but intermittent fasting is associated with improved cardiovascular health and a reduction in the risk of heart disease.
Reduce Insulin Requirements: The 5:2 type of intermittent fasting may help diabetic people require less insulin. This form of IF is also associated with reduced inflammation and blood pressure.
Are there any cons to intermittent fasting?
While the pros generally outweigh the cons, there are a few things to keep in mind if you’re interested in intermittent fasting. First, you may have a more challenging time building muscle than people who do not practice IF. This is especially true if you choose to exercise in a fasted state. Also, while intermittent fasting can improve your sleep in the long term, anything that disrupts your body’s natural processes can be disruptive in the short term. So you may experience insomnia.
Should I try intermittent fasting?
If you’re considering trying intermittent fasting, talk to your doctor about your nutritional requirements, and be prepared to increase or decrease your eating window, depending on how your body responds.
You can also contact Peninsula Doctor to talk to one of our nutritionists.