What is it?
It’s in the name: intermittent fasting represents scheduled eating efforts to diet/lose weight. Basically, you eat within specified timeframes, and you fast at all other times.
What’s the point?
The point is weight loss and other potential health benefits. There have long been health benefits associated with fasting, including increase of life expectancy, preservation of memory and retention of learning functions. The US National Institutes of Health validate these benefits. Intermittent fasting is an effort to capture these benefits without the extreme behaviors required in absolute fasting.
How does it work?
When it works, it does so in the same way your adherence to a regular diet would: by calorie restriction. As has been discussed in previous Straight, No Chaser posts, weight loss is simply a function of math – specifically calorie counting, and more specifically, the production of caloric deficits. Obviously, if you’re fasting, you’re not consuming calories, and this will lead to weight loss if your caloric deficit reaches the proper threshold (e.g. a 3500 calorie deficit is roughly equivalent to a one-pound loss of weight.
What’s the regimen?
There are multiple regimens, including the following:
- Alternate day-fasting (switching between days of fasting and no food restrictions)
- Whole day-fasting (assigning one or two days a week of complete or near complete fasting with other days in which there is no restriction)
- Time-restricted fasting (selecting a time frame during each day in which one will fast, while following a meal plan for the rest of the day)
What are the risks?
The risks are you’re fasting. You may not be healthy enough to fast. You may suffer consequences from fasting. You run the risk of getting frustrated and giving up on all manners of weight control. The belief that you can eat “whatever you want” during the period of non-fasting still can set you up for the same types of health risks that always exist from non-nutritious food intake.
Is it safe for me to try?
If you have or are one of the following, you should not be attempting intermittent fasting:
- Anorexia or bulimia
- Breastfeeding or pregnancy
- On medications that require food intake
Even if you do not have these conditions, you shouldn’t engage in intermittent fasting without consulting with your physician first – not your dietitian or your personal trainer. This type of dieting is not a zero sum game; the impact on the entirety of your health could be in the balance. You should have a clean bill of health prior to beginning this regimen, and once you are cleared to begin the regimen, you should then proceed under the watchful eye of your dietitian and/or trainer.
Is there a better alternative?
Intermittent fasting really is nothing more than another means to an end. The goal is calorie restriction sufficient to create weight loss. If you’re disciplined enough to follow a normal diet and create a 500-calorie a day deficit through diet and activity, it’s safer for the vast majority of individuals to do so without fasting.
What’s the bottom line?
If you are motivated by this particular methodology, and you’re willing to stay the course, it can be effective. However, this is not a miracle cure nor has it even proven to be more effective than implementation of a healthy diet that produces caloric deficits. Let me restate that: research does not consistently show that intermittent fasting is superior to continuous low-calorie diets for weight loss, but it is more effective than not engaging in any form of dieting. For your best results, you still should adhere to the healthy eating plate when you are eating, and you should ensure you’re producing at least an average caloric deficit of 500 calories/day for every week you want to lose one pound.
Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.
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