Is Intermittent Fasting a Good Idea?
Low-carb, Keto, Paleo, Low-fat, Vegetarian, Vegan, No bananas, Just bananas…
There is an ever-growing list of newest diets you ‘should’ follow and the latest trend to hit the scene is Intermittent Fasting (IF). It’s biggest claim to fame is the idea that IF can help you lose weight faster than run-of-the-mill calorie restriction diets and also touts it can reduce inflammation and other risks of heart disease.
WHAT IS INTERMITTENT FASTING?
Very simply, Intermittent Fasting restricts your calories based on the time you eat, rather than by what you eat. Instead of the traditional calorie reduction diets (such as lowering your calories by 25% every day), Intermittent Fasting says you can eat pretty much whatever you want but only at certain times. Some variations include limiting the amount of hours you eat every day (say 1-9pm) or fasting 24 hours twice a week. While others will strictly reduce their calories on fasting days (only eating between 300-500 calories) but have “feasting” days, allowing for any and all foods on days you choose to eat.
There are a few reasons why people are drawn to Intermittent Fasting. At first glance, it can appear easier to put into practice than a standard diet. No calorie counting most days, not having to figure out what foods you can and cannot eat. The only thing you have to think about is when you eat. Much simpler to keep track of than calories or macros.
There is also some research that says during a time of fasting, our stored fat cells become more “accessible” which basically means they will burn more easily.
All good things for those looking to shed some weight.
It would be pretty easy to look at some of the reasons why people choose to head down the path of Intermittent Fasting and think that it could be the end-all-be-all breakthrough diet that could finally push you over the edge when it comes to weight loss and overall health. But, I’ve got several reasons I believe it’s not actually something you should run towards.
First, the research around Intermittent Fasting is VERY limited. Because it’s the newest push in weight loss, it hasn’t been thoroughly looked at for the long-term. While you definitely can see correlation between fasting and weight loss and even more dramatic things like shrinking cancer cells, the medical field still hasn’t had the time to look at the long-term effects. Just because it means you can have substantial weight loss within a few weeks doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for your body in 10 years.
Second, while on the surface level it seems easier to put in to practice, it can actually be very difficult to maintain (and the best nutrition practice for your body is certainly not one that you can’t do for longer than a few weeks.) Here’s why: even if it seems like you won’t have to pay attention to what you’re eating, which is obviously easier than counting calories, your body will still be hungry in those times of fasting. And before you know it, you can become consumed with the idea of your next meal.
“Only two hours until I get to eat. Only 1 hour and 52 minutes until I get to eat.”
So once it’s time to break your fast, which are you more likely to choose? A sensible lean protein and veggies or the closest fast-food joint and stuff your face?
Intermittent fasting can lead to over-eating when you’re on your “feasting hours.”
When you’re deprived of food for any reason, the hormones that control your appetite and the part of your brain that controls hunger kick into high gear, which can lead to poor food choices when left unchecked. And truthfully, it can also lead to really unhealthy thought patterns around food, especially in those who don’t have a healthy relationship with food in the first place
Third, I don’t believe it gets the job done any better, faster, or can achieve longer-lasting results than the classic combo of clean eating and exercise. "One hypothesis is that fasting can activate cellular mechanisms that help boost immune function and reduce inflammation associated with chronic disease," says Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “While it's true that getting rid of excess body fat will improve a person's metabolic profile and lower cardiovascular risk,” he says, “there's no strong evidence that fasting adds health benefits beyond any other weight-loss strategy.”1
Finally, the biggest reason I don’t recommend Intermittent Fasting is because it takes away our power and ability to listen to our body. Our bodies tell us what they need if we’re really tuned in. And we can eat intuitively in order to fuel our body healthily--all while still being able to lose weight. But if we’re shutting out that voice, and saying no to any cues it might give us, we’re unable to take an active part in the process.
While Intermittent Fasting might look like a great way to quickly shed body weight, I do not recommend it as a healthy practice to get the results you want.