For most people, a healthy diet means eating small, nutritious meals regularly throughout the day. There probably aren’t too many weight loss experts out there who will argue that such an approach is a bad one to take, but an increasing number are advocating something a little more radical: intermittent fasting.
Championed by celebrities like Jimmy Kimmel and Maranda Kerr as well as nutritionists like Eat Stop Eat author Brad Pilon, intermittent fasting is the practice of foregoing caloric intake (fasting) for occasional short-term periods of time. The most popular method of intermittent fasting is probably what’s referred to as the “5:2 diet,” where the dieter eats normally for 5 days of the week, but fasts for two 24 hour periods per week. Another intermittent fasting plan calls for 16-hour fast periods each day, punctuated by an 8-hour window where eating is “allowed.”
Proponents of intermittent fasting say it keeps weight off almost effortlessly, encourages overall self-control, and even promotes muscle growth. But is it too good to be true? And is it even safe? That all depends on who you ask.
“Fasting has been shown to improve biomarkers of disease, reduce oxidative stress and preserve learning and memory functioning,” according to an article published by the Canadian Medical Association.
But is there any evidence about its effectiveness for weight loss? There is some, but it’s not as air-tight as many advocates would probably like to think.
One 2011 study from the University of Aberdeen Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, in Aberdeen, Scotland offered the faint praise, “fasting may be an option for achieving weight loss and maintenance.”
Other studies have looked at intermittent fasting as compared to standard calorie-restrictive diets. One such study, from the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that intermittent fasting produced similar outcomes to regular calorie restriction in terms of fat loss, although intermittent fasting did produce less lean muscle loss. Another found similar results, but cautioned that further study is required.
All in all, while our scientific understanding of the effects of intermittent fasting on humans is still in its early stages, existing evidence suggests that it’s at least as viable an option for weight loss as more traditional dieting.
Luckily for fasting gurus like Brad Pilon, there’s not very much clinical evidence out there to suggest that intermittent short-term fasting is in any way harmful for normally healthy people. (People with special circumstances, such as pregnant women, diabetics, or those with other conditions should consult a doctor before embarking on any diet, especially a fasting plan.)
That being said, much of the most striking scientific evidence of fasting’s health benefits, like longevity and disease reduction, have been conducted on non-human animals. Like the studies above said, the research is promising but it’s not inarguable fact just yet.
Apart from what the science can tell us, there’s also anecdotal evidence that intermittent fasting might not be for everyone. Some people report overdoing it on unhealthy foods after fast periods, effectively negating much if not all of their calorie deficit. This is sometimes known as “rebound binging” or “rebound overeating.” Similarly, people might think that because they fast at times they have a free pass to eat as much junk food as they want at other times – experts however agree that intermittent fasters should still stick to a reasonable diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
Others people who have tried intermittent fasting have complained of sleeplessness, feelings of faintness, and other ill effects.
Like we’ve said before, at the end of the day the best weight loss plan for you is the one that works, and the one that you like enough to stick with. If intermittent fasting fits the bill, that’s terrific. If it doesn’t work, there’s no need to feel bad; you just need to find your best plan. Remember to always consult with a medical professional before embarking on any new diet or exercise regimen.
For more information about weight loss plans, including very-low calorie diets and other medically supervised programs, get in touch with Medical Weight Loss Solutions in Connecticut.
Top image credit: By Jean Fortunet (Own work) [CC BY 1.0], via Wikimedia Commons