There’s a lot of pseudoscientific diets out there that have many of us stressing about the food we eat these days. There’s “detox” cleanses, the ever-so-popular keto diet and one of the hottest at the moment: intermittent fasting.
The basic premise is this: you can eat anything you want but only during specific times or within a set calorie “budget.” And the idea isn’t exactly new. Dating back to the days of Hippocrates (around 460 to 370 B.C.) fasting was a form of treatment for seizures and other illnesses. Today it’s making a comeback with claims that it helps you not only lose weight, but also be more alert and productive.
What types of intermittent fasting plans are out there?
Intermittent fasting is an approach about which Andrea Hiatt, a registered dietitian with Novant Health Weight Loss Solutions, gets the most questions.
The range of fasting varies per individual, but the norm ranges from eight to 24 hours. Some fast for a window of a couple of hours to a full day a week. Others opt toward limiting their calorie intake to a few hundred calories during each fasting period.
She explained that similar to the keto diet, going without calories for long stretches of time can put your body into a state of ketosis, in which fat is burned instead of sugar for energy. In other words, insulin plays a huge role in a way that when insulin levels drop so does your weight, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Up until a few years ago the most promising research on intermittent fasting only involved very fat rats. For humans, there wasn’t much research that showed it to be more effective than any other meal plan out there. But in a recent study, researchers showed that not eating for 10 to 16 hours did improve weight loss results and insulin sensitivity. Another study that looked at a group of obese men with prediabetes, found that intermittent fasting helped them dramatically lower their insulin levels, insulin sensitivity and blood pressure.
But Hiatt said intermittent fasting could be dangerous, especially if you’re prone to eating disorders.
“There are a lot of things that can go wrong when you’re skipping meals and not eating enough,” said Hiatt. This could turn into a binge eating disorder when you skimp on meals and find yourself hoovering your fridge later.
Bottom line: Hiatt doesn’t recommend intermittent fasting as a solution for losing weight. While it might work for some, she said most of us can benefit from healthier eating patterns that aren’t necessarily too restrictive.
Short-term wins on fad diets almost always fade away. The most important way to see lasting results?
“Start changing your lifestyle by taking small steps to incorporate healthier habits into different areas of your life,” said Hiatt.
That could mean walking for 30 minutes a day or substituting sugary juices with real fruit instead. Whatever it is, making incremental changes for the better can help you not just lose weight but keep it from yo-yoing back.
The only way to find out, according to Hiatt, is not through guesswork from internet research, but rather through an informed discussion with your provider on whether fasting would help you move a step closer toward a healthier lifestyle.