Intermittent Fasting – The Pro’s & Con’s
There is always a new fad diet around the corner promising to be the next best thing to help you lose weight – forget the rest, this is best, blah blah blah. Sound familiar?
Research continues into the best ways to lose weight and fasting is the latest buzz diet. However, does it really work? Yes and no – like all diets. Any diet will work if you can stick it out, but for me, the best diet is always the one that you can sustain long term and is nutritionally sound and supports your daily activity requirements. I also advocate learning about good foods, knowing whats on your nutritional panel, and even better, buying more foods without a nutritional panel ie eating real foods more often which means no packaging is required. Make sure you are eating well, not just less.
Intermittent Fasting (IF) works this way – You simply eat within a certain block of time, usually a window of 8–10 hours. In the other big block of time, about 14–16 hours, including when you’re asleep, you don’t eat anything, not even snacks. You can drink water, coffee, tea or any other beverage that doesn’t have calories. For example, if you like having a late dinner, you might skip breakfast and have your first meal at midday and your last meal of the day at 8 p.m., and then not eat until midday again the next day.
When you’re fasting, you’re not consuming calories, so it makes sense to assume that with eating less than you normally would, you’re going to lose weight. Fasting allows you to use up all of your stored sugars as fuel, and to then tap into fat stores. When we begin to burn fat stores, we begin to lose body fat, and as the research is now pointing to, gives us a a positive effect on our metabolism and hormones (which if course is contradictory to other research that says never skip breakfast, keep your metabolism revving by not fasting…). Everyone reacts differently, the trick is to find out what works for you and stick to it.
Other forms of IF are the “5:2 eating plan,” which means two nonconsecutive days of a strict 500 calorie a day diet, and five days of a normal, healthy food. This can be tweaked to 7:1 or 1:1, depending on how you want to implement it into your daily life. You can choose the strategy which best suits you. However, give yourself at least a few days, ideally longer, when you try each strategy so that you can determine how it is working for you. Look out for signs of improvements in non-food areas such as more energy, deeper sleep, happier mood and better digestion/less bloating. Try logging changes like these in a food diary so you can track what works best for you. To really see that you are making improvements you need to give it around 4 weeks and measure your success with a tape measure, not just the scales.
Like any major eating and fitness change, it can take time to find the perfect fit, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different options — including ditching intermittent fasting altogether if it’s simply not your thing. If dieting messes with your head then it will never work.
I’ve put together some pro’s and con’s to intermittent fasting so you can see if it may or may not work for you.
- It can be easier as it doesn’t involve specific foods, but rather a strict schedule about when you eat.
- Its flexible in that you can manipulate the fasting times to suits your lifestyle to some extent.
- Calorie counting isn’t required, you just need to eat your regular sized meals within the time frame (within reason – 3 Big Mac’s a day won’t leave you looking svelte no matter what time of the day you eat). Alcohol is yet another issue.
- Research also suggests it may be beneficial for glucose tolerance, hormone regulation, better muscle mass and lower body fat – you can double the effects when you add regular exercise.
- It can be added to any diet you are following (Paleo, Keto, Low Carb, Vegan etc)
- Research with animals has shown that fasting may reduce cancer risks and slow aging by activating cellular mechanisms that help boost immune function and reduce inflammation associated with chronic disease (due to not having to constantly process food and allowing your system to heal). However, a reduction in body fat will also do this, so any way you can achieve lower body fat results is good.
- Individuals all react to fasting in different ways – its not for everyone. Some people get ‘hangry’ if they don’t eat small regular meals, their bodies just can’t cope.
- Can encourage ‘binge eating’. Once you allow yourself to eat you go overboard and consume excess calories because you are starving, negating any positive effects from the fast and calorie deficit.
- In women, fasting has been shown to disrupt hormones and menstrual cycles and alter their ability conceive easily. Women’s hormonal balance is particularly sensitive to how much, how often, and what we eat. Read more here.
- We know from extensive research that those who eat breakfast have better metabolic outcomes than those who skip it, and eating at night can be detrimental to cardio metabolic health.
- It may not work with your work, sport or activity levels.
- If you train early in the morning you may be way too hungry to wait until 11am to eat as well as missing out on much needed recovery meals.
- The research on IF is still new and the jury is still out.
- Its has a high drop out rate, as people find they are too hungry
- May not fit with your social life.
- You may struggle with not being able to ‘reward’ yourself with that healthy plate of poached eggs as soon as you get home from training. Kill me now if I can’t eat after a run!
- It can work if you need to lose weight in the short term, however the research shows that it works just as well as calorie restriction. You need to do what works best for you.
- Everyone is different and some people respond much better to IF than others, whether it is from a psychological view (can’t stick to it, too hard) or from a physiological view (low energy, mood swings, low blood sugar etc). Its not for everyone, however some people will love it.
- Experiment and see what works for you, but give it time to see if it works.
- Measure body fat losses, muscle mass gain/loss, energy levels, sleep patterns.
- Don’t think that because you are eating in a certain time frame that you can eat whatever you like – maintain a balanced and nutritious diet.
- There have been many studies done on the three types of eating plans – calorie restriction/portion controlled diets, alternating fasting days and normal eating habits. Nearly all studies have shown that the first two groups had lost weight compared to the normal eaters, however the fasters didn’t do any better than the calorie cutters.
Bottom line – to lose weight you need to restrict calories and increase your exercise to create a calorie deficit (doh) so the best way is the way that works for you, and that can take time, and trial and error to work out what that is. But there are options out there to try.
Any weight loss is good (if you need it) as it has the ability to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, help control diabetes and reduce many other health risk, and therefore has a positive effect on your health.
REMEMBER – Without exercise you may still lose weight, however you get no benefits from improved strength, mobility, aerobic fitness or muscle tone. No point having the scales showing the number you like but your heart and lungs are unhealthy and all your bits wobble!