Intermittent fasting (IF) has been growing in popularity, particularly for weight loss. But is this method of eating truly effective and beneficial, or is it just hype?
Proponents of fasting propose that it’s an easier alternative to the more traditional method of sustaining daily caloric restriction for a long period of time. Additionally, they suggest that fasting works because it involves the body’s circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle), decreases insulin levels, and reduces inflammation by allowing the gut to rest.
Sounds interesting doesn’t it? The idea of confining total food intake to specific hours of the day and potentially losing weight may sound appealing. However, there are several important factors to consider before you decide whether the right choice for you is intermittent fasting.
Are you overcompensating for lack of energy?
Fasting for long periods of time can lead to low blood sugar levels. Because blood sugar (aka glucose) is the primary fuel source for your brain, prolonged fasting can lead to fatigue. To combat fatigue, you might turn to caffeine. However, coffee, black tea or energy drinks can be addictive and lead to over consumption, especially while restricting caloric intake. Too much caffeine can cause dehydration, which can then lead to headaches, decreased exercise potential, and increased hunger, all which sabotage your weight loss efforts.
Are you really cutting calories?
With a shorter time frame to consume total calories for the day, you might think you’ll eat less. However, the human body has been adapting to survive starvation over thousands of years.
Highly restricted calorie days cause increased hunger hormones and a higher dopamine release in the brain when you do eat. This increases the likelihood of binge eating and a fixation on food thereby counteracting any potential calorie deficit achieved on a fasting day.
Are you leading a healthy lifestyle?
When hunger hormones are elevated, your body will tell your brain to find calories ASAP. This could lead to finding convenient sources of calories which are often high in sugar, salt, and fat, leaving less room for protein, vitamins, or fiber-rich foods essential for health and wellness.
Adequate sleep is strongly linked to weight loss. Those who sleep over six hours a night have more energy for exercise and are less likely to overeat. For these reasons and more, good sleepers have better weight loss results.
If you restrict calories during the day, you may end up over-consuming calories at night. Eating too late in the evening can cause a boost of energy, altering the amount and quality of your sleep and, thereby, decreasing weight loss potential.
What about the health benefits of fasting?
Studies of IF have correlated the practice with improved cholesterol markers, reduction in inflammation and cell proliferation, and possibly improved insulin response. However, when compared to traditional methods of restricting calories, IF does not appear to offer superior weight control or health advantages.
If you are considering IF, it may be easier to incorporate fasting during sleeping hours. A 12-hour period from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. is less likely to disrupt your sleep cycle than daytime fasting, and may also cut out late night snacking, aiding in reducing calories.
Those who find sustainable weight loss methods are more successful at keeping their weight off. The most important takeaway is creating habits that work with your lifestyle so that you can function happily and healthfully.
Rachel Edwards has worked with clients who have heart disease, diabetes, and those who seek weight loss. Her passion for an active lifestyle and personal training was inspired by witnessing the disease-managing effects of exercise.
Shelly Johnson Guzman enjoys helping athletes of all ages, levels, and backgrounds achieve performance. She is also a consulting dietitian with the U.S. Olympic Committee for the U.S. Women’s National Ice Hockey Team and U.S. Sailing Team.
Successful weight loss is a combination of finding both the optimal nutrition and fitness routine that will work for your personal goals.
Deciding on what’s best for you shouldn’t be complicated. We’re here to help you. To make an appointment with a PRO Personal Trainer, call (425) 885-5566. To contact a PRO Registered Dietitian, call (425) 861-6258.