What is intermittent fasting?
The health and wellness landscape is certainly full of trends, and one nutrition strategy that has gained a lot of attention recently is intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting, or “IF”, is defined as when a person alternates between periods of eating and periods of fasting. The terms “patterns” or “cycles” may also be used to describe this almost rhythmic type of diet.
Using intermittent fasting as a tool does not necessarily mean you are cutting your caloric intake way down, but rather you are consuming your calories in designated windows of time, usually with longer stretches between consumption, and these windows are consistent day to day or week to week. For example, you may choose to only eat between the hours of 9am and 5pm each day. Some methods of this type of diet suggest you decrease caloric consumption on certain days, while also adhering to specific eating windows
What are the potential health benefits of IF?
The belief behind this approach to nutrition is that your body may become satisfied with smaller portions, and cravings for less healthy foods may also decrease. The outcome of IF may be weight loss, which can also help lower the risk of diabetes, sleep apnea, and some types of cancer. According to Mayo Clinic, some research suggests that intermittent fasting may be more beneficial than other diets for reducing inflammation and conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis, and stroke.
What are the potential risks?
Intermittent fasting is not recommended for everyone. Those who should avoid this type of diet include pregnant or nursing women, people with a history of eating disorders, people with risk of hypoglycemia, and those with certain chronic diseases. It is always important to consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any dietary changes.
What are the different types of IF?
According to Cleveland Clinic, there are a few different approaches to intermittent fasting, which is a benefit of the diet overall – there is no one-size-fits-all way to incorporate it into your life. Below are some ways this type of diet is utilized:
- Time-restricted eating (16/8 or 14/10) method: This method is set up so that you fast for a certain set of hours and eat within another set of hours. For example, with the 14/10 method, your fasting window could be 7pm-9am (14 hours), and your eating window could be 9am-7pm (10 hours). This approach is convenient to many people because sleeping hours are factored into the fasting window, which helps it be a bit more attainable. You could practice time-restricted eating every day or one or two days a week and still potentially see benefits to your health.
- Twice-a-week method: This requires you to consume 500 calories on two days a week, with “normal” caloric intake on the other five days. Your two fasting days should have at least one non-fasting day between them, and you should focus on consuming a healthy diet full of fiber and protein, especially on fasting days.
- Alternate day method: This variation involves “modified” fasting every other day. It is recommended to consume 500 calories one day, a normal amount the next day, 500 calories the following day, and so on.
- 24-hour method: This method requires you to completely fast for 24 hours once or twice a week. Negative side effects can certainly come into play, from headaches to low energy to irritability, so you will want to be sure this method is for you and supports your health journey. Most people who utilize this version of IF fast from breakfast to breakfast or lunch to lunch.
How do you know if IF is right for you?
Just like no two people are the same, no two diets are either. Everyone’s lifestyle, preferences, and resources are different, so intermittent fasting may or may not be a good strategy for you. With several methods of IF, it’s important to be open to some trial and error if you decide to give it a shot – one method may work and feel much better than others. Consulting your healthcare provider and being open to trying something new when it comes to your approach to nutrition are great ways to start exploring this diet.