Forget counting calories or swearing off carbs the latest dietfaddoesnt put limitations on what you eat. Rather, it focuses on the when. This way of eating is called intermittent fasting (IF), and in the past several years it has risen through the ranks of popular diets, until its now one of the most-searched diets on Google, racking up hundreds of thousands of searches on average each month.
Whats the reason for its popularity? It seems a lot easier for some people. Traditional lifestyle changes tend to rely a lot on calorie counting or point watching or rules, and for some people especially people with busy lives or who feel pulled in a lot of directions that feels like a lot of work and effort. So for this, where they literally have to do nothing but skip a meal, it's just a lot easier for them to maintain, says ElizabethLowden, MD, a bariatric endocrinologist at the Northwestern Medicine Metabolic Health and Surgical Weight Loss Center at Delnor Hospital in Geneva, Illinois.
RELATED: 12 Possible Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Here, we explore the ins and outs of IF, andanswer all the questions youreprobably asking.
IFis a way of eating that calls for alternating between fasting(orsignificant reduction of calorie intake)and eating at specific times, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Its different from other diets in that its not about eating specific foods. IF is not about depriving yourself either. Rather, its about eating your meals during a certain time frame and fasting for the rest of the day and night.
Fasting has been around since ancient times andhaspredominantlybeen practicedwithin religions,according to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in August 2015. But the version of IF thats talked about today arose in the past eight years or so. According to Harvard Health, IF became more popular around 2012 when the documentary Eat, Fast and Live Longer aired.TheJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics study says many books on the topic were published around that time as well, including 2013s The Fast Diet, which added to the buzz. Research followed. Over the past five years, rigorous research has shown the remarkable benefits of intermittent fasting, which is behind this sudden interest, says Sara Gottfried, MD, the Berkeley, Californiabased author of Brain Body Diet.
There are a few different versions of IF (outlined below), but each version follows the basic premise of designating a certain period of time during the week meant for eating and certain periods when food and drink should be restricted (or severely limited), according to Harvard Health.
The most popular are:
RELATED: 6 Types of Intermittent Fasting
The short answer: probably. IF gets a lot of press as a weight loss tool, and I recommend it in my practice for weight loss and weight management, Dr. Gottfried says. Its linked to weight loss because not eating between meals forces the body to turn to the fat stored in cells for energy, according to Harvard Health. Insulin levels decline through this process as the body burns fat.
Lowden believes what it really comes down to, though, is calorie restriction. Overall, people tend to consume fewer calories in a smaller window of time compared with eating all day, and that's what leads to weight loss, she says. A study published in June 2018 in Nutrition and Healthy Aging involving 23 obese adults found the study participants took in about 300 fewer calories per day when participating in the 16:8 approach to IF.
Versions of IF that restrict eating after a certain time,say7 p.m.,also helpeliminate nighttime eating, whichhas been shown tocontribute to metabolic syndrome and obesity, according to astudy published in December 2018 in BMC Public Health.
Some critics, however, say the amount of weight lossto expect fromIFisnt any more significant than what youd see withother calorie-restrictive diets.A study published in the AmericanJournal of Clinical Nutrition in November 2018 found that a diet that cut calories by 20 percent resulted in a similar amount of weight loss to the 5:2 version of IF after one year. Still, IF may be a good option if you find it easier to stick to than other diets.
Here are some of theproposedbenefits of IF:
RELATED: Intermittent Fasting Helped Me Lose 48 Pounds Heres What I Ate (and When)
The following types of people should avoid IF:
Also, people who need to take medication with foodshould eat at regularintervals so as not to miss a dose, according to Harvard Health.
Its a good idea for everyone whether you have any of the conditions listed above or not to check with a doctor before starting to fast, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
According to Harvard Health, one theory is that exercising in a fasted state may help burn fat. Lowden explains that the body needs sugar or some sort of energy to perform well while exercising. Normally, the energy comes from sugar molecules, which are stored as glycogen in the liver. If you start exercising, youre more likely to deplete those stores and then your body has no choice but to go into a more anaerobic breakdown to give you the energy you need, she says. Instead of burning through sugars that aren't available, your body is forced to burn through another energy source: fat.
But you may not have enough energy to exercise as intensely as you normally would. Peak performance or even feeling good while exercising it's much easier to do if you eat,Lowdensays.
RELATED: Skipping Breakfast Before Exercising May Help You Lose Weight
You will likelyfeel hungry as your body adjusts to IF,but Gottfried says it will adjust. From my own experience and feedback from my patients, it gets easier, she says.According to Harvard, research has found that IF doesnt increase overall appetite. Gottfried says the 16:8 diet (or some variation thereof) seems to be the easiest for most people to integrate into their lives without feeling too hungry.
For many people, transitioning to eating this way is not easy. Per the April 2019 Nutrients research, IF can lead to migraine, dizziness, nausea, and insomnia. It can also make people feel hungry and weak in general, limiting their activity throughout the day.
Some women might stop menstruatingas a result of calorie restriction,according to the same Nutrients study.If you miss three periods in a row, its time to see a doctor, says the Mayo Clinic.
In addition to considering your health goals, follow these steps before diving into IF:
RELATED: Intermittent Fasting Offers Benefits Beyond Weight Loss, Article Suggests
Dont take the end of your fast as an excuse to go wild with unhealthy foods thatll undermine the potential success of the diet. The principles of healthful eating and breaking a fast are the same whether or not it's a normal overnight fast or time-restricted eating, Lowden says. Focus on breaking your fast with a healthy, balanced meal filled with lean proteins, healthy carbohydrates,andhealthy fats.
Pay particular attention to protein, especially if you have diabetes. In order [for people with diabetes] to maintain normal sugar levels and avoid worsening insulin resistance, we always recommend eating a form of protein with every meal, particularly when you're breaking a fast, Lowden says. Protein doesnt break down into glucose as efficiently as carbs, so it has a slower, less immediate effect on blood sugar levels, according to Diabetes.co.uk.
Gottfried says having a healthy source of carbswhen breaking your fast will help restore depleted glycogen levels.She recommends a Mediterranean-stylemeal with40 percentcarbohydrates, 30 percentprotein,and 30 percentfat.
Lowden also says your timing when breaking the fast could make a difference as well. There are studies that show people who eat their calories later in the day even if its the same amount of calories they weigh more than people who do that earlier in the day, Lowden says. According to a study published April 2015 in Nutrients , sleep-restricted adults with late bedtimes are more susceptible to weight gain because the foods eaten at night tend to be higher in fat compared with those eaten earlier in the day. Take that into consideration when youre determining your eating window.
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