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Before you read another article about the latest fad diet that can get you to your goal weight, please remember that your primary concern with any diet should be your health and how you feel. With that in mind, intermittent fasting could work for you if you’re careful and smart with it (and can commit to going long periods of time without food).

Your greatest asset when starting a new diet or making a lifestyle change is knowledge. Here are some things that you should know before embarking on your fasting journey.

What exactly does intermittent fasting entail?

There are a number of forms your diet could take, but generally speaking, intermittent fasting is restricting the number of calories you have in a 24-hour period. You don’t cut down the number of calories you have in a day (assuming you eat a healthy amount for your size), but instead, limit the hours during the day that you’re actually consuming food.

People will fast for 12, 16 or even 20 hours at a time and restrict their eating to the other 12, 8 or 4. Often this takes the form of skipping either breakfast or dinner (while still making sure you’re getting your daily calorie intake). More extreme forms of the diet can be done on a weekly basis, and limiting your calories to certain hours on certain days.

It’s not for everyone

If you’re serious about it, this diet requires a lot of commitment, preparation and dedication. Meal planning becomes incredibly important. You need to consider your own personality, lifestyle and culture when deciding if this diet is for you. If you tend to get hangry after a few hours without food, maybe fasting isn’t the best choice for your own quality of life (and that of the people around you). Similarly, if you know that after going 16 hours without food, you’re going to binge for the next eight hours on burgers, fries and cake, you’re not going to see the results you want. Your schedule or family eating practices might also make this diet more difficult to stick to.

If you have a history with mental illness or eating disorders, you should talk to your doctor before you start an intermittent fasting program. Counting calories and going long periods of time without food can be triggering to those who are predisposed to take dieting to the extreme. Mental health is just as important as physical.

It’s not a quick way to just drop a few dress sizes

If you’re thinking about using a fasting diet to drop a few pounds fast because it limits your calories, you’re not going to get the results you want. To do this diet in a healthy way, you’re only restricting when you’re eating so you should still be consuming a healthy amount of food. That means any visible weight loss will take time. If you lose a lot of weight quickly on any diet, it’s unlikely that the loss will be sustainable because extreme restrictions are hard to commit to for life.

There is no miracle diet for fast and sustainable weight loss. Eating healthy and clean is what keeps you feeling and looking your best and it needs to be a lifestyle you’re committed to if it’s going to work.

What you’re eating is more important than when you’re eating it

The theory behind intermittent fasting is that if you’re only eating two meals a day, you’re more careful about what those meals are. They need to be packed with all the nutrients you need for the entire 24 hour period. This is where the meal planning comes in. You need to be careful about planning your meals out so they contain all the protein, healthy fats, vitamins and fiber your body requires. The quality of the food you’re eating while doing this diet is more important than the hours you’re not eating.

You can get the theoretical benefits without the fasting part

You might want to try embracing the theory behind the diet before you actually attempt the fasting part. If you’re being conscious of the number of calories you’re consuming, the quality of the food you’re eating and getting all your nutrients, you’ve already established a healthy lifestyle. The fasting is just a way to force you to think about the foods you’re eating and discourage you from overeating or doing too much snacking, especially late at night. Keeping those principles in mind, you can get the healthy lifestyle benefits without starving yourself.

A moderate fasting plan can work too

Twelve hours without food may sound daunting, but when you factor in eight hours of sleep, it suddenly becomes far more manageable. You can establish a moderate “fasting” schedule that doesn’t even involve consciously going too long without food. If you only eat between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., you can eat all your meals, but limit late night snacking (which is a downfall for a lot of us). Even restricting your eating to between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. is reasonable for a lot of lifestyles.

Be careful, be smart, stay nourished

The most important thing to remember if you’re attempting intermittent fasting is to get all your nutrients and calories during the time you’re allowed to eat. Starving yourself is not the goal. The goal is to focus on the quality of food you’re consuming and cut out mindless eating.

You should also talk to your doctor before embarking on any extreme dieting plan, especially if you have other health concerns, either mental or physical. Preliminary animal studies have found that intermittent fasting has a positive effect on blood sugar, but there have not been conclusive studies with humans yet. Diabetics should talk to a professional before starting intermittent fasting to err on the side of caution.