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If you’re looking to lose weight, chances are someone has suggested intermittent fasting! The diet taking the world by storm has stars like Chris Pratt, Kourtney Kardashian and Hugh Jackman all giving it a try – but what is it, exactly? Does it really work, or is it just another fad? Registered dietician Nishta Saxena is here to break down the facts behind the hype.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is just that – fasting! It’s basically changing the timing of eating to have longer than overnight periods without food. Yes, that might mean no breakfast! This practice has actually been around since ancient times, and is still used today by numerous spiritualities and religions in association with holy periods or designated periods of prayer.
What are the different types?
Some forms of fasting might work better for your lifestyle and preferences – here are some examples of the most popular ones.
Time Restricted Fasting
A popular form of fasting, this version means eating nothing for 12, 14, or 16 hours a day.
The Warrior Diet
Fast during the day – with the exception of some small fruits and veggies – and then eat a huge, warrior-sized meal at night.
This is just what it sounds like – eat one day, fast the next.
Alternate-day energy restriction
Instead of fasting completely, simply restrict your energy intake to about 25 per cent every other day.
5/2 Whole day fasting
This one typically means eating five days a week, and then missing two (weekends, holidays, etc.)
Is it helpful?
Intermittent fasting, when done correctly, can be helpful in several ways. While it should only be attempted by healthy individuals (or those with medical clearance) aged 22-75, Saxena reinforces it can have health benefits.
One of the most popular reasons that people start fasting is to lose fat – and it may work. It helps limit the amount of calories you eat, keeps you away from junk food, and switches your body’s process of burning glucose to burning triglycerides (basically, burning fat and keeping muscle). Compared to straight caloric restriction, intermittent fasting may help with reducing body fat without reducing muscle. When you cut calories drastically and continuously such as with a diet plan, 20 to 30 per cent of what is lost is muscle.
Intermittent fasting may help reduce your bad cholesterol by 25 per cent, and even the “atherogenicty” of your cholesterol (meaning, the particle-size of your bad cholesterol is what determines “toxicity” to the arteries; fasting can make the particles you have LESS atherogenic).
If you’re worried about inflammation, this might be a solution – intermittent fasting may reduce some markers of inflammation and oxidative stress on your body. While there have only been studies on rats, some suggest it may reduce inflammation in the brain, lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s and depression.
Intermittent fasting lowers the amount of insulin your body is pumping out daily, and improves sensitivity. It can help with improving blood sugar management in some people with Type 2 diabetes.
Who should avoid intermittent fasting?
- Pregnant women
- Breastfeeding women
- Families! If you’re a family, it can be awkward and not favourable to never eat with your children as an example; eating behaviours have significant impact on your children’s health.
- Seniors over 75 years of age would need consultation with a registered dietitian and their doctor to begin a protocol to make sure it is safe (due to medications, age and disease related conditions)
- Some people with histories of mental health disorders, such as eating disorders
The bottom line
For most people, a 12-hour fasting period within 24 hours is safe and appropriate – but check with a registered dietician or your doctor to make sure! However, ultra-low-cal intake can affect fiber, vitamin, mineral, and protein intake significantly – so please work with a dietitian to ensure you’re covering your basic metabolic needs.