Intermittent fasting: friend or foe?

By Jamie-Lynn Shaw, BHSc, CNP, PTS, NNCP

Intermittent fasting has been on the rise as one of the most popular diet trends. Due to its success, many people have practiced and recommended this diet to others. It may just sound like the new trend or fad, but it can actually be very beneficial and helpful in aiding in weight loss, which is why the results of intermittent fasting speak for itself.

There are various different ways to practice intermittent fasting, but the main idea is that you cycle between periods of fasting, with a short duration of time in which you are allowed to eat.

Although not a lot of research has been done on the topic, intermittent fasting has actually been around for centuries and allegedly has various health benefits. Intermittent fasting can help to reduce inflammation, aids with brain health, lowers blood glucose levels, help with weight loss and help with heart health. It is important to still consider that intermittent fasting is not for everyone. Before you dive into this popular new trend, here is what it does, and how it works to ensure it’s the right choice for you

How it improves your health

  1. Reduces inflammation: Research has shown that intermittent fasting can help reduce inflammation and more importantly chronic inflammatory conditions. Ranging from multiple sclerosis, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer.
  2. Aid with brain health: As mentioned, intermittent fasting may help to reduce inflammation and by lowering inflammation you may be helping to prevent any neurodegenerative disorders. More specifically it may help to prevent Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. Intermittent fasting may protect the brain and increase the formation of nerve cells.
  3. Blood sugar control: Fasting has been shown to improve blood sugar levels which can be very beneficial for those at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as it helps decrease blood sugar levels. Since there is such a narrow window of food consumption allowed, it tends to lower the number of calories consumed, thus reducing insulin resistance. Which overall helps prevent spikes and crashes in insulin levels to obtain a more stable blood glucose level.
  4. Weight Loss: Some research shows that fasting helps to boost one’s metabolism and increases norepinephrine – a hormone that helps to reduce body fat. It can also reduce the hormone leptin. Leptin is responsible for stimulating feelings of hunger, which will help to decrease your appetite.
  5. Heart health: People who fast, generally show more self-control, which commonly translates to fewer calories and healthier options consumed. This is especially important in improving cholesterol by lowering low-density lipoprotein “bad cholesterol” and elevated blood pressure.

How to do it?

  1. 16/8: The most popular method is to fast for 14-16 hours, with an eight to 10-hour eating window. This will ensure you get about two to three meals in. In this case, people tend to skip breakfast and then finish eating after dinner. This may take some getting used to, but the body will soon adapt. If you need to adjust the time from eight to ten hours of eating, that is fine too. Do what feels right for your own body while still being able to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting. Another helpful tip is to drink water with lemon, coffee, or any other beverage that does not contain any calories to help suppress hunger. During your eating window, try to restrict unhealthy options or excessive amounts of calories within your eating time frame, as you won’t reap the benefits this way.
  2. 5:2 (Fast Diet): This diet allows you to eat regularly five days of the week while eating only 500 to 600 calories per day for two days of the week. The two days can be spaced out throughout the week. A good way to do this is to eat two small meals per day for the two days you chose.
  3. Whole day fasting (24 hours): You do a 24-hour fast once or twice a week. For example, you do this by fasting from dinner one day, until dinner the next day to ensure you’ve been fasting for 24 hours. This doesn’t have to be from dinner to dinner, you can choose to do it from breakfast to breakfast or lunch to lunch. You can also ease into it by beginning to fast for only 16 hours a day until you reach 24 hours. It is important that you do not eat an excessive amount once you do get the chance to eat. Eat as you normally would.
  4. Alternate day fasting: This method requires you to fast every other day. Some of which allow only 500 calories during fasting days or fasting the full day. It is not recommended for beginners to fast a full day. However, it is very effective for weight loss but may just take a couple of weeks of getting used to.
  5. Warrior diet: It requires you to eat small amounts throughout the day of raw fruits and vegetables followed by eating one huge meal at night. You have a four-hour eating window.

Not for everyone:

It is important to consider if this type of diet is right for you. If you don’t have a proper diet regime then you will be lacking the proper protein, vitamins and minerals by eating less food which may lead to a vitamin deficiency and/or muscle loss as well as malnourishment if taken to the extreme. It is important to eat healthy, workout and take your vitamins – whether it be through food or diet. In order to ensure you are reaping the benefits of this diet while also leading a healthy lifestyle.

Play around with intermittent fasting and see what works for you, I usually break my fast with lemon water, other days I will start my day with a smoothie.

People who should stay away from this diet are those (18 years and under), pregnant women, individuals with a history of eating disorders, those with chronic diabetes, and those on certain medications. It is always best to consult with your health care professional.

Photo credit: ©[Fascinadora] via Canva

Jamie-Lynn Shaw, BHSc, CNP, PTS, NNC , is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner, based in the Ottawa area. For more recipes visit http://www.jamielynnshaw.com

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