In an online forum about lifestyle change, a participant asked if we recommend intermittent fasting. If it works for you as a long-term strategy for weight management, then make it part of your lifestyle.
In my case, intermittent fasting (IF) works because I grew up practicing it already. IF is not a diet. It is a mere eating schedule that you follow. I was never a morning person. My college class schedule started at 11 a.m. or after lunch and finished off at 8 or 9 p.m. That’s a schedule I follow even up to now.
Hence, I just wake myself up with a cup of black coffee (no calories so it doesn’t count) then take my lunch at 1 p.m. then dinner at 7 or 8 p.m., which is practically the 16:8 intermittent fasting model. You fast for 16 hours straight then eat only during an eight-hour window.
According to hopkinsmedicine.org, “research shows that intermittent fasting is a way to manage your weight and prevent—or even reverse— some forms of disease.” While diets mainly focus on what to eat, IF is all about when to eat. “Research shows fasting for a certain number of hours each day or eating just one meal a couple days a week may have health benefits,” the site reported.
Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Mark Mattson, who studied IF for 25 years, said that after hours without food, the body exhausts its sugar stores and starts burning fat. He referred to this as metabolic switching. “Intermittent fasting contrasts with the normal eating pattern for most Americans, who eat throughout their waking hours,” Mattson said.
“If someone is eating three meals a day, plus snacks, and they’re not exercising, then every time they eat, they’re running on those calories and not burning their fat stores.”
IF prolongs the period when your body has used up the calories consumed during your last meal and starts burning fat. It’s not for everyone, especially those below 18 years old, pregnant or breastfeeding women, those afflicted with type 1 diabetes, and those with eating disorders. It is always better to consult your physician before starting intermittent fasting.
There are several types of IF. There is modified fasting or the 5:2 model of five days of the week when you eat normally and two non-consecutive days when you only take one meal. Then there is the alternate-day fasting where you alternate normal-eating days to days with time-restricted eating windows. Then there is the time-restricted eating window of four to 12 hours, which means daily fasting of 12 to 20 hours.
The time-restricted is the most popular with the 16:8 pattern being the most recommended. The reason for this is the belief that many of the benefits of IF happen when fasting is no less than 12 hours, with 16 hours reported as most ideal. Fasting for more than 24 hours may not be better for any person since abstaining from food for extended periods might encourage your body to store more fat as a response to its perceived crisis of starvation.
Mattson’s research warned that people who are new to IF would need two to four weeks to adapt to the new eating pattern. This means that feeling of hunger, crankiness, and mood swings may happen during the period of adjustment. He noted though that research subjects who stick with IF after a month tend to continue it because they feel better.
While calorie counting is not a must, moderation is still the key if weight management is the goal. It is also best to follow the healthy-plate model, which is roughly a half-plate of fruits and vegetables. The other half is about a third lean protein and two-thirds unrefined carbohydrates. Water, black coffee and tea are allowed outside of the eating window.
Mattson’s research showed that IF yields more benefits than just burning fat. He explained that the changes that occur with the metabolic switch brought about by IF positively impacts the body and the brain. One of Mattson’s studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed a range of health benefits associated with the practice, including longer life, a leaner body and a sharper mind.
“Many things happen during intermittent fasting that can protect organs against chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, age-related neurodegenerative disorders, even inflammatory bowel disease and many cancers,” he said.
From his research, IF boosted memory in animals and verbal memory in humans. IF improved blood pressure and other heart-related measurements. A 16:8 IF promoted fat loss while maintaining muscle mass in young men. In animal studies, IF prevented obesity.
There is also growing evidence of IF’s importance in helping type 2 diabetics lose weight, lower levels of fasting glucose, fasting insulin while reducing insulin resistance.
In Medicalnewstoday.com, Amber Charles Alexis, MSPH, RDN, connected IF to the body’s natural circadian rhythm. “Also called the circadian clock, (it) represents the 24-hour cycle of metabolism in the body, including control of the sleep-wake cycle, blood pressure, mood regulation, and hormonal balance, to name a few,” she wrote.
“It is influenced by light and darkness over the course of the day, eating behaviors, and the timing of meals. A growing body of research suggests that eating for lengthy periods in the day, ranging from 12-15 hours, may disrupt the circadian rhythm and increase the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Thus, a major goal of fasting, specifically time-restricted eating, is to reduce the time spent eating in the day by extending the overnight fasting period. The study of the relationship between circadian rhythms and food timing is called chrono-nutrition,” she added.
“Generally, during the hours of uninterrupted fasting, the liver glycogen stores become depleted, overall metabolic processes are altered, and positive health effects are observed,” she explained. Her list of science-backed benefits of intermittent fasting includes improved cholesterol levels, blood sugar control by reducing insulin resistance, and changes in body composition, including the reduction of visceral fat.
She also mentioned a 2015 study of 2,650 adult females with reduced calorie intake in the evenings, and fasted for longer periods at night, which resulted in lower inflammation and reduced risk of breast cancer and other inflammatory conditions. There was also a study of 26,092 adult males over 16 years, which suggested that reducing late-night eating through time-restricted eating may significantly reduce the risk of heart disease.