Is Intermittent Fasting Right for You?
Have you wondered what all the recent fuss is around intermittent fasting? While it may appear to be the latest and greatest “diet,” keep in mind it’s a style of eating that has been around for as long as man has walked the earth. Our ancestors often experienced times of food deprivation, and indeed many of the world’s religions recommend periods of fasting to purify the mind and body.
Intermittent fasting is a manner of eating where you restrict the hours of feeding. It turns out that fasting can have some powerful benefits for the human body.
Some of the early research in fasting diets was geared towards finding the fountain of youth—or extending longevity. The results from this research seemed promising but the idea of severe calorie restriction was a tough sell. It’s hard to convince people that they’ll live a longer, healthier life while feeling the constant gnaw of hunger. And though most people may be intrigued by the idea of a long, fulfilling life, feeling hungry is often part of the equation.
Enter intermittent fasting. Beyond the promise of a longer life, research has shown that intermittent fasting can improve insulin sensitivity, aid weight loss, decrease oxidative stress, decrease inflammation, lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, slow cancer growth, ease depression, and promote autophagy (think of this as cleaning house by removing cellular debris).
Fortunately, much has been learned about fasting and as it turns out, not all fasts have to look like prolonged periods of deprivation. There are a variety of ways to cross the finish line, but the simplest is a 12-hour fast, where you stop eating at 7 pm and don’t resume eating again until 7 am the following the morning. This approach follows the body’s natural circadian rhythms. That is, to eat when the sun is up and stop eating when the sun goes down. Dr. Deborah Wexler, Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, noted in a recent interview, “There is evidence to suggest that the circadian rhythm fasting approach, where meals are restricted to an eight to 10-hour period of the daytime, is effective,” she confirmed, though generally she recommends that people “use an eating approach that works for them and is sustainable to them.”
The key is to find a style of eating—not dieting—that works for you. Below are some options that have research to back up their safety and efficacy.
5:2 Intermittent Fasting: On two non-consecutive days within a week, only 500-600 calories (or approximately 25% of total calories) are consumed, the other 5 days are normal non-restricted days. It is important to compose balanced healthy mini-meals for the fasted days.
16:8 Intermittent Fasting: This style of fasting usually means eating an early dinner, say around 6 pm, and then nothing else until late the following morning, around 10 am, thus giving the body a fasting time of 16 hours, usually with little effort.
Time Restricted Feeding: Restricts eating hours to a narrow slot in the 24-hour day, for example eating only within the time frame of 12 pm to 6 pm, or 11 am to 7 pm, remembering that this more narrow time slot for fueling the body should, therefore, consist of nutrient-dense foods and not empty calories or low-quality foods.
Complete Alternate Day Fasting: 24-hour fast on one or two chosen days of the week.
Fasting Mimicking Diet: Reduces caloric intake to 30% of needs for 5 consecutive days before returning to normal eating cycles. This cycle can be repeated once a month or once every 3 to 4 months a year.
12:12 Intermittent Fasting: A 12-hour fast is healthy for anyone in any health condition. This is an ideal minimum and gives digestion a break so the body can focus on rest and repair.
At The Ultrawellness Center, we may fine-tune an intermittent fast depending on medical/individual circumstances. While the benefits of intermittent fasting are well-researched and promising for many, this form of eating is not recommended to women who are pregnant or those with an eating disorder.