People ask me questions all the time about diets – which one is best? does keto really work? have I tried the Whole 30 method? and a myriad of other questions about eating plans, some of which are real, and some are definitely fads (the baby food diet, I kid you not).
Another area in which people are curious is the notion of intermittent fasting. So here goes, what I know about taking a break from eating with an end goal in mind; usually weight control, blood sugar stabilization or generally improving health.
There are some health benefits to fasting such as improved blood sugar control, which reduces insulin resistance, something which is useful for people at risk for diabetes. Additionally, fasting has been shown to reduce inflammation, and could be beneficial in treating multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic inflammatory condition. Some studies have shown fasting to reduce cholesterol levels and decreasing blood pressure – both risk factors for heart disease.
Other studies show increased brain function, weight loss and increased HGH levels, which helps maintain muscle mass and strength.
It is still too early to tell but fasting could aid longevity and may help with cancer treatments such as chemotherapy as well as delay tumor growth. However this is based on animal studies, at this time.
Types of Fasts:
If you are ready to give fasting a try, here are some of the types of fasts you might want to consider:
· Eat Stop Eat
· Warrior Diet
· Alternate Day Fasting, 5:2 method
For the full benefit, you should pick one method and stick with it for at least one month, based on your personal preference. If you have a medical condition you should not embark on a fast, without consulting with your primary healthcare provider first.
The diet itself is not restrictive, meaning you can eat whatever you want. It is not about the food but the methodology of timing your eating to make the desired health change. However, be sensible and choose healthy food that is unprocessed, and stay well-hydrated, to optimize your net weight loss or increase your overall wellness.
Eat, Stop, Eat is a fasting method that relies on fasting for a complete 24 hour period, twice weekly and not consecutively. That means if you fast on Monday, the earliest you can fast again is Wednesday.
This may not be the best if you are new to fasting, as you will become very hungry not eating for 24 hours.
The Warrior Diet is an interesting cycle of eating in which you get to eat all day, just very little. And then during a four hour period you get to eat the bulk of your food, basically gorging. This is an extreme fast, in which you could experience a stomachache and uncomfortableness during the time you need to intake most of your food. Again, not the best choice for inexperienced fasters.
Leangains was originally designed for weightlifters. On this fast, men abstain from food for 16 hours and eat whatever they want in the remaining eight hours. Women are allowed to break their fast after 14 hours, and eat for the remaining ten hours. Both men and women may drink water or other no-calorie drinks, but no eating during the fast.
And our last entry, the alternate day fasting 5:2 method has us eating only 500 – 600 calories per day on two non-consecutive days each week, reducing caloric intake to improve blood sugar, rev up weight loss and keep cholesterol in check. The other days of the week, a person on this fast must eat only the number of calories burned each day. I think this is not really timed fasting, but just severely restricting your caloric intake to create a caloric deficit over time leading to weight loss.
If you still want to try fasting for the perceived health benefits, then do it safely. Here are some tips:
1) Start with a fast that is short in duration
2) Eat small amounts of food on your fast days
3) Stay hydrated
4) Take a walk
6) Don’t stuff yourself after the fast
7) Make sure you eat enough protein
8) Eat whole foods
9) Engage in light exercise
To Nosh or No?
Keep in mind fasting has been around for thousands of years, mostly associated with religious or cultural practices. However, people are exploring fasting as a lifestyle change to enhance overall health. Short fasts of a day or two are unlikely to cause harm for most healthy folks, however pregnant women, children, the elderly and anyone with a medical disease or chronic condition should avoid this type of food restriction.