Intermittent Fasting

This is an article I wrote my senior year of college for Nutrition Education. The assignment was to report on Intermittent Fasting in magazine article style – and my paper won! It was submitted as an article into a Health & Wellness magazine by my teacher. I hope you enjoy!

EDIT: Today’s Dietitian had this to say about the possible benefits of Fasting Diets

Following the holidays many students find that the amount of time they spent at home with family was not the only thing on the rise. Getting back on the scale can be quite the reality check. There weren’t many breaks in between meals, and even those breaks were filled with snacks. Take a break here for a second and read about some of the reasons that these “food breaks” could be your answer to not only maintaining your waistline, but improving your overall health after the holidays!

Today we are going to compare some fasting regimens head-to-head to see which one comes out on top. The regimens that we will be comparing are the complete alternate day fast, modified fasting regimens, time-restricted feeding, and religious fasting (specifically Ramadan fasting).

Alternate day fasting studies showed modest weight loss, several indicators of increased good cholesterol (although, unfortunately, an increase in bad cholesterol as well), and improved blood sugar regulation. Subjects reported that there was no decrease in the feelings of hunger on the fasting days over time and they never adjusted to that feeling, so this not a plausible long term plan. Little weight loss and the risk of being grouchy and hangry (hungry + angry, for those of you not hip to the lingo) for roughly a third of your week? Next!

“Modified fasting” is a practice that allows for 20-25% of calorie needs on the regularly scheduled fasting days. This is based on the 5:2 diet (2 days of fasting, 5 days of normal eating). Although most of these trials were done on mice instead of human subjects, there was a marked decrease midsection fat, a decrease in some hormones that promote hunger, a decrease in the size of fat cells, and an increased regulation of resting blood sugar levels. The weight loss in this study was more obvious than in alternate day fasting. A small number of participants reported that this fasting regimen left them in a bad mood; however, overall there were an average of improvements in mood such as confidence and happiness!

In the studies of Time-restricted feeding, the fasting intervals ranged from 12-20 hours. This is a much more manageable time period for going without a meal. The overall conclusions were that in mice this time restricted feeding resulted in weight loss, lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar and blood fats, as well as lowered amounts of other hormones detrimental to weight loss. They emphasized the importance of timing the diet with your sleep cycle. Staying up late and being tired throughout the day makes us more susceptible to cravings which can destroy the purpose of the fasting in the first place! It can make us want to eat a more high fat diet. One study suggested eating only one afternoon meal per day. Although heightened feelings of hunger were reported in the morning, the good news is that no overall feelings of anger, depression, tension, or fatigue were reported. Basically, time-restricted fasting could be the way to go to help boost your metabolism – as long as it does not interfere with your sleep schedule! Keep getting those Z’s and deny the temptation of reaching for high fat foods while using this practice and see for yourself if the pounds really slip away with the time.

Many different religions practice periods of fasting for a variety of different reasons. Could this time of meditation be helping both your mind AND body? The Islamic practice of Ramadan is one particular period of fasting that is widely observed and has had the most research done. This month of fasting begins at sunrise and ends at sunset when those observing the fast are allowed to eat once more. Over 60% of the studies done found statistically significant amounts of weight loss during these times of fasting. The catch? Following the month of Ramadan, many of the subjects gained the weight back! If you are looking to this diet for a weight loss hack, you had better be prepared to do it long term, or else the effects are pretty unimpressive. However, some other health markers were positive; In women, there was a marked increase in good cholesterol, and in men there was a very noticeable decrease in overall cholesterol. The resting blood sugar levels were decreased in both men and women, which is a good sign.

So what is our final decision on these fasting dietary practices? Well, for one, they aren’t quite so ‘fast’! It may take up to a month to see any noticeable results. However, although we aren’t watching our fat shrink right before our eyes, there are definitely some beneficial changes going on inside our bodies. These fasting regimens showed a consistent ability to help bodies handle resting blood sugar levels, a growing problem in our countries as cases of early onset type 2 diabetes rises. Another noticeable trend was the increased ability for subjects to whip their cholesterol levels into shape. Many studies showed either a rise in good cholesterol, a fall in bad cholesterol, or a combination of the two. When it comes down to it, these fasting regimens are a good way to take time to be more mindful about what you put in your body and when. As long as the periods of fasting are reasonably spaced (modified fasting and time-restricted feeding come to mind) these practices could prove to be a long term change that improve your weight, health, and overall happiness! Just make sure to consult with a doctor before starting any health regimen that drastically changes daily activity, get plenty of rest, do not let the cravings make you reach for unhealthy, high fat foods, and use your breaks from eating to meditate and get your mind and body on the same page! Everyone good on the plan? 1, 2, 3, Break!

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