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  • Read This Before Trying Out Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss

    Intermittent fasting covers different dietary approaches, like only eating within eight hours.
    by Kate Borbon .
Read This Before Trying Out Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss
PHOTO BY iStock
  • It seems like every day, different diet methods pop up everywhere, all promising to guarantee weight loss without you having to exert too much effort or restrict your food intake too much. You may have heard of one particular diet called intermittent fasting (IF), which has been gaining popularity over recent years because it is said to be highly effective and not as demanding as other diet methods.

    Maybe you have come across stories of friends who have experienced positive results from IF. Perhaps you are considering trying it yourself. But before anything else, here is everything you need to know about this popular dieting trend.

    What is intermittent fasting?

    According to Harvard Health Publishing, intermittent fasting limits a person’s calorie intake during specific days of the week or hours in the day. There are two ways to do it: alternate-day fasting and restricted eating window.

    Scientific American describes alternate day fasting where a person switches “back and forth between days when you eat more and days when you eat less.” Some versions of this approach involve eating basically nothing on your “fast” days and eating as much as you want on your “feast” days. Others require you to reduce your food intake by half or a third on your “fast” days and eat more than your usual intake on your “feast” days. The proportion of fast to feast days varies from person to person, but one of the most popular varieties is the 5:2 diet, where you fast for two non-consecutive days each week.

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    The second IF category is the restricted eating window approach. Instead of reducing how much you eat, you limit the window of time when you eat within the day. Some people follow a four-hour eating window while others develop an eight- to 10-hour eating window. The timing of the window varies, but putting your eating window in the first half of the day is said to provide better results. It syncs with our circadian rhythms and helps reduce appetite, burn off more fat, and improve metabolism.

    “The theory is that intermittent fasting will help decrease appetite by slowing the body’s metabolism,” Harvard Health Publishing writes.

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    The science behind intermittent fasting

    One crucial thing to know about intermittent fasting is not a lot of studies has evaluated its effectiveness. The earliest studies on IF had involved animals, and the few ones that did involve humans had a limited number of participants.

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    Those early studies, which were done on rats, found that IF led to weight loss, improvements in body composition, and blood sugar metabolism, among other things, even though the rodents consumed their usual food intake. The human studies, meanwhile, found that following a restricted eating window led to similar results, but primarily because the subjects ended up eating less. The results were also found to be not much different from the effects observed in people who followed more traditional dietary approaches.

    According to another article on Harvard Health Publishing, however, recent studies have found that “not all IF approaches are the same, and some are actually very reasonable, effective, and sustainable, especially when combined with a nutritious plant-based diet.”

    For instance, one study from the University of Alabama had two small groups of obese men with pre-diabetes do intermittent fasting called early time-restricted feeding. They could only eat within an eight-hour period (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) or a twelve-hour window (7 a.m. to 7 p.m.).

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    Both groups were found to have maintained their weight, but the group that followed an eight-hour eating window had “dramatically lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity, as well as significantly decreased appetite.” This is important because we lose weight when our insulin levels lower far enough and for long enough that we can burn off our fat.

    A 2018 study published in the journal Obesity also found that individuals who followed an early time-restricted eating window (between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.) and fasted for 18 hours daily showed lower levels of the hunger hormone and higher levels of the satiety hormone. In other words, their appetite was reduced significantly.

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    Should you try intermittent fasting?

    Knowing all of these, is it worth trying out this diet method? First, note that more studies still need to be conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of IF.

    Dr. Deborah Wexler, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Center and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, tells Harvard Health Publishing, “There is no 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.”

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    However, Dr. Wexler also recommends people to go for the eating approach that they feel suits their lifestyle best. If that happens to be IF, then they can certainly try it out, given that they consult a healthcare provider first.

    Another essential thing to note is there are certain groups of people who are not advised to try out intermittent fasting. These groups include pregnant or breastfeeding women, people with advanced diabetes or who are taking medication for diabetes, and people with a history of eating disorders. If you are part of any of these groups, it is best to talk to a doctor if this diet is advisable for you.

    Bottom line: The best way to lose weight is to follow a plant-based diet, stay physically active, and avoid snacking to allow your body to burn fat between meals. Eating at night is also discouraged: Cleveland Clinic says that doing this causes fats to stay in your blood for longer, compared to eating during regular waking hours, when the body can metabolize more quickly, and fats are absorbed by different body organs.

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    Before you start on any diet method, ask yourself, “What suits my lifestyle, personality, and preferences best?” Intermittent fasting may work for some people but not for others. The important thing is to find the eating approach that works best for you, adapt a healthy diet, and engage in regular physical activity. That might just be the way to shed those extra pounds!

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