Is intermittent fasting the new diet strategy to lose weight?
Skipping meals or going longer periods of time without food, otherwise known as "intermittent fasting" is gaining popularity as simpler solution than following a specific diet plan.
Intermittent fasting alternates periods of normal food intake with extended periods of low-to-no food intake. People who find eating less often easier than eating less are being enticed to try intermittent fasting.
This approach lends itself to different variants. In each variation, the word "eat" reflects food consumption based on healthy food selections and an appropriate caloric level for an individual’s age and sex:
- Alternate-Day Fasting
- Eat over 12 hours then fast for 36 hours
- Eat over 24 hours then fast for 24 hours
- Eat over 24 hours then eat very little over the next 24 hours
- Random Meal Skipping - Skip meals at random throughout the week
- Feeding Window - Only eat during a set period of time
There is evidence to show that fasting works though to very different degrees in different studies. It also comes with some cautions. Fasting is not for everyone, nor would I advise it as a viable/healthy choice for long-term weight management. People who are underweight, have a history of disordered eating or impaired blood glucose control, under 18 or pregnant should avoid fasting. Also, depending on the length of fast, individuals may experience stress, headaches, constipation, or dehydration.
Staying hydrated is particularly important to help mitigate headaches and/or constipation. It's possible that people with more weight to lose may benefit more from an intermittent fasting approach, but one thing is sure—if you compensate for the meals you skipped by eating more later in the day, or the next day you won’t lose weight.
The weight-loss equation is complex and not always as simple as eating fewer calories than you burn. Fasting could be one way to eat less, but at an expense of not listening to our bodies. The draw may be a way that some people find easier than the more common "eat smaller meals" approach.
In summary, although intermittent fasting is a viable strategy to slim down, any approach that overrides our natural hunger and fullness poses risks for disordered eating and unhealthy eating habits.