We are all guilty of trying out a fad diet at some point – whether it is a low carb, a high protein, extreme calorie restriction or even keto diet - most of us have done it. Unfortunately, it is easy to get stuck in the same guilt ridden, dieting pattern of losing the weight, followed by a gradual return of weight. It is important to realize that simple “dieting” does not work because the focus is often on temporary changes. In order to achieve sustainable results, the focus needs to be on implementing healthy, lifestyle changes.
Intermittent Fasting (IF) has become the biggest weight loss and lifestyle phenomenon, but what does it mean, how does it affect our bodies and how does it help with weight loss?
What is Intermittent Fasting?
The name intermittent fasting can be daunting – does this mean we are supposed to stop and starve ourselves? Simply put, no. In fact, for hundreds of years, fasting has actually been used for various things, including helping with treating certain medical conditions. In fact, our bodies are actually trained to go several hours at a time without food. So let’s break it down. We know that fasting means the voluntary absence of food, so intermittent fasting essentially means a cycled pattern between eating and not. It does not necessarily limit what we eat, but more when we eat.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Life is all about balance and the same applies for eating and fasting. When we eat something, insulin in our body rises and the food we eat is broken down into energy that can be used immediately, or stored for later. That’s where insulin comes in. Insulin spikes when we eat as a means to help store excess energy. When you overeat, your stores become full quickly, so in order to make more room, the stored carbohydrates are broken down into fat and transported throughout the body.
Alternatively, when the body is in a fasted state, insulin levels are low while human growth hormones (HGH) levels are high thus promoting the burning of the existing stores and leading to overall fat burn.
The 5 Methods of Intermittent Fasting
There are various methods of intermittent fasting. It is important to remember that one size does not fit all and that long term, you may want to alter how frequently you perform IF methods. It’s also important to talk to a physician before trying any of the common IF approaches below.
- The 16:8 Method: This is probably the most common method of IF whereby you restrict eating for a 16 hour period and you eat in an 8 hour window.
- The 18:6 Method: Similar to the 16:8 method above, but instead of fasting for 16 hours, you fast for 18 and eat for 6.
- The 5:2 Method: In this method, you eat your normal diet for 5 days a week and then for 2 days of the week, you limit calories to about 500 calories per day. It is often recommended that you alternate between your low calorie days and your normal days.
- The Warrior Diet or One Meal a Day (OMAD): This is exactly what it says – you fast for about 20 hours and eat one large meal daily.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: In this method, you perform a 24 hour fast once or twice a week.
What to Eat During Intermittent Fasting
Part of the weight loss benefit of intermittent fasting is overall restricted calories and hormonal changes which help promote further fat burn. It is important to still eat balanced meals during your eating window and not to overeat during these periods.
Liquids Allowed When Fasting
- black coffee (no cream, no sugar)
- green tea
- NO DIET sodas or artificial sweeteners during the fasting time as it can break your fast
Everything else you ingest could risk spiking your insulin and throwing you out of a fasted state.
Foods Allowed During Eating Window
- Limit refined sugars.
- Avoid starchy carbohydrates.
- Moderate your protein intake.
- Increase your natural fat intake.
- Incorporate more fiber and vinegar in your diet.
- Try to eat whole foods that will nourish you and keep you satiated for longer.
- It is also important to stay hydrated during this time!
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
There are several other benefits to IF that make it worthwhile to try:
- Weight Loss: Restricted calories and hormonal changes help promote further fat burn.
- Inflammation: Few studies have shown reductions in inflammatory markers throughout the body.
- Heart Disease: IF can help lower cholesterol levels in addition to improving insulin resistance, thereby lowering your risk of heart disease.
- Anti-Aging: Fasted states can alter gene expression and enhance autophagy (natural cleansing of our cells).
- Build up your Immune System: Fasting states can help make new white blood cells which is the backbone of the immune system.
5 Weight Loss Tips
Whether or not IF is right for you, following these weight loss tips can lead to an overall healthier lifestyle.
- Start keeping track of calories: MyFitnessPal or SparkPeople are free apps that can help you stay on track.
- You are what you drink: Be mindful of the beverages you are drinking! Alcohol, sodas and juices are filled with hidden calories that can be working against you.
- Knowledge is power: Meet with a trained nutritionist to discuss dietary modifications and a diet plan that works for you.
- Get moving! Whether it’s going for a bike ride or going out for a walk, staying active is key for burning calories and can help with heart health.
- Remember you have options: Medications that can aid in weight loss or bariatric surgery are options. Speak with your physician to discuss if you are a candidate for these.
And remember, weight loss is a marathon, and not a sprint. There will be bumps in the road, but it’s important to get right back on track! If you are going to try a new diet plan or make a lifestyle change through intermittent fasting, speak with your health care clinican/weight management specialist to help guide you on a path to a healthier you!
Be Strong, Be Healthy, Be In Charge!
Sabrina K. Sahni, MD, NCMP and Lynn M. Pattimakiel, MD
- Fung, Jason. The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss. Greystone Books, 2016.