We’ve all come to think that fasting is never a good thing. The idea of even skipping breakfast is usually frowned upon by many fitness buffs, let alone skip meals for the entire day. So then, why is Intermittent Fasting becoming the latest go-to tool for effective weight loss? Not only does research support its ability to reduce body weight, it has also been suggested that it could help with chronic conditions. Is there any truth to these claims? Or is intermittent fasting just another diet fad that’ll pass? Let’s find out.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is the practice of going on a fast for an extended period of time. The calorie intake during this period is limited by restricting the consumption of food and satiating hunger pangs by drinking plain water and either black or green tea. There are many variations of intermittent fasting that involve going on a fast for 16 hours, the entire day or every alternate day.
The basic goal of this diet too remains the same- take in less food for your body to burn to lose weight. Intermittent fasting works by severely limiting the intake of calories during certain days of the week or during specific hours in the day. It is also said that by putting your body through this pattern of fasting, it will help decrease appetite by slowing down the body’s metabolism. Dr. Frank Hu, chairperson of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H, says that “The 5:2 fasting diet has become quite popular in the weight loss circuit. The system involves eating normally for five days but restricting food intake to 500-600 calories on the two fasting days. Another variation calls for alternating fast days, during which you consume a quarter or less of your basic calorie requirement with subsequent feast days during which you can eat whatever you choose.”
Is It More Effective Than Other Diets?
Though there are a lot of adherents of intermittent fasting, the research evaluating the effect of this diet on weight loss has enrolled only a limited few. In one study conducted by the JAMA Internal Medicine 100 overweight individuals were assigned one of the three eating plans: restricting daily calorie intake (traditional diet plan), fasting on alternate days, and continuing to eat normally. At the end of the 12- month study it was found that both the diet groups had lost weight when compared to the normal eaters. However, there was no significant calorie reduction among the fasters as compared to the traditional calorie restrictive diet followers.
The Pros And Cons
The trial saw a high dropout rate of 38 percent amongst the people assigned to fasting. Dr. Hu says that this could be because as humans we want to reward ourselves for doing very tough tasks such as exercise or fasting. As a result, there is a very high tendency of people indulging in overeating following the fasting period. “Your appetite hormones and the hunger center in your brain go into overdrive when you are deprived of food resulting in this behaviour,” he adds.
But intermittent fasting may have a beneficial effect for some. Especially those that do not want to be bothered about calorie tracking and keeping tabs on their foods. For such people, says Kathy McManus director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard, the intermittent fasting diet becomes a way of developing a healthy eating pattern by simply restricting calories for long periods of time.
For many, the fascination with intermittent fasting is due to the research conducted with animals showing that fasting may reduce the risk of cancer and slow down the aging process. But this theory is entirely based on a hypothesis that claims fasting can activate cellular mechanisms that boost immune function and reduce inflammation associated with chronic disease. Dr. Hu says, “With intermittent fasting being effective in the reduction of fat in the body, this could, in fact, improve the person’s metabolic profile and lower their cardiovascular risk.” But there isnt a lot of scientific backing for this theory.
Who Should Avoid It
For people who suffer from diabetes, skipping meals and limiting calories can prove to be dangerous. Caution should always be maintained when experimenting with a new diet and one should make sure to discuss this with their doctor. People with hypertension or heart disease may also be more prone to electrolyte abnormalities arising from fasting.