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Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting has been getting a lot of attention lately on social media and the news. Some of the suggested benefits include weight loss, improved metabolism, increased energy levels, and fat loss. Are these benefits accurate? What is the research behind intermittent fasting? Let’s explore this trend together!

Fasting is nothing new to humanity! People have been fasting for centuries. Some fast due to religious or cultural reasons, others may fast because of a famine. Some also fast to lose weight and/or improve their health.

Fasting can be done in a variety of ways, and the definitions of fasting seem to change depending on who you ask.

Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that focuses on when you eat, rather than on what you eat. Essentially, it is a cycle of periods of eating and periods of fasting over a certain period of time. Some intermittent fasters may fast for 12-16 hours per day and eat only within a 8-12 hour window. Other intermittent fasters may fast for 24 hours, 1-3 days per week, and eat normally on the other days of the week. Fasting can mean not eating or drinking any calories, or it can mean consuming very few calories (i.e. 500-600 calories per day).

On the other hand of the dieting spectrum, we have caloric restriction. This involves a restriction of total calories per day.

Interestingly, there is no evidence to suggest that intermittent fasting is any more or less effective than other calorie-restricted diets on weight loss or metabolic health markers such as blood glucose, cholesterol, and insulin levels. There is also insufficient data on the effects of intermittent fasting on sleep and physical activity, which are other important health markers. Interestingly, there is some evidence that skipping breakfast is associated with a higher body mass index (BMI), higher LDL-cholesterol, and increased insulin resistance. But this evidence is limited and the mechanism between skipping breakfasts and these results remains unclear.

At the end of the day, there are very few diets that have overwhelming, conclusive evidence for their efficacy on weight management and/or improving health - and intermittent fasting is no exception. Current evidence is very limited and conflicting, so more in-depth and long term research is definitely warranted.

As with all diets, questions arise…

Is it sustainable long term?

As with any restrictive diet, intermittent fasting takes a lot of work and planning, and may not be suitable for your lifestyle. Think of whether or not this pattern would be practical for you, with the possibility of intense hunger on fasting days. Restrictive diets often provide short term results (e.g. in terms of weight loss) but aren’t sustainable long term, which can often result in regain of the weight initially lost (and sometimes even gaining more weight than where you started!). Realistic, sustainable, long-term changes often involve making small modifications to your diet and lifestyle over time.

Is it healthy?

Health is so much more than weight! Mental health, physical health, emotional health, and social health are all equally important. From a nutritional perspective, the fact that intermittent fasting doesn’t examine what you eat (just when you eat it), makes us weary. At the end of the day, your body still needs adequate macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) and micronutrient