If you’ve been trying to lose body fat then you have probably come across information regarding Intermittent Fasting (IF). IF is nothing new and has been performed for thousands of years in many different cultures (Yom Kippur for Jews, Ramadan for Muslims, Lent for Christians, and so on). While the origin of IF stems from religion it has taken on a whole new purpose…fat loss.
We’ll get into the details of how to perform an IF diet but, first, we need to ask ourselves the question, “Does IF work?” IF diets have been studied for over a century with the most intensive studies conducted in the last 20 years. The short answer is ‘yes’ IF diets do work for fat loss but that’s just the beginning. IF diets have shown to
- Improve insulin sensitivity (prevention of Diabetes)
- Increased lipid (fat) metabolism
- Decreased inflammation
- Cardiac disease prevention
- Lowering LDL cholesterol levels
- Raising HDL cholesterol levels
- Improve brain function
- Increase growth hormone (GH) production by 5-fold (great for muscle building!)
- Cognitive function
- Cancer prevention and treatment (at least in animals)
After reading the list above you’re probably thinking, “I’m going to get on this right away!” Not so fast buddy. While many people may try an IF diet it’s easiest to list the individual’s who should NOT follow an IF program. You should not, I repeat, should NOT, perform a fasting diet if you are
- An athlete (amateur or professional)
- Pregnant or may become pregnant in the near future
- Under the age of 20
- Under weight
- Have or have had an eating disorder
- On certain medications such as beta-blockers
What about a very large portion of our population with Type II Diabetes? While the studies show significant health benefits of IF diets for individuals with Type II Diabetes these studies were conducted in a VERY controlled environment with extensive detail to insulin medications and diet. DO NOT try an IF diet if you are diabetic before consulting with your primary care physician. Regulating your insulin levels and eating a healthy diet should be priority over an IF diet until your doctor gives you permission.
Now, if you are interested in trying an IF diet then you need to ensure you are currently following a healthy diet and have a regular eating schedule. This will make it much easier to adjust to an IF diet. If you don’t then an IF diet will most likely not work for you. Next, we need to look at which IF method is best for you. The two most common forms of IF are the 5:2 and 8:16 methods. The 5:2 method calls for an individual to pick 2 days during the week where they will fast for a 24-h period (preferably NOT back-to-back days). The remaining 5 days are meant to follow a standard healthy diet with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The 8:16 system, the more popular option, focuses on daily fasting (16-h) followed by healthy eating (8-h). For example, eating your first meal at 12pm, second meal at 4pm, and last meal around 8pm). During your ‘fasting’ period you may consume water, tea, and coffee (without sweeteners or creamers) but no food in any form.
I have dabbled with the 8:16 method and I did notice some positive changes in my body composition. More importantly, I noticed my ability to think and function was much better through the morning hours when I fasted (just 1 cup of coffee with coconut oil and I was a rockstar!). My suggestion is to stay with your current diet and make the adjustment to the 8:16 or 5:2 IF method. You don’t have to be perfect but give it a try for 1-2 weeks and be aware of your physical and mental state. Do you feel tired/hungry/alert? If it doesn’t work it doesn’t work. Nutrition is simple but we’ve made things complicated (IF is a perfect example of that) but it’s worth giving it a try if nothing else has worked.
Last but not least, if you are not following a diet high in lean protein, mountains of vegetables, and healthy fats NO DIET method will work for you. Simple. Point. Blank. Period.