Intermittent Fasting: What You Need to Know

By Jacquelyn Buffo, MS, LPC, CAADC

February 26, 2021

Intermittent Fasting

It seems that the world of dieting is always changing, and a new trend is always emerging. Paleo, Atkins, and keto are some of the common diet trends that have been around for several years and reference specific diets that aim to help you lose weight. Intermittent fasting (IF), despite it being around for hundreds of years, is gaining more attention in the weight loss and medical world today.

IF is different than the above-mentioned diets because it focuses on when you eat and not so much on what to eat. Today, we are going to take a look at what IF is, what the potential benefits and downfalls are, and how to effectively incorporate IF into your lifestyle.

Intermittent Fasting and the Human Species

Research suggests that the human race was biologically designed to go extended periods of time (hours and even days) without eating. During prehistoric times, before farms were created, humans who hunted and gathered their food not only survived but thrived without food for an extended period of time. As society has evolved, food portions have grown, electronics support more sedentary lifestyles, and high-fat/high-sugar diets are the quick and easy alternative to nutrient-rich foods. Consequently, we have found it harder to maintain a healthy weight. An increase in caloric intake and a reduction in physical exercise have made us more susceptible to acquiring various diseases.

Beyond Weight Loss

Studies show that intermittent fasting can help you lose weight, but that isn’t the only benefit of the practice. When our bodies are in a fasting state, they go through a change on the cellular level, which has been shown to reduce inflammation, increase metabolism, lower blood sugar, reduce arthritic pain, improve brain function, reduce asthma symptoms, and even reduce the risk of acquiring cancer.

How Does IF Work?

The idea behind intermittent fasting is that you consume calories only during a specific time period, which can vary depending on the person. You can practice intermittent fasting in a variety of ways, such as alternate-day fasting (alternative eating and fasting days), modified fasting regimes (consuming 20-25% of calories on two nonconsecutive fasting days a week), and time-restricted feedings (allowing calorie consumption within a certain window throughout the day). For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on the simplest form of fasting, which is time-restricted feeding.

The most common fasting times are 12 and 16 hours. For many people, starting with a 12-hour fast is the easiest and most approachable as your body learns to adjust to less caloric intake. Choose a 12-hour time period in which you allow yourself to consume calories, such as 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Your fasting time can be modified as you learn more about IF and become adjusted to the process.

Tips for Effective Fasting

When you fast, it is important to be aware of the foods you are consuming. Because you are fasting does not mean you should head for the box of cookies, consume a pepperoni pizza, or drink a 2-liter of soda during your 12 hours of eating time. If improving your health and losing weight are your goals, aim for nutrient-rich foods that are high in protein, including lean meats, as well as fruits and vegetables. Also, drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Research suggests that to make the most of IF, you should aim to:

  • Eat a balanced diet of healthy fats, lean protein, minimal sugar, smart carbohydrates, fruits, and veggies.
  • Eat minimally processed foods.
  • Create colorful, healthy meals you enjoy.
  • Eat with awareness—that is, slowly and mindfully—to experience as much satisfaction as possible.

Are There Negatives to IF?

IF is not for everyone, and certain groups of people should avoid implementing IF to their lifestyle. For example, individuals who are pregnant or breastfeeding, have brittle diabetes, or who have a history of eating disorders should talk to a doctor or medical professional before starting an IF protocol. While more research is needed, it is possible that fasting can increase the likelihood of developing an eating disorder, particularly binge-eating behavior. More specifically, early studies suggest that fasting with the goal of weight loss is a future predictor for bulimia and binge-eating behavior.

How to Get Started

If you are thinking about incorporating IF into your lifestyle, talk to your doctor or a medical professional, especially if you are concerned about underlying medical issues. A doctor can help answer any lingering questions you may have about the process and help you determine whether IF is appropriate for you. Get as much information as you can before trying IF and start slow. Trying something new can be difficult, and patience is key.

Jacquelyn Buffo is a licensed professional counselor with experience and expertise in substance abuse and mental health issues. She received her MS in mental health counseling from Capella University and is a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the state of Michigan. She is also in the process of receiving her certification in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Jacquelyn has experience working with clients suffering from addiction and mental health issues on an in-home, residential, and outpatient basis. Currently, she works with adolescents and adults with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder through Henry Ford Health System.

Resources:

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/intermittent-fasting-what-is-it-and-how-does-it-work

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4516560/

https://health.usnews.com/wellness/food/articles/intermittent-fasting-foods-to-eat-and-avoid

https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/wellness-prevention/intermittent-fasting-it-right-for-you

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2850570/

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