Intermittent Fasting (IF) is an eating pattern which involves periods of eating and fasting. It does not prescribe the types of foods which should be eaten but rather when they should be eaten.
IF can mean anything from fasting for 4 hours after waking to going a whole 24 hour period without food. It is not a new method of dieting at all – in fact it goes back to ancient times. Hunter Gatherers, for example, did not know when their next meal would be, so naturally would often go for long periods of time without eating. Fasting is also a practice in some religions such as Islam and Christianity.
Humans have evolved to survive without food for extended periods of time; arguably it is more natural for us to eat sporadically rather than at set times throughout the day.
There are a few common methods which are used:
– 16:8 Diet – involves skipping breakfast and eating only during an 8 hour window.
– Eat Stop Eat – involves not eating for a 24 hour period once or twice per week and eating normally the rest of the time.
– 5:2 Diet – on two non-consecutive days eat 500-600 calories and normally for the rest of the week.
Out of the three the 16:8 method is the most common and easily adhered to, however there is no right way – the easiest may be simply to fast when it is convenient, like when you are not hungry.
So what are the benefits of adopting this way of eating in modern society?
1. FAT LOSS
The number one reason why most people choose this way of eating is to get leaner. Restricting food intake for any length of time can help to reduce caloric intake overall, provided we don’t go overboard during feeding times.
2. YOU CAN PRESERVE LEAN MUSCLE
If you are cutting down after a period of muscle building this method of producing a caloric deficit has been shown to preserve more muscle mass than other methods of dieting (source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21410865)
3. LESS TIME IN THE KITCHEN
As you are eating less meals overall less time is spent cooking and preparing food. Therefore maintaining a healthier lifestyle is made easier and more accessible.
So what’s not to love?
WOMEN SHOULD BE CAUTIOUS
While men can enjoy optimised hormone regulation and increased growth hormone, IF can cause women to have irregular menstrual cycles, and may even cause amenorrhea. Therefore women should keep a close eye on the side effects, and experiment with shorter and more irregular fasting periods.
AT THE END OF THE DAY
It’s about what works for you to get the results you want. If you try IF and it feels right, and you are on track towards your goals then definitely use it as a tactic for fat loss and overall diet-satisfaction.
However, if you find that going for long periods of time without food is making you cranky, ill, or just plain out of sorts then it is probably not for you. Ultimately, the best diet method is one you can stick to long term.