Is Fasting Really Beneficial?
If you’re on the look out for ways to slim down, chances are, you’ve heard about intermittent fasting. IF—as it is known in the diet world—in basic terms means eating all your food allocation for the day in a shorter time frame.
“The most common form is limiting calorie intake to an eight-hour window a day,” says Aoo Felipe, MD, endocrinology fellow at East Avenue Medical Center. Say you have your first meal at 12 p.m., you can continue eating until your last meal at 8 p.m. The rest of the day, you consume only water.
Another popular version of IF is called the 5:2 Diet: two non-consecutive days of the week are reserved for strict calorie-counting (think consuming only 600 calories), while the other five days mean eating whatever you want, how much you want.
Over the recent years, IF has steadily gained a loyal following. Part of its appeal comes from its seemingly simple pattern for eating. The bigger draw comes from celebrity-backed testimonies. From Jimmy Kimmel’s 25-pound weight loss to Hugh Jackman’s ripped physique in 2013’s The Wolverine, more and more impressive body transformations are being credited to intermittent fasting.
The use of fat for energy is said to help preserve muscle and reduce cholesterol levels. The dissolving of fat is also believed to have a detoxification effect on the body.
Celeb makeovers aside, a number of studies also point to IF as an effective tool for both weight loss and better overall health. Here’s a quick rundown of the most commonly cited research:
1| A 2015 study in the journal Cell Metabolism says periodic fasting mimics multi-system regeneration. It also linked IF to lower risks of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and aging.
2| According to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, intermittent fasting can result to statistically satisfying weight loss.
3| A 2014 report from Medical News Today suggests that periodic fasting may reduce the risk of diabetes, particularly in people who are at a higher risk for the condition.
4| Another study from the University of Southern California says that longer periods of fasting may even reboot the immune system.
5| Other experts also claim to see improvement in blood pressure and cholesterol levels, insulin sensitivity, and even mental well-being—thanks in part to, you guessed it, intermittent fasting.
So just what exactly is the underlying reason for these reported benefits? “The basic premise is this: There’s a hierarchy in your body’s macronutrient consumption. Your body uses carbohydrates converted from the food you eat to power everything in your system. Once the body can no longer find carbohydrates, it turns to fats, which actually takes longer to use as energy,” explains Felipe. “That burning of fats leads to enhanced weight loss,” he adds.
IF proponents link this concept to the practice’s benefits. The use of fat for energy is said to help preserve muscle and reduce cholesterol levels. The dissolving of fat is also believed to have a detoxification effect on the body. Other experts also say that during a fast, your system tries to save energy, which may then lead to a regeneration of your immune cells.
Felipe, however, is quick to point out that intermittent fasting isn’t a magic cure-all. “In the perspective of weight loss, it definitely works when done right,” he says. “But there is no one-size fits-all approach to intermittent fasting. It has to be individualized, and it has to be supervised by a trained medical professional and a nutritionist. You can’t just read something on the Internet or watch a video on YouTube then apply whatever you think you’ve learned.”
While IF can jumpstart your decision to finally hit a healthy weight, “nothing still beats good old proper diet and adequate physical activity,” says Cusipag.
It also important to note that “researchers have mixed opinions about intermittent fasting’s benefits,” says Jerianne Cusipag, registered nutritionist-dietician. “Majority point out that more clinical studies need to be done, and done with more subjects,” she adds.
“Fasting can also have serious effects on others, particularly on those with chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease, or those taking medication for pre-existing conditions,” she says. And because it focuses on when to eat and not what to eat, a DIY fasting program more often than not, loses sight of proper nutrition. “Some people may also use that window for eating to go calorie-crazy, which of course, is counterproductive,” she adds.
The bottom line? While IF can jumpstart your decision to finally hit a healthy weight, “nothing still beats good old proper diet and adequate physical activity,” says Cusipag. “I suggest focusing on choosing healthy calories, eating more fruits and vegetables, and getting proper nutrients to meet your needs,” she adds.
If you’re still curious to practice IF, both Felipe and Cusipag emphasize the need to seek professional help to ensure that you’re eating the right types of food, both on and off the fast. “The challenge of sustaining a diet program is building the commitment to stick with it,” says Cusipag. “Consulting with the right experts will help you develop a system that makes sense for your lifestyle and will guarantee you stay in good health,” she adds.