Intermittent Fasting Is it Really Beneficial for Weight Loss?
A promising area of nutritional research involves the topic of meal-timing. This principle explains how the time of day in which a person might consume food can affect their overall metabolism. Intermittent fasting is a topic within this “meal-timing” mindset, but rather focuses on a plan that switches between “fasting” and eating on a regular schedule.
Recent research has revealed the potential of intermittent fasting as a tool for weight management and even the prevention of disease. However, what researchers are trying to determine is whether or not it is the timing of our meals that is leading to the slowed uptake of nutrients and rise of several negative health effects or just the overall poor eating habits of our population.
Can incorporating intermittent fasting into our daily routines really make a difference for our health, or should the focus be less on “fasting” and more on regulating the timing of our meals?
Why our meal timing can be disrupted?
The body is regulated by an inner circadian rhythm, which is basically the body’s internal clock that maintains the schedule. This rhythm keeps the peace in organs such as the liver, where the genes of the internal clock are regulated by nutrients and controlled by the central clock in the brain. Therefore, an irregular eating schedule or poor diet may have serious, lasting effects on our overall health.
As today’s population becomes less active and more glued to technology, this can also play a big part in the disruption of our circadian rhythm and eating patterns. With the internet, TV and other entertainment available 24/7, many of us stay up all night to watch Netflix, scroll through social media, play games and Facetime with our friends/family. That can mean sitting and snacking all day and into the night.
The extra calories and decreased activity leads to a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other metabolic diseases. Therefore, this exploration of intermittent fasting is of great interest if it has the capability to reverse these health trends.
How does intermittent fasting work?
Intermittent fasting works by prolonging the period when your body has burned through the calories consumed during your last meal to begin burning fat, however this may not be a practical weight loss/management method for everyone.
Types of intermittent fasting.
The daily approach of intermittent fasting calls for fasting for 16 hours a day, leaving an eating window of 8 hours, otherwise known as the 16:8 method or the Leangains diet. During the 16:8 diet, males fast for 16 hours each day, and females fast for 14 hours. On this fast, people usually finish their evening meal by 8 p.m. and then skip breakfast the next day, not eating again until noon.
Although some people find it easy to stick with this pattern over the long term, one research study found that limiting your daily time window of eating does not prevent weight gain over time or yield significant weight loss results.
There are several other methods of intermittent fasting, but the bottomline is that longer periods without food, such as 24-, 36-, 48- and 72-hour fasting periods, are not necessarily better for you, and may in fact be dangerous. Going too long without eating encourages the body to start storing more fat in response to starvation.
What we don’t want to happen with intermittent fasting.
What we do not like about intermittent fasting is the mindset that you can eat whatever and however much you would like during the “eating” period. Having this mindset will in fact have the opposite effect of what you are likely trying to achieve using this method.
During your eating periods, “eating normally” does not mean going crazy. You will not lose weight or get healthier if you are stuffing yourself with high-calorie, super-sized fried items, and sugary sweets. Instead, we should be fueling our bodies with nutrient-dense food that is not only satisfying, but will also support good health. These foods include fruits, leafy greens, healthy fats, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains.
We also do not want you to get into a protein deficit thus promoting muscle mass loss. When you lose muscle mass your metabolism goes down, thus burning fewer calories. It also is difficult to regain that muscle mass. While intermittent fasting, you will most likely be in a protein deficit. Even if you get all of your protein needs in at one meal, your body can not utilize all of the amino acids at one time. Dr. Peter Attia, longevity doctor, recommends if you are going to intermittent fast to take in two purely protein snacks outside of your feeding window so that you can hit your protein needs.
What we recommend if you are curious about trying intermittent fasting is starting off with a 12-hour fasting window (as the majority of these hours are spent sleeping). For example, you could choose to fast between 7 pm and 7 am, meaning you would need to finish your dinner before 7 pm and wait until 7 am to eat breakfast, but you will be asleep for much of the time in between. This puts the focus on getting back to our body’s innate circadian rhythm and less on restriction. You will be eating when your body is burning calories and needs to be fueled and fasting when your body is resting and your metabolic rate is lower.
Fasting for 10–16 hours can cause the body to turn its fat stores into energy which helps encourage weight loss. By straying away from late-night snacking and sedentary lifestyle, we can make large strides in our health and wellness journey. Being consistent with healthy food choices and exercise goals, along with getting plenty of sleep can be the most beneficial form of “meal-timing”, as it works to create long-term healthy habits.
All in all, if a narrow eating window helps you lose or not gain weight, go for it. However, a healthy mindset and reachable goals are necessary to approach this method the right way. When it comes to losing weight, how much food you eat and the type of food you eat likely matters more than the timing of your meals.
Erika Richter, MS