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A woman drinking a glass of water, as staying hydrated helps with intermittent fasting.

October 14, 2020 • read

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Intermittent fasting — what is it and does it work?

Fasting dates back thousands of years. In North America, intermittent fasting has become a popular way to achieve weight loss. 

There’s an important caveat to keep in mind with intermittent fasting — it’s a novelty weight loss method. There isn’t enough research to confirm whether intermittent fasting really provides the biological and weight loss benefits some proponents claim. If you hear any testimonies about intermittent fasting that sound too good to be true, be skeptical. At the end of the day, intermittent fasting is a technique that helps some people control their cravings and eating patterns. It’s not a magic solution to achieving your goal weight in record time. 

Here’s a look at the science behind intermittent fasting, and whether or not it might be right for you.

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you only consume food during certain hours of the day. During the hours designated for eating, you’re not necessarily on any special diet. The most important part of the technique is when you eat, not what you eat. That said, choosing healthier foods in combination with intermittent fasting could accelerate weight loss.

Some popular intermittent fasting cycles include:

  • 16:8 fasting. For 16 hours you don’t consume any calories. For the remaining eight hours, you can enjoy the foods you like.
  • The eat-stop-eat method. With this technique, you fast for 24 hours once or twice each week. Lots of people stop eating after dinner on day one, and not eat until dinner the next day.
  • Twice-weekly fasting. Also called the 5:2 diet, this approach involves restricting your calorie intake to around 600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week. Healthy eating is encouraged the other days of the week.

Time spent sleeping counts towards your fasting hours. When you’re fasting you can drink water and non-caffeinated tea. In fact, you should drink lots of it. It’ll help you feel full if you get a hunger pang, and prevent you from getting dehydrated.

Does intermittent fasting really work?

If weight loss is your goal, intermittent fasting is a technique with mixed results. The fat on your body serves as an energy reserve. When you eat less and consume fewer calories, your body taps into stored energy and burns fat to get you through the day. 

Intermittent fasting also has potential positive effects outside of weight loss. These may include:

Reducing inflammation

Fasting reduces the release of cells called monocytes into the bloodstream. Monocytes are immune cells that can cause tissue damage that results in swelling. Their release is triggered by certain foods, so eating less and choosing healthy options helps regulate their production. Chronic inflammation contributes to a host of health challenges, like arthritis, asthma, eczema, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.

Diabetes prevention

When we eat, insulin is a hormone that’s released into the bloodstream to help control our blood glucose levels. If your blood glucose is high over long periods, you’re at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Intermittent fasting encourages your body to burn up sugars stored as glycogen. That way your body relies less on insulin to maintain proper blood glucose levels. 

Increased production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH)

HGH triggers cell stimulation and growth, helping you to build muscle and slow the physical signs of aging. When your body fat decreases, HGH production increases. 

Improved sleep

Getting satisfying, deep sleep can be impacted by what you eat and when you eat it. High amounts of sugar or carbohydrates before bed will stimulate your system and make it hard for you to get proper rest. When you practice intermittent fasting, you build yourself an eating schedule. Having structure in your day around food could prevent you from eating later into the evening. 

Is intermittent fasting for you?

While there are some advantages to intermittent fasting, it isn’t recommended for everyone. If any of the following scenarios describe you, talk to your doctor before diving into intermittent fasting.

  • You’re diabetic. Intermittent fasting helps with insulin control for those with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. But if you’re taking insulin already, fasting can bring your blood sugars levels too low. This could leave you feeling faint, lightheaded, and shaky. In some cases, people faint or even slip into a coma.
  • You’re underweight. If you’re underweight, your body may not have enough fat stored to withstand long periods without food. Getting the recommended number of calories every day is essential for people who struggle to gain weight.
  • You’re pregnant or breastfeeding. During pregnancy, you already experience a natural drop in blood pressure. This can make you feel lightheaded and prone to fainting. Fasting can have similar side effects because of the drop in blood glucose levels it causes.

Nobody has perfect eating habits, and treating yourself once is a while isn’t a bad thing. But, eating a mixture of healthy foods is important for ensuring you get enough nutrients. Even if you’re practicing intermittent fasting, a balanced diet will help support your health and well-being.

If you’re looking for tips on foods that keep your system running smoothly, our dieticians can help you get started.

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