Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular ways of eating at the moment, most often used for weight loss but reportedly having many other health benefits too.
So what is it?
Intermittent fasting is described as an eating pattern that cycles between eating and fasting. This can be done in many different ways; however, the focus is always on when you are eating rather than what you are eating.
Although there are many others, the three most popular methods are:
- The 16/8 method: This involves not eating breakfast and then only eating during an 8-hour period during the day – then following this with fasting for 16 hours. It could be that you start your 8-hour eating window earlier however and then not eat dinner – depending on what works best around your daily routine.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: This involves doing a 24-hour fast, one or two days of the week and eating normally for the rest of the week.
- 5:2 method: This involves reducing your calorie intake to 500 or 600 per day for 2 days of the week (non-consecutive) and eating normally for the rest of the week.
So does it work and is it good for me?
Usually, the result of trying any of the intermittent fasting methods is a reduction in calories which can lead to weight loss. Hormones such as insulin can be reduced leading to an increased metabolic rate. A positive effect on muscle mass has also been seen in studies as growth hormone levels increase. It is, of course, important to be able to control what you are eating during your eating periods. If you end up bingeing on high calorie foods during these times, the desired effects might not be experienced.
In terms of health benefits, many small studies, some only on animals, have shown some promising results, for example anti-ageing, improved brain and heart health, and a reduction in inflammation.
As with all approaches to eating, it is certainly not for everyone. Some who try it find it works well for them and they experience many of the associated benefits but anybody with a history of eating disorders or those who are underweight should avoid fasting and anyone with medical conditions should consult a health professional before attempting this approach.
Intermittent fasting is much more about when you eat as opposed to what you are eating and rather than just focussing on creating a calorie deficit it also allows more time to digest food which can be an effective way to lose weight - if that is your goal. Those who have trouble with fitting eating well into their daily schedule may find it a useful method to try, although it does tend to involve some planning and the ability to stick with it in the long run – not seeing it as a diet but a lifestyle change.
Disclaimer: The content of this page is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.