What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting – periods of voluntary abstinence from food and drink – is a broad term that can be applied to many different practices. This type of dieting has spurred many books and received a lot of attention in the last few years since studies (mostly in animals) have shown that it may reduce the risk for several diseases as well as promote weight loss. Additional research, including a small study of four fasting people published in Scientific Reports in 2019, suggests that intermittent fasting may also help boost metabolism.
The most popular approach to intermittent fasting is the 16/8 approach, which requires fasting for 16 hours a day; you’d eat between, say, 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Another version, alternate-day fasting (ADF), alternates 24-hour periods of fasting (which are actually very restricted 500-calorie diets) with days of eating freely. The 5:2 approach limits fasting to just two days a week, while the Warrior Diet follows a 20-hour fast with one large meal consumed at night. “Part of the confusion with intermittent fasting lies in the lack of a definition,” says Robin Foroutan, RDN, a New York City-based registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “To some people, intermittent fasting means that they fast every day, while to others it means they only eat between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.” (Here’s everything you need to know about the Warrior Diet.)
Intermittent fasting may be easier than traditional diets
Research suggests that counting kilojoules and limiting your food options can cause stress and increase cortisol production, which can subsequently lead to abandonment of the diet, feelings of deprivation, uncontrolled cravings, and weight regain. Adapting to intermittent fasting, a method of scheduled eating and fasting, relies strictly on time. Some people want more flexibility when it comes to losing weight, says William Yancy Jr, MD. “They don’t want to think about dieting every day of the week, [and] they lose motivation after a certain period of time of restricting kilojoules.” Intermittent fasting works for people who like to follow rules, explains Elisabetta Politi, RD. “Rather than saying, ‘Just eat less,’ we tell them not to eat after 6pm,” she says, “and for those who have the discipline, it works.”
Intermittent fasting helps you keep the weight off over the long term
Following an intermittent-fasting diet may make it easier to maintain the weight you lost over the long term. A two-part study of 40 obese adults, published in Frontiers in Physiology in 2016, compared the combined effects of a high-protein, low-kilojoule, intermittent-fasting diet plan with a traditional heart-healthy diet plan. The results showed that while both diets proved to be equally successful in reductions in body mass index (BMI) and blood lipids (fatty acids and cholesterol), those on the intermittent-fasting diet showed an advantage in minimising weight regain after one year.