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The term “intermittent fasting” might call to mind torturous visions of going without food for lengthy periods while on a spiritual quest. However, this meal plan won’t require you to do anything extreme. Instead, you adopt a style of eating that was probably more common among our primitive ancestors.
Proponents of this eating pattern claim various benefits. Are there any drawbacks? Here are the pros and cons of intermittent fasting — can it help you lose weight?
Early humans didn’t always eat three meals a day plus snacks. Mark Mattson, Ph.D. and professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, states there’s no scientific reason to do so. Many of the diseases of modern life, such as Type 2 diabetes, may stem from clinging to this model.
Conversely, early humans probably ate one or two meals a day, sticking to something closer to a 16:8 intermittent fasting plan. Mattson questions the idea that people often went days without food with no negative health effects. However, they would restrict eating while involved in other activities — like hunting down a water buffalo.
Studies on intermittent fasting reveal the following potential benefits to dining more like a caveman:
The National Institutes of Health recently did a systematic review of 41 articles on 27 separate studies regarding intermittent fasting and weight loss. All 27 intermittent fasting trials resulted in weight loss. Furthermore, participants experienced no adverse effects.
That’s pretty powerful testimony that this method works. You can use various techniques to reach this goal. One of the most popular is the 16:8 method, where you eat as you wish for eight hours each day, fasting for 16. Other options include the 6:1 plan, where you fast one day per week, and alternate-day fasting, where you eat normally one day, then restrict your caloric intake to 500 calories or less on opposing days.
Are you one of the 88 million Americans living with a prediabetic condition? Letting it advance to the Type 2 form of the disease increases your heart and kidney disease risks. You might want to restrict your eating to eight hours each day.
Why? Researchers at the University of Alabama investigated two groups of obese men with prediabetes. Both groups maintained their weight, but one restricted their eating to eight hours while the others munched over 12. After five weeks, those who dined within an 8-hour window had dramatically lowered insulin levels and significantly improved sensitivity to the hormone.
That’s good news. You don’t necessarily have to change what you eat — only when. Of course, combining a 16:8 intermittent fasting plan with a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins is even better.
Who wants to measure and weigh their meals? Many Americans don’t even have time to cook, let alone do all the work that many popular diet plans entail.
Intermittent fasting doesn’t restrict what you eat — only the time window in which you consume it. Therefore, it’s easy to follow. Set a timer on your phone and viola.
Intermittent fasting offers some impressive benefits, and you might be chomping at the bit to get started. However, you should recognize these potential cons before you begin.
Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar can lead to adverse effects like dizziness, shakiness and nausea. You’re more at risk to experience this condition if you have already progressed to diabetes, have the Type 1 form of the disease or frequently work long hours or burn the midnight oil.
You can minimize blood sugar swings by eating a combination of lean protein and fiber-rich foods. Protein takes longer to digest. Fiber creates a feeling of fullness in your intestines, releasing glucose into your bloodstream more slowly.
Eating together as a family has multiple benefits. However, you could run into trouble if you wake up early for work and start your day with breakfast. Your supper hour could fall outside of your dining hours.
The solution? Alter your eating patterns to have your first meal a bit later in the day. Furthermore, you don’t have to break bread together every day — maybe you can institute a ritual weekend brunch with your clan.
If you’re like many Americans, you probably don’t go too long between meals and snacks. Therefore, you might experience a bit of shock when you begin intermittent fasting.
Use mindfulness to work through this stage. You might need to snack if you experience symptoms of hypoglycemia. Otherwise, ask yourself if you’re truly hungry or merely snacking out of habit. For example, you might always keep a bag of chips near you while you work. Find something else to occupy your hands and mouth, perhaps chewing on a toothpick, until you overcome your formerly mindless grazing.
Another pro-tip: keep a water bottle near you. Many people mistake thirst for hunger — sipping more frequently could ease any pangs you feel.
This method of eating offers multiple benefits, but it does have a few drawbacks. Now that you know the pros and cons of intermittent fasting, is this style of eating for you?