Everyone seems to have their own perfect protocols for intermittent fasting (IF from here on) these days. There’s 5:2, 16:8, 24 hour fast and even 36 hour fasts. Some swear by even longer fasts by going to extremes with an occasional three day fast.
When you ignore all the fancy names and trademarks around IF protocols this is nothing revolutionary. The majority of us do a 12 hour fast on most days without putting much thought into it. How? By eating dinner at 7pm and “fasting” until breakfast at 7am.
But more research is emerging in support of the health benefits that come with an extended fast going longer than 12 hours.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting tends to lead to fat loss in a lot of people who follow a healthy, wholefoods eating plan at the same time. This is not necessarily surprising since physiologically, we know that fat loss happens when the energy intake is less than what the body needs. Simple calories in, versus calories out, scenario where the body needs to tap into the stored fat for extra energy.
The fat loss results from IF could purely be that people who eat fewer meals end up consuming less total calories than those who eat more often. It could be as simple as that.
So IF for fat loss is not magic. You will not lose weight when you IF for a day and then make up for those calories (and more) by eating tubs of ice cream and pizza the day after. Fat loss still comes down to energy balance. In the end, if your goal is fat loss what matters is how many total calories you eat. Whether you are doing IF or not.
For those who prefer to eat less often due to work, family and what not schedules, IF can make calorie control easier to manage. But for those who are used to eating a lot of smaller meals throughout the day it can make fat loss harder. In the end whatever fat loss strategy you choose, it has to align with your lifestyle and personality.
Other Health Benefits
Although the evidence is still limited, there seems to be some health benefits beyond just weight loss. IF can positively affect some health markers such as lowering LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation. IF can also help hunger management, blood sugar control and even cardiovascular function.
However, apparently some of these benefits may only come to play after extended fasts of 20-24 hours, or when performing exercise in a fasted state as this can mimic the benefits of an extended fast.
Evolutionary thinking, this is not a surprise since we didn’t evolve to eat all the time like we do in the modern world. We likely evolved to have big meals when we had food and long periods of fasting when we couldn’t find anything to gorge on.
Should you do intermittent fasting?
All in all, IF works. Especially when the goal is to lose weight or improve health markers. Provided that the eating and fasting patterns work with your lifestyle, and that you can tolerate longer periods of fasting.
Depending on the length of the fast you might experience headaches, dehydration and constipation. That’s why drinking plenty of water is crucial during IF, and it might help with some of the symptoms.
So far it sounds that everyone should be practicing longer periods of IF, right? Not quite.
Intermittent fasting is not for everyone…
Diabetics and those with poor blood sugar level control shouldn’t try IF except under medical supervision (in other words, a doctor, not a personal trainer or nutritionist).
And if you have had past episodes of eating disorders, are pregnant, under 18, or underweight IF is most likely not ideal for you. As a matter of fact it might be bad for your health.
Intermittent fasting is not a hall pass to eat everything in sight once you break the fast…
As already touched on, for things to work health wise you still want to adhere to a usual whole food diet.
Before even considering IF, I strongly recommend you get your food quality sorted first. If your diet is burgers, pizza, ice cream and soft drinks no IF approach is going to make you healthier for the long term. If you don’t have a healthy relationship with food IF might even turn you into a binge eater.
For pure fat loss a controlled calorie diet of any kind will work…
It comes down to your current health and personal preferences. Whether you do better with a lot of smaller meals or prefer eating large portions less frequently. For the wrong person, IF style can be challenging not only physically but also psychologically.
At best IF could provide the avenue for a sustainable and less time-consuming way to stay healthy. At worst it could ruin your happiness for being too restrictive. Do what works for you without sacrificing your happiness for it. IF is not the be all and end all. But rather just another tool in the box.
There are people with great physiques who follow IF and those who look just as good using the traditional eating patterns of multiple meals spread throughout the day.
In the end, the healthiest diet for you is the one that you can stick to.
You can follow ICON’s fitness expert, Jono Castano Acero on instagram @jonocastanoacero