To fast or not to fast?

By Calasandra Spray (TheLorian)

“I’m so hungry; I haven’t eaten since yesterday.” Sitting down to dinner with a friend, the relevance of intermittent fasting was quickly brought to my attention. Obesity is a major problem in the modern world. According to the CDC, obesity was prevalent in 42.4% of people in a 2017-2018 study. No wonder everybody is asking “how can I lose weight?” With gyms still closed and people quarantining, the fast diet has made a comeback. 

The untold truth behind the fast diet is that it doesn’t help you lose weight–at least not on its own. Many dieters will change the times of when they eat, switching from any time to a clock of 10:14 or 8:16, and they’ll eat during the early hours of the day and not the later. This in and of itself isn’t dangerous. People have been fasting for generations for myriad reasons including religion, non-violent protests, and health reform. 

But there is a danger that lies in not consuming enough of the nutrients that our bodies require for survival. Conversely, the causes of obesity, type-two diabetes, and cardiovascular disease can be linked to the overconsumption of food. Consuming less food, which is a byproduct of intermittent fasting, would reduce this excess. In theory. In practice, intermittent fasting requires a lot more care. Simply restricting food times does not produce the desired effects that most intermittent fasters want. When we under-eat, our bodies actually burn fewer calories in an effort to preserve nutrients and ensure physical strength. If under-eating becomes a theme, when food is reintroduced, the body learns to store calories, as it is defensively preparing for a future lack of calories. In addition to the body’s conservation of calories which impedes weight loss, side effects of fasting include dizziness, headaches, low blood sugar, muscle aches, muscle reduction, weakness, irritability, nausea, and fatigue. Furthermore, prolonged fasting and food obsession can lead to eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. 

A study done by JAMA Internal Medicine found that in a one-year trial participants whose diet was focused on quality and quantity had similar and even increased levels of weight loss when compared to those individuals who maintained a time-focused diet. The dieters who did not participate in intermittent fasting saw weight changes that were achieved much more sustainably. Eating healthier foods in sustainable amounts is much better for overall health as well as weight loss than simply cutting the hours during which one eats. It’s not always about how many calories you’re eating, but what kinds of calories. 

In a related study of obese persons with prediabetes conducted by the Annual Review of Nutrition, subjects participated in a form of fasting called early time-restricted feeding which is meant to stay in balance with humans’ circadian rhythms. Essentially, as we were designed to be asleep at night, the non-feeding times were centered around evening and night, in tune with our body’s natural rhythms. Half the subjects undertook an 8:16 diet while the other half a 12:12 diet. Both parties could eat beginning at 7 a.m. The first half stopped at 3 p.m. while the second continued eating until 7 p.m. While none of the participants lost any significant weight, the participants on the 8:16 diet showed improvement in insulin regulation as well as a reduced desire to eat after 3 p.m. 

Intermittent fasting can create a structured dietary pattern to reduce overeating. With changes to food type and not just time, intermittent fasting can be a sustainable and healthy diet. However, there are many dangers to think about when considering fasting and there are alternative ways to maintain a healthy diet. Instead of partaking in a pattern of deprivation, attempt to achieve healthy and sustainable eating habits by being mindful of what you eat but less concerned about when you eat. Optimal nutrition as well as exercise can be much more beneficial than deprivation for those seeking a healthier lifestyle. As always, check with a doctor about the best way for you to become healthier sustainably.  

Citations 

“Obesity Is A Common, Serious, And Costly Disease”. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html.

 John F. Trepanowski, Cynthia M. Kroeger, Adrienne Barnosky, Monica C. Klempel, Surabhi Bhutani, Kristin K. Hoddy, Kelsey Gabel, Sally Freels, Joseph Rigdon, Jennifer Rood, Eric Ravussin, Krista

A. Varady. Effect of Alternate-Day Fasting on Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, and Cardioprotection Among Metabolically Healthy Obese Adults A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med.

2017;177(7):930–938. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.0936

Patterson, Ruth E., and Dorothy D. Sears. “Metabolic Effects Of Intermittent Fasting”. Annual Reviews, 2020, https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-nutr-071816-064634?rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed&url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&journalCode=nutr.

Rachel Malcangi, R.D. “Why Intermittent Fasting Often Backfires, Leading To Longer-Term Weight Gain”. Blog.Medisys.Ca, 2020, https://blog.medisys.ca/to-fast-or-not-to-fast-that-is-the-question.
Stockman, Mary-Cathrine et al. Intermittent Fasting: Is The Wait Worth The Weight?. US National Library Of Medicine National Institutes Of Health Search Database, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5959807/. Accessed 26 Sept 2020.

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