The start of a new year can mean a second chance, and you’re ready. This year, you’ll exercise regularly, cut the curse words, lose a few pounds and just feel better overall. You’ve heard about intermittent fasting and you’re intrigued. But is it right for you?
Intermittent fasting is trendy and has actually been around long enough to have serious consideration in the health world. Supporters of fasting say the benefits are boundless — weight loss, increased energy levels, reduced inflammation and lowered insulin levels are just a few, and it may be just the kickstart you need to get this year off on the right foot.
As unappealing as abstaining from food can sound, fasting can be quite simple. Basically, it is cycling between periods of eating and periods of fasting. It’s not so much about the food that is consumed as it is when the food is eaten. Most people already “fast” every day — while they sleep. Intermittent fasting can be as simple as extending that fast a little longer.
Janet Schmidt, owner of Blue Bike Fitness in south Kansas City, says fasting was beneficial in a recent challenge she offered at her gym. “It worked for most of our participants to some degree, with the best results for those doing a sixteen-hour fast to eight-hour eating window,” she says. ”Having a defined time in the day to eat forced them to plan ahead and, more importantly, stop eating by a specific time in the evening rather than grazing until bedtime.”
Benefits and downfalls
Intermittent fasting’s claimed benefits include weight loss, increased focus, lowered chances for certain diseases and relief of chronic inflammation. “Many inflammatory diseases start in the gut,” says registered dietician Nicole Wampler. “By giving the gut extended periods of time without food, it allows the cells time to recover and rest.”
Even more exciting might be that fasting has also been linked to an increase in lifespan. The National Institute on Aging recently conducted an animal trial where rats that fasted every other day lived eighty-three percent longer than those that did not.
As easy as it sounds, this lifestyle is not for everyone. In a Journal of the American Medical Association trial in 2017, one hundred overweight people were placed on an intermittent fasting plan. Thirty-eight percent dropped out before the twelve-month study ended, leading experts to believe it’s more difficult to stick with long term. Fasting can also lead to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, which may lead to even more food cravings or falling off the wagon.
Is fasting for you?
Both Wampler and Schmidt agree that fasting is not a “one size fits all” diet. “Intermittent fasting can be very beneficial for some people if it fits their lifestyle,” Wampler says. And, Schmidt adds, “You have to consider your overall relationship with food and whether fasting will trigger a binge or unhealthy ‘reward-oriented’ food choices that may slow your progress.”
Should you feel fasting could fit your lifestyle, talk to your doctor first and go from there. Some people may find help from an experienced coach or nutritionist while others may be ready to get a jump start on their own.