Breaking Down Intermittent Fasting

Quieting a  rumbling stomach with a cool glass of water is the “so-called” self-control you need to lose a few pounds and stay healthy… or is it? Intermittent fasting (IF) is gaining popularity in the health and fitness industry by suggesting that scheduled fasting–not what you naturally do while asleep or in between meals–can speed up weight loss and decrease your risk of chronic disease; but  research supporting and refuting these claims is still controversial. 

What is it? 

Intermittent fasting is technically characterized by 12 to36 hours of complete fasting (no food) with the allowance of low-calorie beverages such as black coffee, tea, and even diet soda. 

How does it work? 

When you go for a long period without eating you naturally find yourself eating less calories than you normally would because you’re  skipping meals. This makes for less opportunities to get in all the calories you normally consume in a day which leads to overall decreased calorie intake (aka weight loss). However, sometimes it’s easy to overeat during  times you’re not fasting and ultimately you could be consuming the same amount of calories or more than if you were eating regularly. But if you manage to consume less calories overall by IF, then you’re likely to experience weight loss. Plus, when your overall caloric intake is low, you  reduce the risk of chronic diseases like obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Another way  IF can reduce your risk of diabetes is by keeping your hormones working correctly. When the body is fasting is does not release a hormone called insulin. Insulin is mainly released in the body when you consume and break down carbohydrates into glucose to take that glucose into the cells.  If we eat too many unhealthy carbohydrates too often it begins to make us less sensitive to insulin, meaning it no longer works as well as it should. What does this mean? Fasting is one way to avoid eating too many unhealthy carbohydrates and thus helps keep our insulin working correctly. When insulin levels are stable and the hormone is working correctly, your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity are greatly reduced. However, that doesn’t mean fasting is the only way to keep insulin working well in the body. Eating high fiber foods and balancing your meals with lean proteins and healthy fats also keeps insulin levels regulated.  

So should I try it? 

If you’re not someone who is already struggling with insulin or glucose issues, IF may be worth a try. Keep in mind that  many diets may not work for everyone. Some studies even suggest that IF is not as effective in women because they are more sensitive to hormone imbalances. If you are taking any prescribed medications or supplements, speak with your primary care doctor before trying IF as some medications require taking doses with food. When trying a new diet approach, always keep a food log to write down how you’re feeling during and after meal times to see how new changes affect your mood and energy levels. 

Lindsey Gass

Lindsey Gass, RD, LD/N is a registered dietitian in Miami, FL. With a bachelor’s degree from Florida International University, Lindsey has years of experience in clinical, sports, long term care, and community nutrition. Lindsey currently works in critical care at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where she provides nutrition support and participates in trauma research. Outside of her career, Lindsey is an avid runner and Nike run club pacer working towards qualifying for a Boston marathon. Follow Lindsey on Instagram at @lin.health for nutrition tips and tricks. Learn more about Youfit’s Registered Dietician