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Should You Try Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss and Better Health? 

Alarm clock and coffee cup with saucer.

Surprise! You fast every day.

Are you tired of restrictive diets that you can’t stick with? Wondering if you should try intermittent fasting for weight loss and better health? Read on to weigh the pros and cons.


Read: Why eating less at night may be good for your heart


What is Intermittent Fasting?

Fasting is going without food. While that may sound drastic, consider that you fast every day while you’re asleep and between meals!

Intermittent fasting (IF) limits when you eat, not what you eat. IF is not a diet. It’s an eating pattern without the calorie-counting. 

There are several types of IF, including:

• Fasting every other day of the week.  

• The 5:2 plan: Eat as usual on five days of the week. Limit calories to 25% of your needs (for example, 500 calories on a 2000-calorie a day eating plan) on two non-consecutive days, such as Monday and Thursday.

• Time-Restricted Eating (TRE) limits food intake for at least 12 hours, and for as long as 20 hours, every day.  For example, you can choose to eat all your food from 10 AM to 6 PM, or during any other time frame that works for you.

Researchs suggests intermittent fasting for weight loss and better health is promising. TRE is the least restrictive and most adaptable form of IF, and it makes the most sense for people with a busy lifestyle. However, no type of IF is suitable for children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with eating disorders, and some people with diabetes.


 Read: An RD’s experience with intermittent fasting


Grilled salmon with sauce and steamed vegetables.

Feeling satisfied is key to maintaining a healthy eating plan.

Should You Try Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss?  

While I’m a fan of TRE, evidence suggests that this, or any, form of IF is no better than eating fewer calories in the long term. A recent study showed that following the 5:2 eating pattern for six months helped people lose more weight than those who simply cut 500 calories from their typical eating plan. However, by 12 months, those on the reduced-calorie plan had maintained their weight loss, while the other group had not.

It’s important to choose a type of IF that works for you and that’s sustainable in the long run. TRE can jump-start your intentions to eat better, and may reduce feelings of dietary deprivation.

In one study, overweight people who reduced their eating window from about 15 hours a day to 10 to 11 hours daily for 16 weeks lost weight, and reported higher energy levels and better sleep. Even though they weren’t asked to restrict calories, participants ate less without feeling deprived.


Get the real story about the health effects of eating dinner late at night


 

Woman sleeping under white comforter.

Pro tip: Spend most of your fasting time asleep.

 

In another study, a group of overweight people who ate only from 10 AM to 6 PM consumed an average of 350 fewer calories and lost about 3% of their body weight. They also lowered their blood pressure.  Study subjects were not asked to limit calorie intake.

TRE and other forms of IF may help with modest calorie restriction, but fasting is not a magic bullet for weight control. Whether or not time-restricted eating actually decreases the amount of food consumed varies from person to person.

Intermittent Fasting Helps Prevent Diabetes 

Chances are, you can reap health benefits from IF simply by changing when you eat most of your calories. Here’s why.

IF improves the body’s response to insulin.  Insulin is the hormone produced in the pancreas that is necessary for cells to absorb glucose, which is used for energy. Insulin levels are lower when fasting, an ideal situation to prevent insulin resistance.

In insulin resistance, blood glucose levels are elevated. High insulin levels trigger the pancreas to produce more insulin to try to get glucose into cells. As time goes on, the pancreas’ ability to churn out insulin declines, leading to prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes and contributing to the risk for heart disease and cancer.

 

Breakfast foods

Pay attention to portions and the quality of foods you choose with intermittent fasting.

 

In addition, TRE plans that limit food consumption to daytime coordinate best with our natural body rhythms, which may help foster good health. That’s because insulin production is higher during the day than at night.

Even without weight loss, limiting food intake to eight hours and fasting from 3 PM on every day for five weeks decreased insulin levels, reduced insulin resistance, and improved blood pressure in overweight men with prediabetes.


Read: Eating later in the day can be bad for your waistline and your health


Intermittent Fasting for Women Over 40

Women may notice that it’s not as easy to control their weight after age 40. As we age, we lose muscle tissue that burns more calories than fat. In addition, we may become less active, which also burns fewer calories. At some point after age 40, most women begin the transition to menopause called perimenopause.  Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause, which typically occurs after age 50 in most women. 

During perimenopause, estrogen fluctuates as it begins to decline for good.  Weight gain is one of the side effects of a loss of estrogen and aging in general (men tend to gain weight, too!). Most women accumulate belly fat during the menopause transition, and after menopause occurs, and it’s often a source of consternation. 

Weight control, including IF, is a topic covered in great depth in The Menopause Diet Plan, A Natural Guide to Managing Hormones, Health, and Happiness, that I have co-authored with Hillary Wright, M.Ed, RDN. Depending on the type, intermittent fasting may be a good strategy for healthy eating for women after age 40 and age 50. We favor TRE for women because we think it’s the best way to meet their needs and maintain a busy schedule that may also include eating dinner with family every night, juggling household duties, and holding down demanding jobs. 

How to Try Time Restricted Eating

• Be consistent.  Choose an eating/fasting pattern that works for you and stick to it every day, including on weekends. Start by limiting food intake to 12 hours daily, and try to stop eating by 6 or 7 PM. If you want, gradually decrease your eating window to eight hours with 16 hours of fasting daily.

• Eat a balanced diet. Plan your food intake to include adequate amounts of nutritious foods, and limit added sugar. Eat three satisfying meals daily to avoid excessive snacking, also known as “grazing”.  Grazing is linked to a higher body mass index in women and a poorer quality diet in women and men. 

• Remember that moderation counts. IF doesn’t involve calorie-counting, but if you use your eating window as a free-for-all, you’re missing the point. You can eat whatever you want, but maybe not as much as you want. 

• Focus on calorie-free fluids. Water, black coffee and tea, and other calorie-free beverages are OK at any time.

Pizza with greens on top.

All foods fit on any intermittent fasting program, but moderation counts, too.

should you try intermittent fasting for weight loss and better health?
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