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Intermittent Fasting: Does It Work?

Does Intermittent Fasting Really Work?

It seems like every few years there is a new diet that becomes very trendy, and this year’s current trend seems to be intermittent fasting. Most diet trends come from the idea that we can manipulate the body’s inner workings to get to our goals. Some of these have some good scientific basis and some do not. So, let’s delve into the science behind intermittent fasting…
Before we do though, a quick couple of notes on any plan you choose to follow. First, nothing is going to work if you don’t stick to it. Second, you need to make sure the nutritional plan you choose to follow is not going to be detrimental to any ongoing health issues you have. And lastly, you need to make sure the plan you choose is something that can be adapted to your lifestyle for years to come.

What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is defined as periods of voluntary abstinence from food and drink. It is actually been around for thousands of years and followed by a number of different formats by different populations around the world.
There is large variation in what is considered intermittent, and studies have been conducted using a number of time frames. One trial studied people who fasted for one day and then ate whatever they wanted the next day for 8 weeks of the study. Others use varying period of 12-16 hours of fasting. Daily fasting has been studied in 1 and 2 day per week fasting periods. This variance creates some confusion in prescribing this as a diet.

What are the effects of intermittent fasting on weight loss?
There is a large variance regarding the regiment used for intermittent fasting, which makes clear correlations more difficult. However, most studies done on intermittent fasting show reductions in weight and changes in body composition. The length of trials studied varied from 6 weeks to 6 months, and long-term data of a year or more is lacking.

What are the effects of fasting on the cardiovascular system?
There is general consensus in the medical literature that intermittent fasting reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. This is the result of improvements in cholesterol and its component LDL, HDL and triglycerides. Furthermore, combining an intermittent fasting diet with exercise produced greater improvements in health and improvement in cardioprotective effects. The biggest outstanding question is how intermittent fasting would compare head-to-head with other diets that have more consistent evidence for improvement in cardiovascular health.

Are there any other benefits?
In diabetics or prediabetics there is not much data to on controlling blood sugars, but there is data that it positively influences plasma glucose levels. Since fasting diets do contribute to weight loss, and weight loss contributes to improved diabetes control, it would make sense. However, if you are on medications for diabetes or to control your blood sugars, we highly recommend you counsel with a physician or dietician before beginning this kind of diet.

Is intermittent fasting good for athletes?
Studies on intermittent fasting and its results on athletic performance are varied, but none of them have shown an improvement in any type of athletic performance. Given the known benefits of timing of nutrition in relationship to recovery and improvement of muscle gains, we do not recommend this type of diet for athletes. This would include those that train regularly for the purpose of maintaining a high level of fitness, such as those that participate in Cross-Fit, martial arts, regular weightlifting or daily cardiovascular activities like running.

What should I do if I want to start an intermittent fasting diet?
We encourage you to meet with a doctor knowledgeable in nutrition or a licensed nutritionist to make sure this is safe for you and that it will help you get to your goals. In our office, we have our wellness clients undergo a metabolic rate test and body composition scan, in order to track the effectiveness of the diet. We can also use this information for calorie planning and meal timing to get the best benefit. It is also useful to have a discussion about how long you want to do a fasting plan and what your transition off it might look like. For more information visit us at The Ethos Project Wellness Program.

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