You can’t search social media without seeing #IntermittentFasting somewhere in your feed. In fact, Google ranked it as the No. 1 most popular searched diet term in 2019.
So, it’s no wonder why so many people are trying it or want to learn more about it. But is intermittent fasting a healthy alternative to a traditional weight-loss plan? Let’s take a closer look.
According to the National Institutes of Health, intermittent fasting occurs when a person doesn’t eat at all or severely limits his or her food intake at certain times of the day, week or month. While intermittent fasting may mean people eat fewer calories, “it’s not a temporary weight-loss plan,” says family medicine physician Megan Zakarewicz, DO, who is board-certified in obesity management.
The most common types of intermittent fasting include:
- Time-restricted fasting – This occurs when someone chooses to eat all of their calories during a given time period each day—such as between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.—and then does not eat anything the rest of the day.
- Alternate-day fasting – In this approach, people choose to either not eat or significantly reduce their food intake on specific days (Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for example). They then eat an unrestricted diet every other day.
- 5:2 eating pattern – Popularized in the book “The 5:2 Diet,” people using this type of intermittent fasting will reduce their calorie intake for two straight days (Monday and Tuesday, for example), and then will eat unrestricted for five straight days.
- Periodic fasting – In this approach, people choose to not consume any calorie-containing food or beverages for a 24-hour period.
According to the NIH, much of the research on intermittent fasting has been conducted only on animals, not humans. Scientists don’t know whether intermittent fasting is safe or even doable in the long run.
According to research from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the amount of weight lost during an alternate-day fast was equal to the weight lost from a typical low-calorie weight-loss plan. But side effects included hunger pangs and decreased concentration on fasting days.
“Intermittent fasting also may cause people to eat more calories than normal during their non-fasting days, Dr. Zakarewicz says. “That can completely remove any weight-loss benefits and may promote unhealthy behaviors such as binge eating.”
The Academy also says that studies on the 5:2 eating plan show that, while some participants lost more weight than on a traditional weight-loss diet, the difference was insignificant.
“If you want to lose a moderate amount of weight, the best and safest approaches are lifestyle changes that include nutrition, exercise and behavioral changes,” says Dr. Zakarewicz, who runs Grand View Health’s Medical Weight Loss program.
Instituting these changes can be hard, and studies show that patients tend to do better with support. While trying the latest fad can be tempting, it’s not always safe or effective. “It’s always best to talk with a medical provider prior to starting any diet,” Dr. Zakarewicz says.
Learn more about Medical Weight Loss at Grand View Health.
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