Before we get into the pros and cons, and if you should do it, let’s talk about what intermittent fasting actually is.
Human fasting is not a new concept by any means. Humans have been doing it for millennia. “Intermittent fasting” is just a rebranding of something that we have already been doing. Our bodies enter a fasting state every time we’re sleeping. Some people do intermittent fasting and not even know it.
A lot of us are doing it already here and there by accident. I mean, who hasn’t experienced that breakfast is skipped because you don’t have time, or you simply forgot? That’s a form of intermittent fasting and our bodies are totally capable of handling this.
A lot of people have a basic aversion to the subject, or to the idea of fasting because they might think: I don’t want to starve myself for health benefits.
Intermittent fasting is not starving.
When you are fasting, your body is using stored nutrients and stored energy forms in order to make your body continue to function. When you’re starving, you run out of those energy sources, and you are breaking down vital tissues like organs to get that same energy.
There are many ways to go about going on one of these diets and that not only makes it confusing for you but that also makes it very difficult to do research on it to find out how effective it truly is because if there are multiple ways to do it, we have to be able to test each one of those ways.
Here is a good beginner's guide from Dr. Jason Fung. He is a physician, author, researcher, and has got ground-breaking science-based books about diabetes, obesity, cancer prevention and fasting. He’s got a book called The Complete Guide to Fasting that have sold hundreds of thousands of copies and challenged the conventional wisdom that diabetics should be treated with insulin.
- The 16/8 diet for example, is not eating during 16 hours of the day
- Alternate day fasting where you eat one day and fast the other day
- 5:2 diet, where two days of the week that you’re fasting
There’s no hard and fast rule saying that this is the correct way of doing it. So you may be wondering, how is IF beneficial to me?
There’s been a lot of proposed health benefits, many of which have been proven within animal studies or lab models, which is not the same thing as being proven in a human model. But they are very promising. Now, those benefits include:
- Mental sharpness
- Optimized hormones
- Weight loss
- Lower Inflammation
- Disease Protection
How can IF help you lose weight? You have an increase in growth hormone, a decrease in insulin, and that alone will help you lose weight.
Next, because you’re skipping meals, or you’re even going days without eating meals, it’s very likely that when you look throughout the week, you’ll be eating fewer calories.
Our thinking is that during eight hours you’ll eat less than you would if you were eating during 16 hours. But let’s talk about these other health benefits. We know that chronic stress is not good for the body. The body is just not meant to be chronically stressed out. It’s not meant to have a high heart rate or high blood pressure.
Intermittent fasting is really a form of acute, short-term, mild stress. This type of acute, short-term, mild stress is really good for the body. We have benefits for the brain, we have benefits for weight loss, we have benefits for disease prevention. Now similarly, when you stress your body through IF there are some benefits.
- Increased Autophagy, which is the removal of cellular waste
- Increased Neurotrophic Factors, which protect your brain
And a favorable hormonal profile which I mentioned earlier in the list of benefits, with increases in human growth hormone and norepinephrine.
Let’s talk about some of the shortcomings of IF. Primarily, there is not enough guidance on what you should eat. We don’t know how many calories, we don't know what foods to eat on the days or times that you actually are eating. Second, we don't know which form of IF is best. Third, there are some side effects when you are fasting that people do experience: headaches, mental fog, heartburn. Four, we don’t know the consequences of following an IF diet long-term. Most, if not all studies are done in the short term. So critical items are therefore:
- What to eat and how much?
- Which protocol?
- Potential side effects
- Long-term studies?
- Cravings can be an issue
If you are eating a very unhealthy diet and then all of a sudden make a change you're definitely going to see a benefit. Now, does this benefit still hold up one, two, three, or even ten years down the line? We don’t know that yet when it comes to IF. And lastly, it’s not easy to fight off those cravings on fasting days.
So my final take on IF.
I think it’s a great concept with some really promising medical research behind it. I think that if you can skip a meal, you can skip breakfast here and there, you’re going to see some benefits. Does that mean you should go on this very rigid diet where you do the 5:2 or 16/8 diet, like forever? I don’t think we should quite make this a religious, rigorous part of our everyday life because we don’t know the long-term consequences of it. But in a society that is prone to overeating, a fasting day or fasting period won’t hurt and will probably help.
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed health professional nor a doctor and of course everyone should discuss the decision of any dietary changes with their health care provider as everyone is different and has different needs.
So far I have only had good experiences with it and I feel more focused, in control, have more energy, and it probably helps with my gastritis. I will definitely do it as long as I don’t have any stress with it.
Stay healthy and happy!