What is Intermittent Fasting? Should you ‘just do it’?

So, you are hearing a lot about something called Intermittent Fasting, but don’t really know what it’s all about. All you know is that your sister’s best friend’s husband’s brother has lost a pile of weight doing it, and you want to know where to sign up.

In a nutshell, intermittent fasting is just that: fasting intermittently.

It’s limiting calorie intake during certain hours/day or days/week. It’s more of an eating pattern than a diet. It limits when to eat, and not so much what to eat. And that’s part of it’s appeal to people who don’t want to worry about counting calories, use their food log to track everything, or restrict the types of foods they are eating.

Some would say that it’s a more natural way to eat because humans evolved without refrigerators, drive-throughs, or 24-hour convenience stores. We now have access to food (including junk food) all day long, so eating several meals per day plus snacks may be less natural than fasting from time to time.

There are lots of variations on this theme. They include:

  • 16/8 which is 16 hours of fasting, and eating only within the other 8 hours (often 1:00 pm. – 9:00 p.m.);
  • 5:2 days of fasting, where you eat regularly for five days of the week, then take in just 500-600 calories/day for the other two (non-consecutive) days.

Is intermittent fasting effective for weight loss?

Lots of people say they have success with it. But what do the studies say?

According to one review study, intermittent fasting helped people to lose 3-8% of their weight over 3-24 weeks.  In this study, people also lost 4-7% of their waist circumference (i.e., belly fat).

Another study of 100 people with obesity showed that after a year, the people who fasted on alternate days lost more weight than people who didn’t change their eating pattern. But, (and here’s where it’s interesting) they didn’t lose any more weight than those on a calorie restricted diet. Out of the people who were to follow the intermittent fasting protocol, 38% of them dropped out.

Sustainability is one of the keys to weight loss success. So, if you can’t stay with a weight-loss diet, you’re less likely to lose the weight and keep it off.

Before you consider intermittent fasting…

Intermittent fasting is not for everyone. People who are underweight, or have eating disorders shouldn’t fast. Neither should women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or are breastfeeding.

Certain medical conditions can be worsened with longer periods of fasting. Also, people taking certain medications can be prone to side effects with intermittent fasting as well.

One of the reasons people drop out of the intermittent fasting eating pattern is that it’s hard to stick with the fasting part. They eat more than the allowed (low-level of) calories when they’re supposed to be fasting. And when they finish fasting, they may overindulge due to the reaction of the appetite hormones and hunger drive while fasting. None of these will help with weight loss.

Also, the hours and days of fasting can be very difficult. So having strong social support will be key to those intermittent periods of fasting. Sticking to a healthy, nutrient-dense, and consistent weight loss diet is the key to success, and intermittent fasting can be difficult for many people to stick with.

What I think:

Intermittent fasting is a weight loss trend that seems to work for some people. It can help to lose weight and reduce belly fat. But, it isn’t safe for everyone. Many people should not try intermittent fasting because it can be risky. It can also be difficult to stick with.

  • In truth, we were never meant to eat from the second we open our eyes, until the moment we lay our head down to sleep at night. In fact, a certain amount of ‘fasting’ time should be the norm. Therefore, I generally recommend a 12 hour fast period overnight anyways. What that looks like – Finish eating by 7 or 8 pm, breakfast at 7 or 8 am.
  • If we eat too close to our bedtime, our bodies must still actively digest our food, therefore not leaving much time to ‘rest and repair’, which is what is meant to be happening while we sleep.
  • The research confirms that Intermittent Fasting is no more effective for weight loss than a sensible, portion reduced, nutrient dense diet.

For the best chance of long-term weight loss success, finding a diet you can stick with is key.

Speaking of nutrient dense, these energy bites make a delectable, nourishing snack.

Almond Butter Energy Bites

What You Need:

1 cup of rolled oats

½ cup of almond butter (use sunflower, pumpkin seed or hemp butter for a nut-free option)

¼ cup of unpasteurized honey or pure maple syrup

½ cup of hemp hearts or chia seeds

Optional additions: add a handful of chopped dried fruit and/or unsweetened shredded coconut

What You Do:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Roll dough into balls, approximately the size of 1 Tbsp.
  3. Chill and enjoy; place a few in the freezer and enjoy them frozen for a slightly different taste experience!

Tip: You can roll the bites to coat them in cocoa powder for a bit of extra flavour and to prevent them from being too sticky.

Makes about 12 energy bites