Intermittent fasting is the practice of restricting your eating window each day, typically to 6-8 hours. For example, fasting from 6pm each night to 10am the following morning, providing a 16 hour fasting window and an 8 hour eating window in each 24h period. Each person sets their own time frame and hours depending on what they feel works for them.
This is said to help burn fat by forcing the body to enter a fasted state, in order to use fat as fuel, instead of glucose (sugar) first thing in the morning. It can provide weight loss results relatively quickly when paired with a healthy diet and lifestyle, thanks to both the fasted state and the reduced number of calories taken in. The time the body spends digesting food is also reduced, and it can provide the hard-working GI tract a bit of a break each day and a chance to heal itself if it is under stress or has been damaged due to poor eating habits or an intolerance to certain foods.
Now, is it healthy? While there are some studies that have found it may provide several health benefits, and those who practice it often talk about benefits such as reduced hunger, reduced brain fog, and more, it likely is not a healthy long-term solution for the majority of people as it can also contribute to certain health or diet issues, especially when not done properly. Some individuals (usually men) can function well with daily intermittent fasting, but the long-term health effects are still not clear enough to make sweeping recommendations.
Intermittent fasting is often paired with a high-fat, low-carb diet (or even a ketogenic diet) in order to enhance the body’s fast-burning effects, which is not a diet I recommend to many people, but that’s a post for another day.
Shortening the eating window (ie. Only eating from 11am-6pm) also shortens the opportunity you have to eat high quality, nutrient-dense foods. Any time you have a chance to eat healthy food, especially fruits and vegetables, I recommend you do, no matter the time of day!
There are many drivers who practice and promote intermittent fasting as it can be convenient to not require food for much of the day while driving; I don’t recommend it for most drivers as the potential dips in blood sugar and hunger can be dangerous while driving, especially to those who are new to it.
If someone wants to try intermittent fasting, they must first work on improving their diet and reducing the intake of processed foods and refined sugar. Next, I recommend that they shorten their eating window gradually, and only practice intermittent fasting for up to 5 days per week, instead of every day, and take a week off every 2-3 weeks. It’s really important to constantly check in with how you’re feeling while fasting; dizziness, nausea, weakness, tiredness, or other health issues popping up are a sign that you should stop fasting and eat something!
Now, let’s discuss who should not try intermittent fasting. While I don’t recommend intermittent fasting for the majority of the population, these people in particular should be sure to avoid it:
- Anyone with hormone, adrenal, or thyroid issues (especially women)
- Those with a history of eating disorders
- Drivers who are not experienced with intermittent fasting
- People with diabetes or hypoglycemia
- Those who are pregnant
- People who exercise in the morning
It’s important for everyone to consider their own goals, lifestyle, and health when considering various types of diets or eating patterns. Intermittent fasting may have some benefits, but it can cause its own set of issues in the process. Ultimately, we need to focus less on specific diet rules or trends, and more on eating high-quality, nutrient-dense foods. Eat more produce, less processed food, move your body, and enjoy your life!