Intermittent fasting has been growing in popularity over the past few years. It’s gone from being a small fringe trend to being accepted – and utilized – by a large portion of the population. The question is, is intermittent fasting right for you?
The answer isn’t so simple, but I’m gonna try to make it easier for you. This eating or dieting or lifestyle approach (depending on how you categorize it) is definitely not right for everybody. While it has been shown to potentially have some pretty neat health benefits, it won’t be the way to go for everyone.
Some people may be able to benefit from experimenting with it short term, while others might find they can stick with over a longer period. Still others might not like or be able to adhere to this practice for any length of time.
So what group do you fall into?
Before we answer that, let’s talk about what intermittent fasting is and what some of the supposed benefits are. We’ll also look at a couple of the disadvantages with the approach.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
The idea behind intermittent fasting is simple. You alternate periods of eating normally with periods of fasting. It’s different from a full traditional fast in that you typically don’t go for any extreme period of time without eating.
You also don’t eat all the time throughout the day like you probably currently do.
The point here is to try to achieve some of the benefits that one would get from a full standard fast, but without having to deprive themselves as much (and likely disrupt their life, especially were they not used to fasting).
For that reason, intermittent fasting or IF seems to be a pretty reasonable “hybrid” of eating normally all the time and not eating for a long period of time.
How do I do Intermittent Fasting?
One of the most common examples or approaches people have used for IF is what’s called an 8:16 protocol. What this means is that you would fast for 16 hours of the day and eat (or be allowed to eat) during the other 8 hours of the day.
So you might eat from 10 in the morning until 6 at night. Then you wouldn’t eat anything until 10 the next morning.
There are other splits you could use here, the main idea is only that you only allow yourself an 8 hour “feeding window” and restrict yourself from consuming any food for 16 hours.
Most IF allows drinking water, sparkling water, or coffee (particularly black coffee).
There are other approaches, most more extreme, but we can review those later.
Why would I try it? What are the Benefits?
The supposed benefits of IF sound pretty good. Some of them are supported by science and studies, and some are more anecdotal, based on people’s experience with the “IF lifestyle”.
A few of the benefits are as follows:
- regulation of blood sugar and insulin (in non diabetic individuals)
- increased energy and focus during the fasting period
- easier weight loss
- reduced bloating
- reduced food cravings
- decreased body fat
- better mood
- increased autophagy in your body, the process of cell cleanup and “recycling”
- positive impact on hormones in the body
- other potential benefits
All of these sound pretty awesome, right? They do and they are. But what about the downsides?
There are definitely a few.
Potential Downsides of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent clearly works for the people who advocate it. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to go and not necessarily right for you. Other approaches like The 5:2 Diet can also be effective. Here are a few of the possible disadvantages of the IF approach:
- increased hunger, cravings (especially when starting)
- lower energy
- negative impact on mood
- decreased workout ability
- blood sugar dysregulation in diabetic individuals
- other potential negative effects
So Should I try IF? Is is worth it, and what’s the real story?
My experience with IF has generally been good. Again though I can’t recommend this for everyone. You will have to give it a try on your own and see how it works for you.
For most people IF is like most eating approaches in that it’s success or failure hinges on how much the individual believes it will work.
If you have a greater belief that it will work, you will be more likely to stick with it. If it can benefit you in the long run, it may take time, so sticking with it is a necessary prerequisite to get the results you want. While this is obvious, it’s definitely worth mentioning because the thing about IF is that it can be tough to start.
For most people, including you, it’s probably quite a bit different from how you’ve ever eaten. I don’t personally believe it’s unhealthy, I just think that for many people (including some clients I’ve had) it was hard to adapt to in the beginning.
I personally have found that once I tried it out and stuck with it for about a week or so, it started to get much easier. Then I didn’t think about food when I was fasting ( I did the 8:16 protocol), and it kind of made life a little easier.
The cool part for me was that I fasted in the morning, so I didn’t really have to worry about breakfast anymore. I focused on eating a good solid lunch, and a filling dinner, and even snacking in between if I needed to.
The benefits that I have seen in myself and in some clients that have used IF are the same benefits I listed above. Most people won’t notice all of them, but the majority (if they stick it out with IF) will see at least a few.
At the end of the day you have to do what works for you. IF is simple and effective for many people, but for others it isn’t enjoyable or convenient for their lifestyle. You might be someone that feels better when they eat more frequently or has a medical reason to keep your blood sugar levels more stable.
On the other hand the simplicity of IF paired with the benefits might make it something you want to try. I’ve personally found that I tend to do it almost automatically for a few months out of the year. It just ends up being convenient habit that I tend to almost do at times without thinking – and it works for me.
Also keep in mind that you might find other people out there advocating more extreme IF approaches, including a 20:4 protocol (where you fast for 20 hours and eat for 4), and even a 24 hour and 36 hour full fast. While I don’t recommend these for people, they do, by comparison, make the 8:16 protocol seem a bit less daunting.
If you have health issues that you think might prevent you from trying IF, talk to your doctor before experimenting with this approach.