Intermittent fasting. Hugh Jackman claims to do it 16 hours a day. It’s rumored that Beyoncé does it twice a week. And then there are those who swear that doing it every other day keeps them looking and feeling their best. What is intermittent fasting and is it safe?
As the name suggests, intermittent fasting involves restricting food intake for a period of time. For most people, the lure is fast and easy(ish) weight loss, but others claim that the benefits extend beyond the scale to include mental clarity, improved sleep quality, and significant boosts in energy. Some studies show it may even improve digestive issues and reduce insulin levels.
The most popular intermittent fasting methods are the 14:10 method, which basically boils down to no snacking after dinner and skipping breakfast the next day, and the 5:2 method, which allows you to eat normally five days a week and restricts calories to 500-600 on the other two days.
All in Favor
Anecdotal support comes from regular people, not just celebrities.
Culinary and nutrition consultant Heather Hunter has loosely followed the 14:10 approach since the early 2000s, eating her main meal at 3 p.m. and then not breaking the fast until 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. the next day. She believes it has helped heal some of her gut issues. “It allows my digestive system to rest, relax, and recover during the overnight period as opposed to making it work to digest food.”
Jan Briley, a San Antonio mother of two, started intermittent fasting in an effort to lose weight and detox her system, but she stuck with it because of the way it makes her feel. “I have more energy now than when I was eating breakfast first thing in the morning,” Briley says. “I’ve lost inches, and it definitely got my sugar cravings under control.”
Some experts, like nutritionist and personal trainer Tatum Rebelle, argue that skipping breakfast can backfire. “Skipping breakfast can actually lead to more stored fat, because by the time you eat in the afternoon, you are ravenous, which can lead to poor food choices and overeating,” Rebelle says.
Registered dietitian nutritionist Angela Aladjem is concerned that many people start intermittent fasting without considering all of their health issues, which can lead to trouble. “If you have thyroid or hormonal imbalances, I wouldn’t recommend it, because it can create a stress response in the body, exacerbating those issues,” she warns.
Aladjem sees intermittent fasting as particularly dangerous to people who have or are recovering from eating disorders because of the way it encourages periods of starvation. “It’s really just calorie restriction packaged in a new box,” she says. “And as with anything that is a fad, my biggest concern is whether the behavior is sustainable to create lasting success.”
There’s no denying that calorie reduction, especially the drastic kind, will ultimately result in weight loss. And cutting snacks after dinner can certainly make you more aware of bad habits like eating a bag of chips while binge-watching Netflix. However, intermittent fasting should be done mindfully. It is not a license to chow on pizza, cheeseburgers, and ice cream during feeding hours.
And, as with any diet, you should consult your doctor before getting started.