While the concept of fasting isn’t new, intermittent fasting has gained traction as a lifestyle health trend. It refers to an eating schedule that incorporates fasting periods of varying durations.
During ancient times, hunter-gatherers did not always have a steady supply of food and would have had to adapt to extended periods of being hungry. That is the idea behind intermittent fasting, and many who support it claim that it helps with weight management.
There have been studies that support claims that intermittent fasting helps with metabolic health, and even extends lifespan. Intermittent fasting doesn’t exactly restrict the foods you eat. For that reason, it can’t really be classified as a diet, but more of a dietary pattern. Because of its popularity, there are a few ways that intermittent fasting is done.
Most popular types
• The 16/8 Method
This involves fasting for 14 to 16 hours in a single day. For example, your last meal ends at 8pm and you don’t eat anything until noon the following day. Including sleep time, you have technically fasted for 16 hours.
• The 5:2 Diet
This is where you eat a maximum of 600 calories for two days in a week. Also known as the Fast Diet, this method lets you eat normally for the other five days.
This method involves a 24-hour fast once or twice a week. Water and other non-alcoholic or sugary beverages are okay, but no solid foods.
• Alternate Day Fasting
Like the name suggests, this method requires you to fast every other day. Not eating at all every other day isn’t advisable, so many who try this method eat about 500-600 calories on “fasting” days.
• The Warrior Diet
This involves eating small amounts of fruit and vegetables, and only having one full meal at night. This diet encourages eating foods that are similar to those found in the Paleo diet.
• Meal Skipping
Because the human body is designed to handle long periods without food, it is alright to skip a meal in between when you aren’t feeling hungry. This isn’t really a structured plan at all, but a spontaneous fast.
One of the key benefits of intermittent fasting includes possible weight loss. When someone stops consuming food for an extended period, insulin levels drop and the glucose stored away by cells is released. Repeating this by fasting regularly, and with the right diet, may promote weight loss.
Several studies on animals found that intermittent fasting can lead to better learning and memory, as well as reducing inflammation in the brain, which is linked to reduction in neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and stroke.
Intermittent fasting can also improve heart health by lowering triglycerides – the type of fat that is linked to heart disease. A 2016 review showed that intermittent fasting seemed to reduce heart rate, triglycerides, cholesterol levels and blood pressure in both humans and animals.
Some studies also suggest that intermittent fasting may play a role in reducing certain types of cancers and obesity by reducing inflammation. But what might possibly be the most interesting benefit of intermittent fasting is that it lengthens lifespan and promotes healthy ageing.
This is according to research conducted at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the United States, which was published late 2018. The study brought to light the basic biology of cells and its declining function over time, leading to age-related diseases.
Intermittent fasting potentially intervenes, allowing cells to maintain their peak efficiency for longer time frames, and may promote healthy ageing. Researchers observed that when nematode worms had their diets restricted with intermittent fasting, mitochondrial networks stayed efficient for much longer.
This increased efficiency seemed connected with a longer lifespan. This is promising research, but before it can be conclusive, tests will need to be expanded to include humans.
Is it right for me?
Currently, there is not enough evidence to indicate that intermittent fasting is better than calorie restriction or more effective as a weight loss tool.
There is concern that it may be a bad choice for those who have a history of eating disorders, because skipping meals or creating meal curfews can act as a trigger for eating disorders. Think of it as another tool in the box that can be useful at the right time.
Intermittent fasting does not appeal to everyone, but if you do not like to weigh your food portions, count calories, eliminate food groups or stick to a regimented diet of specific foods, this might be a good option.
As a healthy person, there is no harm in trying it out, but you still need to maintain a nutrient-rich and well-balanced diet. There is no point to fasting intermittently if you binge on junk and fast food during the periods you aren’t fasting.
For intermittent fasting to be successful, keep the junk food to a minimum, drink lots of water, choose nutritious food, lead a healthy lifestyle, sleep early, exercise and manage your stress.
By Datuk Dr. Nor Ashikin Mokhtar
Published in Star Newspaper, MAY 6, 2019