How it can be the missing link to losing those stubborn extra pounds
It wasn’t long ago that I would carry snacks with me all the time convinced that eating every two to three hours was the road to the right diet and weight loss. Looking at the latest research, however, it wasn’t the best approach.
There’s a new way of eating buzzing on our diet radar, called intermittent fasting, and celebrities such as Beyoncé, Ben Affleck and Hugh Jackman, yes Wolverine, are avid adopters.
Fasting isn’t new. It’s been present in human’s lives from the beginning of time. We’ve evolved in environments where food was relatively scarce, so our bodies had to adapt to enable us to function at a high level, both physically and cognitively, in a food-deprived or fasted state.
Is science playing catchup trying to understand the consequences of this “time-restricted” eating plan just now? I gave it a go and talked to registered dietitian and nutritionist Elaine Hastings to bring you what it’s all about.
“Fasting has significant cardiovascular health benefits,” Hastings says, noting that you could lose one to two pounds each week. “But it’s very important to listen to your body’s response to it.”
Besides losing weight, several studies have reported improved cognitive performance, lower blood sugar, reduced cancer risk and inflammation, and better blood pressure.
What is it
The concept builds upon the foundation of alternating periods of fasting with periods of eating, which can vary from a 16-hour to a 24-hour fast and beyond. What determines whether you’re in a fed or fasted state is what source your body uses for energy. You can either burn food you just ate or burn stored food. It’s always one or the other, never at the same time.
Fed state begins when you eat and lasts about three to five hours while the body breaks down that food for energy as oppose to using fat deposits that have accumulated over time.
In a fasted state, however, you tap into fat and glycogen storage. Glycogen being a form of sugar all carbohydrates, like bread and pasta, turn into once digested.
One of the key components and hormones that’s responsible for whether you’re losing or gaining weight is insulin, and fasting plays and important role in regulating it. Insulin pushes sugar into your cells when you eat, so when it’s high, your body stops burning stored fat for fuel. Hence, insulin is often called the “fat-storage hormone.” Fasting allows insulin to remain low for an extended period, therefore, having the body utilize stored food for energy resulting in weight loss.
“It’s not something we’re taught to recommend,” Hastings said. “But it tends to work for people who hit plateau.” She added that weight loss occurs with intermittent fasting because you’re eating less over a period of time, so there’s a reduction in food consumption over the week.
What are the benefits
Research published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine looked at how normal and overweight people have responded to doing intermittent fasting every other day of the week. It found efficacy for weight loss and improvements in multiple health indicators including insulin resistance and reductions in risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Fasting allows the body to detox and repair by enhancing the structures (mitochondria) within cells that convert the energy from food into a form that cells can use. It leads to advantages such as increased insulin sensitivity, mental focus and increased energy.
What to pay attention to
Through your feeding window, you’ll end up eating about three times with at least a four-hour break in between. Be careful though and don’t fall into the trap of binge eating. If you’re used to eating frequently and snacking, leaving a bigger gap between meals might be difficult at first. So, when you do eat, choose healthy, wisely and in moderation. “Everybody should eat a balanced diet with a good source of protein first, little carbs, and low or moderate fat,” Hastings advises.
What to expect
Every body is different. Hastings says, “although our bodies are functionally built the same, they respond to things differently.” At first you might feel lightheaded, dizzy, have a drop in blood sugar, maybe even feel “hangry” (feeling angry due to hunger), but once your body realizes that it doesn’t need feeding every three hours and can use the energy already stored, it will kick in and run just fine.
Before trying intermittent fasting, advise with your doctor if it’s ideal given your current health condition.