Your coworker found it — the holy grail — the diet that lets you eat what you want, not count calories, and still lose weight.
“That’s too good to be true!” you exclaim.
“No! It’s intermittent fasting!” your coworker gleefully responds.
If you’ve found yourself in the situation above, you may be wondering if intermittent fasting (also referred to as “IF”) works and if it’s right for you.
Let’s break down one of the trendiest buzzwords of the year.
Intermittent Fasting: What Is it?
First, what is intermittent fasting?
In order to understand what intermittent fasting is, it’s important to note what it is not: Intermittent fasting is not a diet.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern. It does not have restrictions regarding what you can and cannot eat. Instead, it simply dictates when you can eat.
To make matters a bit more complicated, there is more than one way to engage in intermittent fasting. For these purposes, we will focus on the most common form of IF, the 16:8 method.
Essentially, 16:8 means that you fast for 16 hours and then have an 8-hour “eating window.”
Easy enough, right?
Well, there are a few caveats.
Intermittent Fasting: Yay or Nay?
Scientific research is rather limited when it comes to IF. However, of the studies available, experts seem to be pretty split on whether or not intermittent fasting is worth giving a go.
Via Harvard Health Publishing, one published study followed 100 overweight participants who were,
“assigned to one of three eating plans: restricting daily calorie intake by the same amount every day (similar to a traditional diet plan), fasting on alternate days, and continuing with normal eating habits. At the end of the 12-month study, both diet groups had lost weight compared with the normal eaters. However, the fasters didn’t fare any better than the conventional calorie cutters.”
Researchers also found that the dropout rate (38%) among the fasters was much higher than other study participants. This signifies that fasting for weight loss may not be enjoyable or sustainable.
Of course, there are studies that point to certain benefits that accompany engaging in intermittent fasting. One such study was conducted by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Researchers found that blood levels of insulin significantly decrease when someone adheres to a regular fasting regimen.
Other studies have found that fasting can increase the body’s blood levels of human growth hormone and can reduce the markers of oxidative stress.
Yet, another study found that, when put on a 22-day intermittent fasting plan, female participants’ blood sugar control worsened.
So, what does this mean?
It means that intermittent fasting isn’t the holy grail, but it also isn’t ineffective.
Intermittent Fasting Vs. “Intermittent Fasting”
The act of fasting has been around far longer than any of us have. Fasting, in and of itself, has been studied and has been shown to benefit the body in a multitude of ways (as seen in some of the studies above). Things get a bit murky, however, once someone on social media decides to sell this idea of fasting as a way to lose weight while eating whatever you want.
Sure, when you have a small eating window, and when you’re only eating whole foods like lean proteins, vegetables, whole grains, and fruits, you will likely lose weight simply because you are eating fewer calories. If you were to spread out this same amount of food without said eating window, you would still lose weight.
The idea that you can eat whatever you want and still drop weight is certainly enticing. The kicker here is even if you manage to lose weight only eating processed foods within your eating window, that does not mean that you are becoming a healthier individual. Calories matter, but nutrients matter more.
Who Shouldn’t Try Intermittent Fasting?
If you have type 1 diabetes, are pregnant, or take medications for heart disease or high/low blood pressure, it is best to avoid fasting.
Further, if IF will increase the chances that you will eat “whatever you want” or will lead to a binge, it is not worth your time. Additionally, those with past or current eating disorders should not attempt fasting, as risk for relapse is too high.
Finally, if intermittent fasting does not fit your lifestyle, or if you simply don’t want to do it, don’t do it!
The Bottom Line: Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
When someone asks, “Does intermittent fasting work?” (and many do ask — there are currently 72,800,000 entries on Google that appear when this question is searched), most of the time, the question refers to whether or not it works for weight loss.
The answer is yes, but so does Keto; so does Paleo; so does Whole30; so does the cabbage diet; so does any method of eating that reduces the number of calories that you take in daily.
Perhaps reframing the question is a better route to take: Will intermittent fasting work for me? Can I commit to only eating within a certain time frame? Will I turn down social invitations for meals because they do not fit into my eating window? If I engage in an intense, fasted training session in the morning, and feel sluggish, will I deny my body the nutrients it craves solely because I can’t break my fast?
The bottom line is that intermittent fasting works for some and does not work for others. The best way to ensure that you are making lasting changes to your physical appearance as well as your internal health is to adopt a way of eating that is sustainable and enjoyable for you.