Is Intermittent Fasting Good for Long Term Health? Weigh the Pros & Cons

intermittent fastingHealth

If you’ve been considering intermittent fasting as a way to drop a few pounds, it could be the best decision you ever make. From finally losing those stubborn last 10 pounds to improved cognitive function, people all over the globe are singing its praises.

However, if you’ve never heard of intermittent fasting and are curious to know more, you’ve come to the right place. When you think about it, fasting is not a new concept. Humans have been doing it throughout history. Sometimes, they had to fast simply because there wasn’t enough food to go around. Fasting is also part of several religious holidays including Ramadan.

But does it really make sense to knowingly deprive ourselves all for the sake of dropping a few pounds?

What’s the Hype?

While intermittent fasting is now one of the most popular diets out there, the truth is, it’s been around for a while.

Since it’s gained momentum over the last year, we decided to dig deep and find out whether intermittent fasting is really as effective as people claim.

And speaking of claims, keep in mind that many of those claims are based on animal studies. No, we’re not talking about sly little devils like Ratatouille. Since a rodent’s body functions completely different than ours, it’s still a bit difficult to determine if fasting truly works as well as some say it does. But that is not to say it doesn’t. Many people swear by it and have seen dramatic results.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Because there are a variety of ways to fast, intermittent fasting is now considered an umbrella term. In general, it involves restricting your caloric intake one to three days a week, or every day for a specific timeframe. Within that designated period, you’re allowed to eat freely without restriction. Some of the most popular types of intermittent fasting include whole-day, time-restricted, and alternate-day fasting.

Time-Restricted Fasting

Probably the most forgiving type of intermittent fasting, this only requires that you fast for a set number of hours each day. Also called the under-eating phase, you fast for 20 hours and then eat all of your calories within a four-hour window. This happens in 24-hour cycles until weight loss goals are achieved. Some people also practice this type of fasting to help maintain the weight they’ve already lost.

Whole-Day Fasting

Compared to other types of fasting, this type of fasting may be too extreme for some people. With a 5:2 ratio, individuals who perform this type of fasting consume very few calories or completely abstain from eating altogether. You are allowed to have juices and smoothies, albeit fruit or veggie.

Some people may choose to only consume water, coffee, and tea on these days. On the other five days of the week, you then restrict caloric intake to approximately 25 percent of your daily need. This again depends on your height, weight and total BMI.

Alternate-Day Fasting

This is the type of fasting requires alternating between fasting and feeding days. On fasting days, you fast until lunch and then consume approximately 25 percent of your caloric needs.

The exact calorie count depends on your body weight and goals. This type of fasting is also known as modified fasting, which alternates between periods of eating and fasting that can last between 30 to 40 hours, again based upon individual caloric needs and your schedule.

As with any type of fitness regimen, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons before making a final decision.

Pros of Fasting

Although results will vary from person to person, studies have shown that whole-day and alternate-day fasting can aid in a reduction of body fat, weight, and even waist circumference. In addition, similar results were also noted in those who opt for time-restricted fasting studies.

In a 2016 study, it was noted that intermittent fasting is as effective as continuous energy restriction when trying to lose weight. The study proved that it is possible to lose weight without starving yourself.

However, make note that when analyzing the results, many of the studies were only studied in the short-term. So, whether the participants kept the weight off is unknown.

Boosts Brain Cells

Other studies explored the possible effects of fasting on cognitive performance, including short and long-term memory. According to a 2017 systemic review, cognitive function was improved in both athletes and those considered overweight or obese.

Calorie Restriction Not Required

Since you’re already restricting your caloric intake, counting calories no longer exists. You have a set number of calories you can eat every day without having to weigh, measure or count macros.

It’s Easy to Follow

Regardless of type, the eating patterns are easy to follow, especially for those who thrive on structure. Since you don’t have to worry about limiting your food choices or the amount you eat, fasting is easy to incorporate into daily living. For instance, if you already skip breakfast, you already unintentionally practicing time-restricted feeding.

Less Prep

Eating less also means less mess in the kitchen. You prep less and avoid having to wash the dishes. Obviously, you should prep healthy meals and snacks for when you are allowed to eat but in general, you will spend less time in the kitchen.

Cons of Intermittent Fasting

As with most things in life, there is the good, the bad and everything in between. Even with all of the benefits fasting has to offer, there is a downside.

Limits Social Eating

In most cultures, eating is a social activity. From birthdays to weddings, most of the festivities revolve around food. Unfortunately, when you choose to fast, your new style of eating can really put a damper on things. Because you have a limited amount of time to consume your calories, it makes things a little awkward if you’re standing there empty-handed while everyone else is eating.

Hunger Pangs and Mood Swings

Another thing you need to keep in mind is that with food restriction, it’s not uncommon to feel hungry and moody, all at the same time. In fact, if you work out regularly, you might feel too fatigued to even hit the gym. However, that solely depends on your level of activity and overall health. Going too long without eating can also cause brain fog, irritability and the inability to concentrate.

Feast or Famine

While fasting can be good for you, it can also cause you to overeat. Since you only have a small window of opportunity, you might end up binging and eating double portions. As tempting as it is to go hog wild, it’s important to only eat your recommended number of calories. Overeating will only undo what fasting can do.

Digestion Issues

If you already suffer from digestive issues, eating larger portions at one sitting may do more harm than good. People suffering from IBS are more susceptible to bloating, cramping and constipation.

intermittent fasting for digestion

When fasting, it’s important not too overeat and be mindful of what you put in your mouth. A rainbow diet is usually the best way to go, which means your plate should be colorful with the recommended daily servings of fruit, vegetables, and lean protein.

Little to No Results

As with any type of weight loss plan, everyone’s results are different. While some people lose a lot of weight, others might not lose any. It really depends on your activity level and what you eat when you are not fasting. Since fasting slows your metabolism, it’s important to choose wisely when you eat. If not, you may actually gain weight.

Impact on Heart Health

Lowering your overall intake of saturated fat is good for your heart, however, you again need to make sure you are making the right choices when you eat. Cardiovascular markers for cholesterol, HDL and LDL should reflect your dietary choices.

Long-Term Health Consequences

If you suffer from a chronic medical condition, like diabetes, fasting may not be for you. People suffering from diabetes maintaining their blood sugars can be a matter of life and death. In addition, since binge eating is directly related to a variety of eating disorders, fasting may exacerbate an already disordered eating pattern.

Not for Everyone

If you suffer from a chronic medical condition, like diabetes, fasting may not be for you. People suffering from diabetes maintaining their blood sugars can be a matter of life and death. In addition, since binge eating is directly related to a variety of eating disorders, fasting may exacerbate an already disordered eating pattern.

Women who restrict their caloric content too drastically can develop cessation of menses. It’s important to only restrict your calories by 25 percent, which equates to approximately 500 to 600 calories.

Final Thoughts of Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss

In theory, eating healthy and losing weight is easy. You decrease the number of calories you consume and make healthier choices. And while fasting can reduce prep and cooking time, it’s important to understand whether fasting is the right choice for you.

Before starting any weight-loss plan, you need to consult with your physician and make sure it’s okay. Fasting is not right for everyone. If your doctor gives you the green light, test the waters to see which type of fasting works best.

Finally, know when to call it a day. If you don’t see the results you were hoping for, don’t get discouraged. Sometimes simply tweak your efforts and eating habits are enough to lose weight

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