Thanks to celebrities and mainstream sources, you’ve probably heard of intermittent fasting by now and its promises of health benefits, longevity, and mental clarity. Intermittent Fasting (IF) is an eating pattern in which you limit food intake for certain periods of time. Unlike traditional diet methods, IF has nothing to do with what you eat but rather when you eat. This latest diet fad requires careful consideration before beginning, as there are both pros and cons with fasting.
The concept of fasting is nothing new around the world. Many religions and philosophies practice fasting as a way of showing sacrifice and cleansing oneself. An example of this is the holiday of Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. Some cultures even fast for non-religious reasons such as the town of Geneva, Switzerland. The people of this town have a public holiday called “Jeune Genevois” or “Fast of Geneva” which is a full day of fasting that originates from the Middle Ages. Fasting has been around for centuries and will continue to be a regular practice for many cultures.
Fasting regimes can be done different ways. For example, there is “alternate day fasting” in which you alternate days of eating. There is also “modified fasting” in which one fasts for 2 days of the week, and then eats regularly for the other 5 days. Lastly, “time-restricted feeding” is eating within a designated time frame such as within an 8-hour window, and then fasts for the rest of the hours of the 16 hours of the day. While some people may prefer a particular one of these methods of fasting, it is important to note that everyone’s different lifestyle can be the determining factor in choosing to fast or not. Some may prefer to graze or snack throughout the day while others tend to stick to the standard 3 meals a day. Everyone has their own eating pattern and fasting doesn’t work for everyone’s lifestyle. Try to find what your ideal meal structure may be that supports your schedule and digestive pace. If you are considering practicing IF, here are some pros and cons to consider:
Pros of Fasting
- Could be an effective weight loss strategy, reduce risk of chronic disease, and boost longevity. But more studies are needed to prove these theories.
- May reduce overindulging late at night. If you choose to start fasting 2 hours before bed, you may realize that you were mindlessly munching on snacks out of boredom or fatigue.
- No limitations on what you can eat. You’ll start to pay attention to the composition of your meals more when needing foods that provide longer satiety while still being nutrient dense.
Cons of Fasting
- No studies on long-term success and safety. Could be beneficial short-term but it is unknown for a lifestyle intervention.
- Impacts family members and social gatherings. Children may see parents restrict food or skip meals. Will also be tough at social gatherings that involves food or a meal that you would have to skip.
- Skipping meals involves negative symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, lack of concentration, poor mood, and activity performance problems.
- Dysfunctional or disordered eating can be a result of fasting. Extreme restriction promotes binge eating and a “yo-yo” approach to food.
- Restriction is not always sustainable. IF involves ignoring your own hunger cues, which is against human nature.
While IF’s claims are desirable, the jury is still out on whether or not fasting works through strong, conclusive evidence. This diet method can be very unenjoyable, unrealistic, and impractical. Stick to an eating pattern that works for you. And if you feel pressured to practice fasting, remember that true health isn’t always about body weight. Health is is also about optimizing your own well-being through living a vibrant, rich, and fulfilling life. Restricting and depriving yourself from eating is not always the most effective strategy for your health. Follow a more maintainable routine in which you can respond to hunger, gain energy, be social, and thrive for a lifetime.
Intermittent Fasting and Human Metabolic Health - Patterson, Ruth E. et al. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics , Volume 115 , Issue 8 , 1203 - 1212
- “THE PRO'S AND CON'S OF INTERMITTENT FASTING.” WellSeek, 15 July 2017, wellseek.co/2017/07/15/pros-cons-intermittent-fasting/.