Is intermittent fasting right for you?

JANICE AMIRAULT janice @SaltWireNetwork Janice Amirault, RHN, CHCC, is a holistic nutritional consultant and holistic cancer coach. She can be reached online at



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If you want to lose fat, improve metabolism and experience other health benefits all without giving up your favourite foods, intermittent fasting (IF) might be for you. Intermittent fasting is just that - fasting intermittently. It’s an “eating pattern” rather than a “diet.” That means regularly reducing eating and drinking during pre-set times. It’s controlling when you eat and drink as opposed to what you eat and drink. Many people prefer intermittent fasting because it gets similar weight and fat loss results as a calorie restricted diet. Another advantage to IF over calorie reduced diets is that it can help people eat more intentionally rather than mindlessly. Let’s review some of the health benefits, look at the most popular methods and identify who shouldn’t intermittently fast. Over and above the weight and fat loss benefits, intermittent fasting has metabolic benefits and may not only help with overweight and obesity, but with metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. People who intermittently fast sometimes have improved insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels. They also show improved blood lipids, reduced blood pressure and even reduced inflammatory markers. All of these are related to improved metabolism and reduced risks for many chronic diseases. One unique way intermittent fasting works is by improving our metabolism. This is important for blood sugar control and diabetes risk. Many animal studies show intermittent fasting can help reduce stress and improve the ability to think and improve memory. Studies also show alternate day fasting protects brain neurons in animal models of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke. When it comes to weight and fat loss, consistently reducing the amount ingested by 15 to 60 per cent, results in loss of both weight and fat. This is called “continuous” calorie reduction because one is continuously reducing daily food and beverage intake at every meal and snack. Calorie reduced diets can include eating smaller servings, lower calorie substitutions, and/or cutting out some snacks/desserts every day. For people who have excess weight, losing weight (and fat) reduces the risk of diabetes, improves healthy lifespan and increases function of both the body and mind. After about five to six per cent of a person’s body weight is lost, even more health benefits are seen. Improved LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, improved blood sugar levels, lowered blood pressure and lowered levels of inflammation. Both continuous calorie reduction and intermittent fasting have similar weight loss results, however, intermittent fasting isn’t a continuous reduction, but rather an intermittent one. It allows you to eat what you want, but only during certain times. It’s an alternative to calorie reduced diets. An article by Patterson & Sears (2017), published in Annual Review of Nutrition, states “overall, intermittent fasting regimens are not harmful physically or mentally in healthy, normal weight, overweight or obese adults.” There are a few things to keep in mind before considering intermittent fasting. A number of adverse effects have been reported, including bad temper, low mood, lack of concentration, feeling cold, nausea, vomiting, constipation, swelling, hair loss, muscle weakness, uric acid in the blood and reduced kidney function, menstrual irregularities, abnormal liver function tests, headaches, fainting, weakness, dehydration, mild metabolic acidosis, preoccupation with food, erratic eating patterns, binging, and hunger pangs. If done too often or for too many days, intermittent fasting can have more serious effects. Excessive fasting can lead to malnutrition as reducing your food intake also reduces your nutrient intake. It’s important to ensure you get enough essential nutrients for long-term health. Excessive fasting can lead to decreased bone density, eating disorders, susceptibility to infectious diseases, or damage to organs. There are several ways to intermittent fast: -Alternate-day fasting: One day of fasting, one day of eating. Continue fasting on alternate days. -Alternate-day modified fasting: Eat 25 to 40 per cent of your daily needs one day, then eat normally the next. Continue alternating days. -Periodic fasting or “two day” fasting: Each week has one or two days to eat very few calories per day. The other five days you eat normally. -Time-restricted fasting: Fast for 12 to 16 hours every day and eat normally during the other eight to 12 hours. -One 24-hour period of fasting each month. Several researchers suggest the alternate-day modified fasting is preferable because it’s likely the easiest to follow and may cause the least amount of stress on the body and mind. Studies show alternate-day fasting reduces overall calorie intake. Plus, on non-restricted days, some people naturally reduce their energy intake by up to 20 to 30 per cent. In conclusion, intermittent fasting is a way to get the benefits of a regular calorie reduced diet without restricting what you eat. There are advantages and disadvantages of both intermittent fasting and calorie reduced diets. Intermittent fasting isn’t optimal for everyone which is why it’s recommended to check with your health-care professional before starting any new diet plan.