Intermittent Fasting 101

Social media does an impeccable job of amplifying false nutrition information and creating confusion around food. With an insurmountable amount of nutrition information being touted by non-experts, navigating nutrition and food choices can be challenging. This article outlines the current research behind one popular diet trend: intermittent fasting.

A common misconception of those looking to improve their diet is that skipping meals leads to weight loss. This concept has come to the forefront of popular culture recently with new research emerging on intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting (IF) is a diet pattern that cycles between periods of eating and fasting from 8-16 hours. A popular pattern for IF used today is a sixteen-hour fast, where you stop eating at 6:00 pm, and begin eating again at 10:00 AM. Much of the preliminary research regarding IF has been conducted in animals. Research shows that in flies, moderate IF promoted longevity, healthy aging, and maintaining strong metabolic responses.1 Preliminary research in humans shows longevity and illness prevention benefits from IF, however, more research needs to be conducted before this becomes standard of care.2

However, intermittent fasting may be a helpful tool for improving sleep quality and preventing unwanted gastrointestinal symptoms. Individuals who suffer from acid reflux or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease may see an improvement of their symptoms if they avoid eating before bed.3 For those with these conditions, it is recommended to wait 2-3 hours before laying down after dinner which can naturally facilitate a period of intermittent fasting.

Some of the benefits of IF may not necessarily be due to the time restriction itself, but more from what it may prevent you from doing. The IF time frame prevents late-night snacking which may support weight loss. However, skipping meals or restricting food often leads to overeating later in the day and can negatively impact metabolism. It also should be noted that IF may not be appropriate for those with high cholesterol, particularly high triglycerides, since fasting for extended periods of time than over consuming can increase serum triglyceride levels.

A general word of advice for those looking to improve their diet and overall health: opt for a well-studied Mediterranean diet high in fiber. Choose high fiber and nutrient-dense foods, including green leafy vegetables, berries, and lean protein sources. Unrefined whole-grain products, like quinoa or brown rice, are nutritious options for carbohydrates compared to refined grain, white flour products. It is also essential to note that deprivation often leads to overindulgence later and long term weight gains and losses have a negative effect on metabolism. Working with a dietitian is the most beneficial tool to meet your unique lifestyle and health needs.

Potential Positives: 

  1. It’s safe to say that eating in a time constrained window may promote you to eat less and fasting at night may prevent you from reaching into your cabinets for snacks → by cutting mindless snacking out, you’re more likely to lose weight
  2. Possible weight loss
  3. Leads to a decrease of age-associated inflammatory markers, as well as amino acids related to aging
  4. Found to be relatively effective in healthy individuals, and more effective in obese individuals
  5. Cell autophagy: cleansing of dead or damaged cells

 

Potential Negatives:

  1.  Restriction → leading to the likeness of binging → overeating in your time frame in anticipation of your time frame ending
  2. Restriction can also lead to ED relapse
  3. Following a restrictive diet has been proven to help obese individuals lose weight at least at the beginning of their weight loss journey, but normally plateaus without involving exercise

References 

  1. Aging and Intermittent Fasting Impact on Transcriptional Regulation and Physiological Responses of Adult Drosophila Neuronal and Muscle Tissues. International journal of molecular sciences. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29642630/. Published April 10, 2018. Accessed October 27, 2020.
  2. Fasting: molecular mechanisms and clinical applications. Cell metabolism. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3946160/. Published February 4, 2014. Accessed October 27, 2020.
  3. GERD is becoming a challenge for the medical profession: is there any remedy? Hepato-gastroenterology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25436353/. Published September 2014. Accessed October 27, 2020.