There’s a new buzz word that I’ve been seeing popping up on the internet in the diet world lately: Intermittent fasting.
It’s everywhere. There is a website dedicated to fasting here, TED Talks on the subject, and event a BBC documentary – all touting the health benefits of this uncomfortable practice, including weight loss.
Cultures around the world have been fasting for eons. Although an ancient practice, fasting is still very common in modern day religions such as in Islamic traditions. Some even say regular fasting more resembles the eating patterns of our hunter/gatherer ancestors (and I’m not talking about the Paleo diet… that is a COMPLETELY different article!).
A recent article published in the August issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics by Ruth E. Patterson delves into the scientific validity of this quickly developing fasting fad.
While human trials are still far and few between, she says that tests on mice have shown amazing benefits of various types of fasting. Whether food was restricted during certain days of the week, or certain times of the day, all showed a change in the mice’s physical health, including lowering risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Many studies of mice also concluded that weight loss and decreased obesity risk was an added benefit of fasting.
The most promising avenue of understanding how or why fasting helps improve health, Patterson said, is actually the study of the human circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is our body’s internal time clock that releases hormones that control sleep patterns, digestion, and even physical coordination. If we are more in tune with our natural internal, physiological time clock, we could be saving ourselves a world of hurt later on in life.
For example, when mice were constricted to only eating during their natural waking nighttime hours, it had the same great effect, if not better, than some of the other fasting techniques tested. In humans, so much evidence is already known by scientists showing a strong correlation between eating according to our natural waking daytime hours and decreased health risks.
So late-night snackers, take heed.
On the other side of that coin, jet lag and working [night] shift are most notable for messing with a person’s natural daytime rhythms, Patterson added. These human behavior patterns have been directly linked to increased consumption of food and calories, and increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and (breast) cancer.
How fasting works is that it allows your body to rest and keep the blood flow from being interrupted and flooding to the gut every time food is introduced into your body. This is one reason why is not recommended to eat a large meal before bedtime. Sleep is when our body does the majority of its repair work. If it’s distracted with breaking down and digesting a meal, you cheat your body out of quality sleep and proper physical repair and maintenance.
And fasting works even better if we skip eating during the peak part of the day, which is when your metabolism is likewise highest. It burns through the excess sugars and fats, and can concentrate more on shedding and eliminating built-up toxins. Perhaps there is some ancient wisdom to the fasting habits of our ancestors. For example during the Muslim religious observance of Ramadan, fasting is done during the day. Eating is only allowed before the sun rises, and after it sets.
Unfortunately for those human study participants that fasted during the day, Patterson said, many found it difficult – because that feeling of hunger never went away. But one interesting result from these handful of human studies was that fasting actually improved the moods of participants. No joke. These improvements included a lower level of tension, decreased feelings of anger and fatigue, and an increase in self-confidence and a positive mood.
That’s pretty telling.
But claims that fasting is the new “weight loss diet” is still far from becoming a popular one. Another lapse in the handful of human studies that have been conducted on the benefits of fasting is that lifestyle was not taken into account. As one particular study showed, you cannot fast your way out of bad habits. Although fasting did show some health improvements in other study participants including weight loss, none of these studies compared to the elevated positive results seen from the one study that ALSO included an exercise program AND eating a more healthful diet.
My opinion? Intermittent fasting can undoubtedly be included into your daily health regimen. And it may not work for you and your lifestyle, but that’s ok. We’re not all made the same.
But keep in mind that any lifestyle practice that benefits us physically should not be perverted into a “get skinny quick” scheme. Becoming healthy means respecting yourself, and feeling amazing inside of your own skin. Weight loss is only a byproduct, not the goal.
So keep in mind your priorities when starting something new. Listen to your body first and foremost … and you will do and feel amazing things!
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