Most diets focus on what you eat, but intermittent fasting is all about when you eat. It is essentially an eating pattern where one cycles between voluntary fasting and non-fasting over a given period. While intermittent fasting is often practiced as a dietary plan for losing weight, some research suggests it may also provide other health benefits.
There are several different ways of practicing intermittent fasting, and the most popular are:
- 16/8: Also called “Leangains”, it involves not eating for 16 hours, then eating normally during 8. For example, skip breakfast and only eat between 1-9pm. Due to its simplicity, this dietary plan enjoys very low abandonment rates.
- 5:2 diet: Eat a normal diet 5 days a week and fast 2 non-consecutive days.
- Alternate-day fasting: This involves alternating between a 24-hour “fast day” and a 24-hour non-fasting “feast day”.
By reducing calorie intake, intermittent fasting should cause weight loss. Losing weight and being physically active helps lower the risk of obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes, sleep apnea and some types of cancer.
Furthermore, some research suggests that intermittent fasting may be more beneficial than other diets for reducing inflammation and thereby improving conditions associated with inflammation, such as:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
Can I eat during fasting?
This will depend on the method used and on how strict one chooses to be. For example, when following a 5:2 diet, some people will consume 25% of daily calory needs on fasting days.
In addition, there are certain foods that provide zero calories and thus may satiate without inconvenience. These include:
- Coffee, tea and other herbal infusions
- Sugar free gum
Can I eat as much as I like during non-fasting?
Certainly not. Eating a balanced diet is always recommended and we should always refrain from eating too much processed junk food, as well as food rich in sugar and fat content.
As always, a healthy and balanced diet includes:
- Healthy (unsaturated) fats: E.g., nuts, avocados, eggs, fish, olive oil and seeds.
- Proteins: E.g., lean meats, fish, shrimp, yogurt and milk.
- Carbohydrates: E.g., potato, corn, whole grain cereal and rice, quinoa and oats.
- Fruits and vegetables: Any ones you want!
Are there any risks to intermittent fasting?
People who are underweight or with a Body Mass Index of 20-25 should refrain from practicing intermittent fasting. It is also not recommended for anyone who suffers from type 1 diabetes, kidney or liver problems, those who are going through a medical recovery of any kind, and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.