Intermittent Fasting

Check out the facts about latest diet trend

By Brooke Stacia Demott


For centuries, mankind has regarded fasting as an ancient spiritual technique that brings someone closer to God.

Turns out, there might also be some significant physical benefits to the age-old religious custom.

Fasting is simply denying your body calories for a short period of time. We do this, unwittingly, every day. Once bedtime hits, your daily fasting has begun. Often, it isn’t very long. A recent Gallup Poll indicates that the average American sleeps only 6.8 hours per night, while 40 percent sleep less than six.

The first caloric item you ingest is what breaks that fast — hence, breakfast.

That’s why breakfast is your most important meal. It’s what you break that evening fast with and sets the tone for your body’s cravings for the remainder of the day.

The idea behind intermittent fasting is to extend that fast. Instead of six or seven hours, stretch it to 14, 16, or 20 hours. This reportedly gives your body less time to ingest calories and helps you lose weight.

It appears to be effective. Clinical trials demonstrate that IF does encourage significant weight loss, though not necessarily any more so than a calorie-restrictive diet.

There’s also an increasing body of evidence indicating that long periods of daily fasting provide significant cellular and metabolic benefits.

Stacey Mattinson, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, informs online readers that IF offers multiple health benefits in addition to weight loss. Since food intake is limited to daylight hours, IF encourages the body to eat to satisfaction during the day, meaning no more late-night snacking!

Once food has been digested, energy reserves turn their attention to repairing weak cells in the gastrointestinal track, reducing inflammation and encouraging your immune system in a daily reboot.

She concedes that these same benefits are found in reasonable — that is, non-excessive — caloric restriction as a lifestyle, so it’s possible that the reason these benefits are present in IF regimens is simply because they promote restricted caloric intake.

Sarah Inserra is a registered dietitian and dietitian nutritionist who serves as outpatient dietitian for the Mohawk Valley Health System’s “Eat Right Live Right Program.”

She said the jury is still out thus far based on her professional experiences with IF.

“When you are in a fasted state, the body initiates important cellular repairs and changes in your hormone levels, making stored body fat more accessible.”

“IF has been around for a very long time,” says Inserra. “Our ancestors intermittently fasted during the winter, as there was a relative lack of food that necessitated decreasing intake.

“Personally, I am unsure about interval dieting. I’ve had some clients who’ve tried intermittent fasting. Some were able to meet their goals, while others ultimately chose other methods that were more effective for them. For some clients, it is contraindicated,” she said.

“IF is inappropriate for children under 18, women who are pregnant or nursing, anyone with a history of disordered eating, anyone with an underlying medical condition or is taking medications that may be complicated due to fasting, such as diabetes, or the patient has no interest in fasting,” Inserra added.

It can, however, be an effective and beneficial lifestyle shift for others.

Inserra said IF might be a good option if a patient is overweight or obese and has no underlying medical conditions; has difficulty sticking to a daily calorie restriction; does not like to eat a morning meal; does not like to track their intake, or has a tendency to snack late at night.

Expert view

So, how would someone get started?

Lauren Davis, a certified personal trainer at Vent Fitness in Albany and creator of 4EverBods, said there are a variety of ways a person can implement fasting into his or her diet — it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Common protocols include 20 hours of fasting with only a 4-hour eating window (20:4); the 24-hour method, which is fasting from dinner to dinner; five regular eating days and two 24-hour fasting days (5:2 fast), and the popular 16/8 — fast for 16 hours, then consume all of your calories for the day in the remaining eight.

Typically, you’d pick a window of time each day and stick to it. For instance, with a 16/8 plan, most people stop eating at 8 p.m., skip a morning meal, and break their fast at noon the following day.

“That seems like a significant wait for your morning coffee, but don’t worry,” Davis said. “You can have black coffee or tea along with water until noon.”

What makes IF an effective program for healthier living?

“A smaller eating window means you will most likely consume less calories, putting you in a desired calorie deficit required for weight loss,” Davis said. “When you are in a fasted state, the body initiates important cellular repairs and changes in your hormone levels, making stored body fat more accessible.

“Insulin levels drop and human growth hormone increases, encouraging fat loss and muscle gains. The energy the body once used to digest and process your foods is now freed up to aid in cellular repairs.”

However, Davis warns, choose your foods wisely.

“Some believe you can eat whatever you want during the designated eating windows. I would not recommend this. When you’re in a fasted state, insulin levels drop, allowing the body to access and use fat as fuel. Guess what happens when we eat processed foods and sugars during our feeding windows? Insulin spikes, which is the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve when fasting,” she said.

As a certified personal trainer, Davis does not prescribe diet plans to clients.

“I have seen many clients have success with IF. The great thing about this weight loss method is that it is 100 percent free, and you can start and stop whenever you want,” she said.

Inserra offers some final words of wisdom.

“When preparing to make a lifestyle change, be sure to take time to evaluate your readiness to make a change,” she said.

It’s never a good idea to make major health decisions on a whim. Do some research, talk with a local registered dietitian, and choose the weight loss program that is right for you.

Doesn’t fasting put your body into ‘starvation mode’?

By Brooke Stacia Demott

“Starvation mode” is the theory that when you stop eating, your metabolism slows down to reserve fat stores, keeping you from losing weight or possibly even causing you to gain a few pounds!

Here’s the reality: Only under long durations of extended caloric restriction would your metabolism slow down to ensure your survival.

The Minnesota starvation experiment during World War II demonstrates this theory, where after six months of extremely low caloric intake, subjects experienced a lowered heart rate and body temperature, indicating a drop in metabolism.

However, a more recent experiment took 11 healthy volunteers living on nothing but water for 3 1/2 days (brutal!) and found that volunteers’ basal metabolic rate actually went up while they were fasting, by around 14 percent.

Long story short: While extreme calorie restriction for excessive periods of time may decrease your metabolism, short-term fasting actually increases your metabolism.

So, you can fast without fear of rebound weight gain.