By Dr. Kaycee Reyes
South Beach, Weight Watchers, Paleo, and Atkins are some of the popular diets that promote either no-carb, low-sugar, no-meat, or other types of food elimination that promises to shrink your size in a short amount of time. But what if the solution is not cutting food groups, but cutting hours of food intake? Fasting diets are increasingly becoming popular these days, but these are not just fads that come and go. Backed by science and history, find out if fasting does its promise of dropping pounds fast and more.
Fasting dates back to centuries as different religions incorporated it as part of their practices primarily to instill discipline and show devotion, whether as penance or sacrifice. In time, early philosophers and healers used fasting for healing and therapy, as it was observed that the body has a natural tendency to maintain its balance and take a break in times of stress, illness, pain, or difficulty. Later on, scientists began experimenting with caloric restrictions, as it was shown to promote healthier and longer lives when it was tested on mice. And when fasting was studied further on animals in the 1940s, it was found that fasting, like caloric restriction, also prevented some diseases from developing later on and these animals had longer, better, and healthier lives than those who ate anything at any time. More studies on fasting emerged, and it was found that an intermittent fast on rodents improved resistance to stroke and slowed their cognitive decline. Fasting, as these researchers say, induces stress among the body’s cells but the good kind that protects healthy cells, repairs damaged ones, and fights free radicals that cause inflammation and disease. Moreover, it also increases the human growth hormone that is responsible for the body’s metabolism, promotes insulin sensitivity that lessens the risk of diabetes, and obesity, and it benefits the brain too by increasing the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that lessens the risk of depression, Alzheimer’s, and other brain-related issues.
So when do you feast and fast? There are an increasing number of intermittent fasting (IF) options and schedules to try, and it is most effective when you choose, of course, the one that best fits your schedule (and stamina). One of the most popular is Martain Berkhan’s Leangains or the 16:8 diet, which is fasting for 16 hours and feasting for eight. Within the fast, no calories must be consumed. Another is Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat, wherein you restrict food intake for 24 hours twice per week, and resume eating normally on other days. Michael Mosley’s The Fast Diet, also called the 5:2 diet, is similar to Pilon’s, but instead of 24-hour fasts twice a week, calories will be limited to a total of 500 for two days per week.
Fasting may be promising because of the countless benefits it has for one’s overall health, but some are against this method as they say it encourages eating disorders by making cravings stronger that leads to bingeing when fasting is over. Some also say that fasting for too long will do more harm to one’s health than good as it may disrupt organ function. Others more say that intermittent fasting is not sustainable, making it pointless to dieters who go back to their normal eating habits. This is why more studies in humans must be done to prove intermittent fasting’s both short and long-term effects. To date, only small clinical trials restricted among specific groups (example athletes) have been studied. Because of this, one must take caution when doing a fast.
If you think IF will work for you, research first about the specific plan you want to do and consult your physician before changing your eating habits, as these may not be the option for diabetics or those with other health conditions. Also, incorporating an IF diet gradually is better than going at it head-on, like fasting at bedtime than daytime, or increasing caloric restriction week after week. Drink lots of water when you fast and working out (which doesn’t need to be strenuous) will help lose pounds, too. Lastly, discipline as well as a healthy mindset is always key, no matter which diet you do.