Intermittent fasting is just one of the many “dieting” trends that has popped up recently. Not only is it controversial, but also confusing. While the mainstream advice involved with eating for both weight loss and general health is to not skip meals, intermittent fasters tend to go 8 hours, 12 hours, or even entire days without eating. Sounds pretty unhealthy right? Well, that doesn’t stop many intermittent fasters from singing the praises of fasting for its benefits in weight loss and even muscle gain. So why adhere to something that sounds as borderline torturous as fasting instead of just good old calorie restriction like a normal diet?
An extensive study conducted earlier this year by the Journal of the American Medical Association spanned over a year and had 100 subjects. Half of the subjects were put in a calorie deficit (that is, they were eating 75% less than the amount of calories they need to maintain weight) and the other half were put on a fasting diet. This meant that they ate only 25% of their needed calories one day and then 125% of their calorie needs the next day on alternate days. So what happened? Interestingly, both groups lost about the same amount of weight with regular dieters losing 5.3% of weight and fasters losing 6% of their body weight. It should be noted, however, that the fasting group had a slightly higher dropout rate from the study which calls into question if this style of dieting can be maintained long term. Another important factor to note is that the subjects were obese with no metabolic disorders.
If you want to try fasting, there are a few things to consider. There is a diverse “criteria” for what fasting is and the alternate-day fasting used above is just one of the methods. One could also fast for 12, 16, 20, or even 24 hours. However, be warned. Fasting is not for everyone. If you lead a particularly stressful life, exercise regularly, have a history of eating disorders, are diabetic or are pregnant, you are not advised to fast. Indeed, fasting is a questionable method among women in general due to the effects that a lack of food has on hormonal functions due to possible lapses in menstruation that can be negatively affected by just three days of fasting.
The bottom line? Keep in mind this is only one study which suggests that fasting seems to be just as effective as traditional dieting, but there are definitely contraindications associated with it and some people just shouldn’t try it at all. There is certainly more research to be done and until the message is more clear, it may be safer to go with the extensively researched method of traditional dieting. Above all, you shouldn’t compromise health in the name of dropping a few pounds.