By Isadora Baum
We know what you’re thinking—give up food for all those hours? It can seem pretty daunting. Yet, what if we were to tell you that there could be some upside to fasting? It might make putting down that trusty protein bar a bit easier (remember, it’s not going anywhere).
It’s important to be cautious when starting any new diet—especially fasting—as it can take a turn for the worst when done improperly. Plus, all bodies differ, and while it could be a beneficial way of eating for one person, it could be a total disaster for another.
So, what’s the deal with intermittent fasting, anyway?
HOW IT WORKS
“Intermittent fasting is a term for a nutrition program that cycles between periods of fasting and eating,” explains Ngo Okafor, celebrity trainer and founder of the fitness app FitMatch, to Clean Plates.
The fast is usually between 12-16 hours, and it doesn’t allow for anything besides water. A common time period for intermittent fasting might be from 7 p.m. the night before to between 7-10 a.m. the next day, explained Amy Shah, MD, on Dr. Axe’s website.
If you’re skeptical, ease into it—you’ll still see some results, without overdoing it. Dr. Partha Nandi M.D, F.A.C.P, creator and host of the Emmy-award winning medical lifestyle television show, “Ask Dr. Nandi” and Chief Health Editor at WXYZ-TV (ABC) Detroit tells Clean Plates that fasting for five days, every three months, will activate the regeneration of cells in the body.
Before assuming you’ll become, “Queen B,” at the office, wait to hear the benefits.
Okafor says, “When you fast, human growth hormone levels go up and insulin levels go down, which may boost metabolism slightly, while helping you consume fewer calories. It is an effective way to lose weight and belly fat.”
So, if you’re looking to drop a few pounds, especially near those dreaded love handles and gut, intermittent fasting could be a viable method.
Indeed, a 2017 scientific statement from the American Heart Association says there is evidence that intermittent fasting can be effective for weight loss, but admits there’s no long-term data, says Maggie Moon, MS, RDN, CLT, and author of the MIND diet book, to Clean Plates.
As with any diet plan, there can be drawbacks. For some people, intermittent fasting comes with the risk of muscle loss, explains Structure House’s registered dietitian Benjamin White, PhD, MPH, RD, to Clean Plates. “Our bodies don’t store much extra protein, so not eating for 16 hours or more can lead to our own muscle being used to maintain other organs,” White says.
Okafar recommends lifting weights and keeping protein intake high, as it should do the trick.
What’s more, gender differences in intermittent fasting do exist. Men have greater stores of protein to pull from during fasting and have better insulin sensitivity, while women might experience insomnia, hormonal change, and worsened blood sugar, explains Okafor.
Studies rats have shown that intermittent fasting can make female rats emaciated, masculinized, infertile and cause them to miss cycles. One note of good news—women who were amenorrheic (lack of menstruation) when fasting went back to normal when they stopped, he notes.
For women who are trying to conceive, pregnant/breastfeeding or have a history of eating disorders, it’s a huge no-no, explains Okafor.
And, don’t do intermittent fasting the night before a race, advises Pamela Nisevich Bede, MS, RD, with Abbott EAS Sports Nutrition to Clean Plates. It’s a lot harder to power through each mile on an empty stomach.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU TRY IT
Dr. Nandi recommends speaking with a physician or primary care doctor to figure out a game plan.
And, intermittent fasting is not for those with diabetes or low blood pressure, both of which require eating on a regular schedule, says Lauren Koffler, RD, to Clean Plates.
“For women, stop intermittent fasting immediately if your hair falls out, your menstrual cycle becomes irregular or stops entirely, you aren’t able to exercise the way you were before, you get sick often, you frequently feel cold, your digestion slows, or your tolerance to stress decreases,” warns Koffler.
If you’re going to try it, eat foods that are dense and high in fiber to fill you up. Dr. Nandi suggests eating oats, as they increase leptin, the hunger-suppressing hormone. Other leptin-boosting foods include grapefruit, peppers, salmon, broccoli, green tea, and Greek yogurt.
To help make intermittent fasting easier—where you’re no longer dreaming of candy bars during the day—stay hydrated. “Drinking water will not only fill your stomach and ward off hunger, it also keeps your energy levels up and your metabolism from dipping,” he adds.
And to avoid the temptation of late night treats and Netflix marathons, hit the hay early. More sleep will help regulate your appetite, metabolism, and energy levels, Dr. Nandi explains.
After all, if you’re putting in the effort, you might as well do it right and reap all the benefits!
BIO: Isadora Baum is a writer and content marketer, as well as a certified health coach. She’s written for Bustle, Men’s Health, Extra Crispy, Clean Plates, Shape, and Huffington Post.
Also published on Medium.