There’s a lot of pseudoscientific diets out there that have many of us stressing about the food we eat these days. There’s “detox” cleanses, the ever-so-popular keto diet and one of the hottest at the moment: intermittent fasting.

The basic premise is this: You eat during specific hours of the day, and fast during remaining hours while staying within a set calorie “budget.” And the idea isn’t exactly new. Dating back to the days of Hippocrates (around 460 to 370 B.C.) fasting was a form of treatment for seizures and other illnesses. Today it’s making a comeback with claims that it helps you not only lose weight, but also be more alert and productive.

We talked with Kimberly Spatola, registered dietitian with Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute about how the diet and what you need to know if you’re considering it.

What types of intermittent fasting plans are out there?

The range of fasting varies per individual, but the typical interval ranges from eight to sixteen hours. Some fast for a window of a couple of hours a day to a full day a week.

Spatola mug
Kimberly Spatola, registered dietian

Spatola explained going without calories for prolonged stretches of time can put your body into a state of ketosis, similar to that of the keto diet, in which fat is burned instead of sugar for energy. In other words, insulin plays a huge role in a way that when insulin levels drop so does your weight, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Up until a few years ago the most promising research on intermittent fasting only involved very fat rats. For humans, there wasn’t much research that showed it to be more effective than any other diet plan out there. But in a recent study, researchers showed that not eating for 10 to 16 hours did improve weight loss results and insulin sensitivity. Another study that looked at a group of obese men with prediabetes, found that intermittent fasting helped them dramatically lower their insulin levels, insulin sensitivity and blood pressure.

But Spatola said intermittent fasting could be dangerous, especially if you’re prone to eating disorders.

“There are a lot of things that can go wrong when you’re skipping meals and not eating enough,” Spatola said.  

“This is a slippery slope to disordered eating behaviors, since this requires to you avoid listening to your internal hunger and fullness cues.”

Bottom line: Spatola doesn’t recommend intermittent fasting as a solution for losing weight. While it might work for some, she said most of us can benefit from healthier eating patterns that aren’t necessarily too restrictive.

 

Short-term wins on fad diets almost always fade away. The most important way to see lasting results?

“Start changing your lifestyle by taking small steps to incorporate healthier habits into different areas of your life,” said Spatola.

That could mean walking for 30 minutes a day or substituting sugary juices with real fruit instead. Whatever it is, making incremental changes for the better can help you not just lose weight but keep you from yo-yoing back.

The only way to find out, Spatola said, is not through guesswork from internet research, but rather through an informed discussion with your provider on whether fasting would help you move a step closer toward a healthier lifestyle.

 

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