Mr. Bee suffered from sinus infections for years that left him miserable. He went to several different ENT doctors, tried rounds of antibiotics but nothing worked. Then he read online that fasting allows the body to detox and clear up sinuses, so he gave it a try and it worked! Now he gets sinus infections much more infrequently, and every time one flares up he fasts, and quickly gets better. Since then I’ve been interested in how fasting affects the body, and have been using it to lose weight and maintain it. It took me a little while to embrace the concept because it’s been ingrained in me that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and not eating causes your metabolism to slow down and thwart weight loss. But time-restricted fasting (eating all my daily calories within a specific time window) has actually worked great for me.
I’ve tried many diets over the years, but I’ve never been able to keep them up long-term. I loved eating whole for instance, and it really made me feel great; I’d definitely do another round of Whole30. But realistically I didn’t have the time and energy to keep up with it as a lifestyle. Intermittent fasting, however, was a great fit living on a remote island because I didn’t have to do any planning/buy anything special to start and I didn’t need to think about food choices, which was often more difficult for me than skipping a meal instead.
Is this another fad diet? I don’t know but many cultures and religions fast regularly, and intermittent fasting is more in line with how animals and our ancestors typically ate. Fasting regimens (not eating after 6pm for instance) have also been around forever.
There are several popular versions of the intermittent fasting diet. In the 5-2 diet, you eat normally for 5 days and then severely restrict your calories (<600) for 2 days. Another version has you restricting calories every other day. Both sounded pretty torturous! Then I read this article about how fasting affects women’s body’s differently than men’s. It suggested you fast intermittently (12-16 hour stretches) on 2-3 nonconsecutive days a week to start, and then increase days from there. This is also known as time-restricted eating (TRE) where you restrict your eating to an 8-12 hour window each day. That sounded doable because I’d just need to delay breakfast to fast over 12 hours.
I decided to give intermittent fasting a try, forgoing food for 12-16 hours overnight. The weight quickly dropped off and it felt like I wasn’t putting in much effort. I didn’t have to think about making a healthy choice for breakfast, and had a cup of coffee to tide me over until lunch. You’re hungry for the first couple of days, but your body quickly gets used to it.
My weight fluctuates a couple of pounds up and down depending on my eating and socializing habits, and when I see the scale inch up, I fast overnight to bring it back down. I like that it isn’t too restrictive and is easy for me to do. This writer restricted her calories to an 8 hour window to lose weight, and then a 12 hour window to maintain it, which works well for me too. This is the first method of losing and maintaining weight loss that seems doable long term for me.
Why does fasting work?
One of the reasons periodic fasting works so well is because it’s particularly helpful in burning fat. Your body typically chews through its glucose—or sugar—stores in 10-ish hours; once the glucose in your liver is depleted, your hungry tissue is forced to utilize fat for fuel, Varady says. The upshot: With on-and-off deprivation, you lose over 90% of the weight from fat—a good 15% more than with typical diets—and just 10% from muscle. What’s more, since it allows you to hang on to muscle, it doesn’t seem to cause the usual diet-related plunge in metabolism. (source: prevention)
It seems that there are other health benefits besides losing weight associated with fasting.
“We’ve found that mice or rats that maintain alternate-day fasting have brain neurons that are resistant to the kind of damage associated with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and even stroke.” (source: Time)
Although more research is needed, intriguing new findings in people and mice suggest that eating within a strict 8- to 12-hour time frame each day changes metabolism at the genetic level, lowering blood sugar and body weight, even without cutting calories. (source: webmd)
Would you try an intermittent fasting diet?
* Please do not embark upon any fasting diet without consulting your doctor first. Pregnant and nursing women, people with diabetes and children should never fast.