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Intermittent Fasting: Just Another Diet Trend or a Solution for Improving Health?

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Is intermittent fasting just another diet fad, or is there science backing it up as a healthy lifestyle option? Fasting seemed to keep our ancestors metabolically healthy. It could be a simple solution to keeping weight in a healthy range and helping to avoid illnesses associated with poor metabolic health.

by julieotoole julieotoole (New)

Specializes in NICU. Has 21 years experience.

Have you tried intermittent fasting?

Intermittent Fasting: Just Another Diet Trend or a Solution for Improving Health?

Intermittent Fasting: Just Another Diet Trend?

As the name suggests, intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that cycles between fasting and eating. In recent years it has become not only a popular approach to weight control, but also a means to improve metabolic health. Fasting is nothing new to us humans. It's practiced in various religions around the world, and it was a way of life for our predecessors, the hunter-gatherers. Intermittent may be more than just a 'diet', and it may have potential as a healthy lifestyle option.

Fasting and the Hunter-gatherers

In hunter-gatherer societies of our past, our ancestors survived and thrived for long periods of time without eating. Their days were consumed with hunting along with collecting nuts and berries. A small window of each day was their opportunity to feast. That was life as the hunter-gatherer knew it, and though that presented it's own challenges, research shows that obesity and the ramifications of it were virtually non existent.

Intermittent Fasting and Metabolic Health

Simply put, having good metabolic health refers to having ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, along with maintaining blood pressure and waist circumference in a normal range all without the use of medications. In a study published in 2018 in the Journal of Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill evaluated data from 8,721 adults from 2009 to 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that only 1 in 8 adults in the United States are considered metabolically healthy. The weight loss, which frequently occurs when time for eating each day is limited, often helps improve all parameters involved in measuring metabolic health. Additionally, many changes occur in the body during the fasting period. Insulin levels drop allowing for increased fat burning, cellular repair takes place, and human growth hormone (HCG) levels rise allowing for further fat burning and muscle gain.

When to Eat Versus What to Eat

The concept of intermittent fasting is pretty straight forward. You eat, and then you abstain from eating for an amount of time-usually 16-20 hours.  Some intermittent fasting followers will even follow a one meal a day approach called OMAD. Weight loss accompanies the reduction in calories that naturally comes with the reduced time to eat. It is of course possible to negate weight loss efforts with over consuming calories during the eating window, but more difficult to do so when time is restricted. While it technically doesn't matter what one eats during the eating window, for optimal results attention should be given to eating nutrient dense foods.

Incorporating Intermittent Fasting Into Your Life

One of the beautiful things about intermittent fasting is that it can be personalized in a way that works for an individual. The often unpredictable schedules of nurses can sometimes wreck havoc on many well thought out lifestyle changes. Unlike other 'diets', intermittent fasting is flexible and doesn't necessarily require a lot of planning or meal prep. 

Different Options for Different Needs

Often people who are new to intermittent fasting will opt for a 16 hour fast. Also known as a 16/8 fast, eight hours are allowed to consume all nutrients for the day. Other common options are 18/6 hour fasts, OMAD, and the 5:2 approach which involves eating 'normally' for five days a week, while the other two days restrict calories to under 600 calories.

Coffee and Fasting

Many of us love our coffee! Black coffee, unsweetened TEAS, and water (regular and carbonated) can be consumed during the fasting period and will not disrupt any of the positive changes occurring during the fast. The jury is out as to whether a small amount sweetener or cream is acceptable, but most experts will say to nix them. I can say from personal experiences that it is possible to acquire a taste for (and even prefer) black coffee.

The Bottom Line

We all know that there is no one size fits all when it comes to anything related to diet. While intermittent fasting offers a no fuss means to losing weight, maintaining weight, and improving metabolic health, it is by no means a one size fits all solution. Could it be an answer for you?

References

Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009–2016

Intermittent Fasting 101 — The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

Hunter-gatherer energetics and human obesity

Julie O'Toole, RN NICU nurse for 20 years and a lover of all things health and fitness related.

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6 Comment(s)

I fall into this by default and basically don't know anything about IF.

The amount of calories I eat per day, which is a healthy allowance for my sex/age/wt/ht, means that if I eat both breakfast and lunch then I am not left with enough calories to eat the kind of main meal that I prefer at dinner.

In addition to that, I have known for a long time that the earlier in the day I eat something the hungrier I feel throughout the day.

Because of these two things I don't eat breakfast. It isn't required for me to get my day going. I eat a light lunch early afternoon. Then I don't snack or eat until dinner. Then I have the dinner I want, using appropriate portion sizes. Then don't eat again until next day early afternoon (lunch). I feel very good eating this way. Normal weight/BMI and in general good health.

When I don't count calories then over time portions become inappropriate. If not being mindful it is very easy to just eat an obscene amount of calories.

I don't feel hungry between meals and don't begin to feel hungry until right before I eat my late lunch. I feel hungry all the time if I start eating willy-nilly.

Tweety, BSN, RN

Specializes in Med-Surg, Trauma, Ortho, Neuro, Cardiac. Has 28 years experience.

There seems to be compelling evidence that it's helpful but I can't do this working 12 hour shifts especially with overtime.  I can't work hungry and I can't go to sleep hungry so often I'm eating dinner at 9pm and turn around and eat breakfast at 6:00AM.  I could do it if I skip breakfast but then I like yesterday I was so busy I didn't eat lunch until 3pm.  

Maybe on days off or when I retire I'll try it.  

JBMmom, MSN, NP

Specializes in Long term care; med-surg; critical care. Has 9 years experience.

I have done 18 hour intermittent fasting for about 90% of the past year and I find it works great for me. When I started, I almost immediately lost some of the night shift weight that I had put on, about 15 pounds. I didn't focus as much on what I was eating, just limiting my eating to between noon and 6pm. I am eating a little bit healthier because I don't indulge in any of the break room snacks or goodies overnight. And because I don't eat overnight, I don't have to worry about getting hangry if it's a busy shift and I miss my break. 

I also find that the few times I have eaten before noon, I've ended up being hungrier throughout the day. I'm not a big snacker, so eating only lunch and dinner, or sometimes only dinner, has worked well for me. 

MunoRN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care. Has 10 years experience.

The 'style' of eating isn't a fad, every human through the history of time (with rare exceptions) fasts in between eating, it's the term that's a fad.

The goal of every weight loss diet, regardless of the name, is to maintain a calorie deficit (consuming fewer calories than you expend).

I think the main benefit of the fad-term is that it introduces the idea that you don't have to eat a bunch of food just because it's noon or 6 in the evening.

If the concept is what helps someone achieve a calorie deficit then it's effective, but I find it's not always conducive to that.  The problem is when someone skips breakfast and lunch, or even a whole day, and then pounds 4000 calories once they do finally eat.

Physiologically, more frequent eating is actually more conducive to a calorie deficit, so long as you're eating the right amount and the right things.  Hunger is more likely following a spike in available energy from consumed calories, which is more likely with simple carbs.  Good fats and proteins get broken down and made available as energy in a more consistent and longer lasting timeframe, which is more conducive to being able to easily maintain a calorie deficit.

Tweety, BSN, RN

Specializes in Med-Surg, Trauma, Ortho, Neuro, Cardiac. Has 28 years experience.

On 9/3/2021 at 5:37 PM, MunoRN said:

The 'style' of eating isn't a fad, every human through the history of time (with rare exceptions) fasts in between eating, it's the term that's a fad.

The goal of every weight loss diet, regardless of the name, is to maintain a calorie deficit (consuming fewer calories than you expend).

I think the main benefit of the fad-term is that it introduces the idea that you don't have to eat a bunch of food just because it's noon or 6 in the evening.

If the concept is what helps someone achieve a calorie deficit then it's effective, but I find it's not always conducive to that.  The problem is when someone skips breakfast and lunch, or even a whole day, and then pounds 4000 calories once they do finally eat.

Physiologically, more frequent eating is actually more conducive to a calorie deficit, so long as you're eating the right amount and the right things.  Hunger is more likely following a spike in available energy from consumed calories, which is more likely with simple carbs.  Good fats and proteins get broken down and made available as energy in a more consistent and longer lasting timeframe, which is more conducive to being able to easily maintain a calorie deficit.

For some the idea isn't calorie deficit but getting the calories you need in a shorter time frame.

There's also a trend of people that are doing intermittent fasting for the metabolic and other benefits, not just to lose weight.  Longevity expert David Sinclair does intermittent fasting and he doesn't need to lose weight.

 

Plant based gut health and microbiome expert Dr. Will Bulsiewicz advocates periods of not eating to coincide with your circadian rhythms for maximum health and he doesn't need to lose weight.

Edited by Tweety

Curious1997, BSN

Specializes in Psych, Medical. Has 13 years experience.

I am 6'4" and weigh, fluctuating between 228 and 236lbs. I play soccer, table tennis and squash at a reasonably high level, three times a week for exercise and enjoyment. The weight I maintain is because I'm young I think. 

I eat about 2800 calories between 6-8pm and many snacks between throughout the day, however, the snacks are always fruits, nuts, raw vegetables ONLY! I actually love these foods! For beverages, I buy Jasmine Chinese tea or flavored tea and keep several 2 litre bottles, that I drop either the raw tea leaves or tea bag, in a very cold fridge which flavors the water very nicely. I practically never have deserts. A Chinese or Indian take out maybe once a week for variety. 

Seems to be working for me so far. The raw foods are essentially no calories and can be very filling, but you never feel bloated as with real food.