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?
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