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Is Intermittent Fasting A Diet or A Punishment?

Updated: May 7

Should you go with the chicken or the salmon? The arugula salad or the sweet potato fries? Or perhaps, if improving health is your goal, you should make a different choice: none of the above.

Intermittent fasting is alternating between periods of eating and fasting during the week is on the cusp of becoming the latest weight loss fad, according to many in the health and wellness field. There have been several recent documentaries on the topic in North America and Europe. A book called The Fast Diet, already popular in the United Kingdom, just hit bookstore shelves in the United States.

Some advocates recommend fasting every day for up to 16 hours and consuming food only during a short “eating window.” Others suggest going without food once or twice a week for 24-hour periods — having dinner one night, for example, and skipping breakfast, lunch and snacks the next day, then eating a normal dinner (no gorging).

But many nutritionists, physicians and medical researchers are skeptical. Sure, obesity is a major problem and leads to a host of health problems, and cutting down on weekly calorie intakes would be a smart move for many people. Nobody disputes that.

But getting people to eat healthier is difficult enough. Getting people to stop eating altogether for stretches of up to 24 hours? Yeah, good luck with that.

Advocates for intermittent fasting suggest that periodically going through stretches when you drink plenty of water or other calorie-free drinks, but abstain from eating, can improve health, which is true.

Almost all diets focus on the “what” rather than the “when,”. Problem is, the “what” gets confusing. One diet guru suggests dropping wheat products, another says avoid fats. One says eat more fruits, another says many fruits are too high in sugar. And on and on it goes. Even people who make healthier choices tend to eat too much. If they become less active as they age, that will still lead to weight gain. Despite the benefits of giving your digestive system the occasional vacation, health professionals are reluctant to suggest that patients put down their forks.

“Health care practitioners across the board are so afraid to recommend eating less because of the stigma involved in that recommendation, but we are more than happy to recommend that someone start going to the gym”. “If all I said was you need to get to the gym and start eating healthier, no one would have a problem with it. When the message is not only should you eat less, you could probably go without eating for 24 hours once or twice a week, suddenly it’s heresy.”

“There are a lot of different schools of thought on how to lose weight,” In talking to nutritionists, I’ve only found two things that everyone agrees on. One, we shouldn’t be eating trans fats. And the second thing is, we shouldn’t be eating simple, refined carbohydrates or simple sugars. Once you get beyond that, there is almost no consensus.

Caloric restriction, however, has been shown in research to produce many health benefits. Reducing obesity alone could prevent or slow the progress of a number of diseases, including cancer. The goal is to reduce what he calls “global caloric intake.” If someone can fast two days a week and then eat normally for the other five days, that goal could be achieved. Yet data on fasting suggest that people who practice periodic intense caloric restriction tend to overeat later.

Research on reducing overall calorie intake, has indicated it can increase lifespan by as much as 30%, according to Mark Mattson, a senior investigator for the National Institute on Aging. In addition, he says, it can improve glucose regulation, reduce markers of inflammation and increase the production of ketones — which are released into the blood when the body is burning fat rather than glucose for energy. Ketones have been shown to preserve learning and memory functions and slow disease progression in the brain.

Intermittent fasting can also produce similar effects as intensive exercise, including increasing heart rate variability while reducing resting heart rate and blood pressure.

There are potential harms to fasting, too. If one already has a diet poor in vitamins and protein, eating less food could lead to vitamin deficiency and muscle loss. Of course, this can be offset by taking multivitamins and doing strength training. Fasting can also lead to undernourishment if taken to an extreme. The biggest problem, though, is that it simply isn’t practical for most people.

“For most people a pure fast, long-term, is not going to be a good thing, but modifying the diet and or cutting calories can be health-enhancing for most individuals. Most people don’t need what they are getting.

“I know, from working with many hundreds of people in this area, that most people aren’t going to be able to do it,” Wake up tomorrow and try not to eat until three in the afternoon. And then do that every day. Most people need to have a life, too. If you have kids and you wake up and want to have breakfast with them, are you going to say, ‘Sorry guys, I’m not eating until three so I can lose 1% body fat.’”

Fasting can be tricky to integrate into your life, and that it is best done in private. “Because of the social norms and conventions about eating, you have to take part. It’s rude not to. You would be throwing the fact that they are eating and you are not right in their face. You need a diet that you can keep private. If you and I were to go out for dinner, I wouldn’t not eat with you. That’s rude,”.

“I’ve been at weddings where people have brought their own chicken breasts and broccoli,” he adds. “People also skip work Christmas parties because they were dieting.

In my opinion, fasting looks great on paper, but in reality very difficult to achieve when you consider the hormones and chemicals like leptin that are raging in your body. Or more plainly if you are unable to control how much you are eating now, how will you ever stop eating all together.

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