By Sean Zucker –
New year, new diet fads all promise the ultimate in weight loss. There’s the keto diet, the Mediterranean diet, the eat less gluten approach, the eat more gluten approach (it’s still not clear) and lots more. Funny thing is, it may not be what you eat but rather when you eat that ultimately determines your health. More specifically, how often you munch. For this reason, the most popular new diet fad isn’t a diet at all, it’s a method of eating – intermittent fasting. But unlike some other less-than-effective and short-lived health fads, studies continue to show that intermittent fasting offers a plethora of genuine benefits giving the approach real staying power.
Despite its growing popularity, there’s a lot of misinformation and even more misunderstanding surrounding intermittent fasting. And it all begins with its practicality and applied execution. When someone hears fasting, they almost immediately assume they’re about to embark on a 49-day starvation gauntlet that relegates them to sitting under a tree while they wilt away. The reality is far less frightening, intense or harsh. And you don’t need to be Buddha to successfully fast.
There are also plenty of ways to fast but the most common intermittent fasting schedules are the 15/9 and 16/8 methods, where you fast for 15 or 16 hours a day and then eat for 9 and 8 hours respectively. Okay, even this may seem daunting at first but break it down. If you’re sleeping 8 hours at night (which you should be), then that means you’re going no more than 8 hours a day when you’re awake and actively not eating. Put in a little planning effort—whether that’s fasting 3 hours before breakfast and 5 hours after dinner—and the process becomes even more manageable.
Another common misconception or fear regarding intermittent fasting is the assumption that by not eating regularly you’ll slow down your metabolism, therefore tempering your body’s ability to process food and making future weight loss more difficult. Recent studies prove the opposite to be true. Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, for example, conducted a study that suggests you actually speed up your metabolism by slowing down how often you eat. Analysis of whole human blood, plasma, and red blood cells from fasting individuals in fact suggests that going extended periods without food not only boost human metabolic activity but generates antioxidants, and even helps reverse some effects of aging.
The degree to which time-restrictive eating is sustainable in the long term has been often questioned, however, there is substantial evidence not only supporting the longevity of fasting but actively encouraging it. Last December after studying intermittent fasting for 25 years and practicing it for 20, Johns Hopkins Medicine neuroscientist Mark Mattson suggests that the practice could help you live healthier and even longer. He offered up evidence that an intermittent fasting schedule can modify risk factors associated with obesity and diabetes while decreasing blood pressure, blood lipid levels and resting heart rates. Mattson points to animal and human studies that have shown that alternating between times of fasting and eating supports health on a cellular level, probably by triggering human adaptation to periods of food scarcity called metabolic switching.
Further supporting Mattson’s findings, the University of Southern California discovered fasting and similar diet plans show the greatest benefit for patients at risk of several significant diseases. The results found a five-day fasting diet safely reduced the risk factors for heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other age-related conditions.
Fasting is clearly not for everyone. It still matters what you’re putting in your body, the calories and your food’s nutritional value. However, shrinking your eating window could open a doorway to a host of benefits to not only your reduce waistline but improve your overall physical health.