Is intermittent fasting healthy?
Assuming an individual has no pre-existing medical conditions, intermittent fasting (IF) is perfectly healthy. Most arguments against the fast-growing diet trend claim it leads to what some may call 'starvation mode,' which many mistakenly believe causes your metabolism rate to drop. However, experts agree, and science shows short-term fasting would not make your body assume it is starving and that the idea that it could is 'ridiculous and absurd.' On the contrary, IF has actually been found to boost the average person's metabolic rate by around 3.6–14%. This is perhaps why the most cited benefit of fasting is its ability to aid weight loss.
Those who intermittent fast are found to be able to lose weight more quickly than those who practice regular caloric restriction. Some studies also find those who lose weight by fasting can retain greater muscle mass and shed more belly fat than those using any other type of diet. Fasting has also been shown to improve resting heart rate, blood pressure, total and LDL cholesterol, and blood triglycerides. It is even effective at stabilizing blood sugar levels, lowering your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
There is additional evidence suggesting that IF can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, which could increase longevity and slow the development of many chronic diseases. For this reason, IF is associated with a reduced likelihood of developing many types of cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. While the diet may not be ideal for everyone, there is no denying most people would experience profound and lasting benefits from practicing IF.
Despite the success stories, intermittent fasting (IF) shares many similarities with other means of weight-loss, including its efficacy. IF has been shown (by more than a few sources) to be no more successful than other diets that restrict calorie intake. This point actively overlooks IF's nearly 10% higher rate of failure.
Extended calorie deficits, as encouraged by IF, have been shown to impact hormone levels (especially in women) negatively. Various side effects can include hair loss, menstrual irregularity, irritability, fatigue, and focus loss. Mimicking the starvation response also leads to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to increased fat storage. Notably, IF is discouraged for many groups, including people with diabetes, those prone to eating disorders, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and anyone under 18 years old.
Beneath the shallow gimmicks, many similarly effective diets all rely on the same few points: greater reliance on fruits and vegetables in the diet as well as an avoidance of processed foods, all while encouraging physical activity. Add the limited time frame, and you get IF. Add a stick of butter to your coffee, and you get Keto. Add a Ph.D. and you've got a whole new fad, often eclipsing what licensed dietitians recommend for the average person.
These minor differences speak to our overwhelming desire for that single 'magic bullet' solution to keeping healthy. However, fad diets inevitably fall back on time-tested medical recommendations to create those sensational success stories. The CDC recommends ongoing lifestyle changes prioritizing plant-based foods, sensible calorie restriction, and regular physical activity for long-term health success.
- Intermittent Fasting (IF) became popularized in 2012 through Dr. Michael Mosley’s BBC TV documentary Eat, Fast, Live Longer.
- Celebrities like Jack Dorsey, Jennifer Anniston, Kourtney Kardashian, Halle Berry, Reese Witherspoon, and others have incorporated IF into their daily routines.
- A 2020 International Food Information Council survey revealed that during COVID “43% [of respondents said] they have followed a specific diet or eating pattern within the past year, an increase from 38% in 2019, with intermittent fasting (10%), clean eating (9%), ketogenic or high-fat (8%) and low-carb (7%) diets being the most popular.”
- Some of the most popular diets throughout the years include Oprah’s Liquid Diet, Slim-Fast, Jenny Craig, Anniston’s The Zone diet, 2000’s Subway diet created by Jared Fogle, Atkins, various juice cleanses, raw food diets, Nutrisystem, and much more.