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The Low Down on Intermittent Fasting

The question I hear by far the most often is "What do you think about intermittent fasting?" Since intermittent fasting is such a hot topic right now in the medical and dieting world, I wanted to take some time to address it.

Day 24: The pros and cons of intermittent fasting

So, here's my answer: without going into too much detail, intermittent fasting is essentially purposeful restricting of 8, 16, or 24 hours, although the number of hours fasted is up to the individual. The purpose, of course, is to lose weight and/or improve health markers like insulin.

Relatively speaking, intermittent fasting is a new style of dieting. There is still a lot of research being done on it. With any study, there has to be outcome measures decided upon. Typically in the nutrition world, weight or BMI, cholesterol, and blood sugars or insulin are really common measures. These markers have long been known to predict chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease so it makes sense to want to measure them over time. The other reason why these outcome measures are selected is because they are easily MEASURABLE. We can gather this data by a simple blood test or by a quick step on the scale. Scientists really like measurable numbers that they can put in a nice little graph. So, yes, there are studies that will show data that favors intermittent fasting.

The problem with these studies are that they are typically short term (since intermittent fasting hasn't really been a term until recently). The other problem is that these are the ONLY outcomes measured. They don't take into account the not-so-easily measurable outcomes like how this affects social eating, irritability, concentration, fatigue, decision making, sleep, relationships with friends, family, and your body, and so forth.

In short, intermittent fasting is a type of starvation. Your body does not care if your neighbor thinks your shirt looks a little tight. Its only job is to survive. So, when starvation is in effect, your body slows down metabolism, slows down heart rate, and conserves fat. Your body also keeps you up at night by being "restless" in order to give you an opportunity to go find food. Interestingly, your mind will start to become obsessed with thoughts about food, cooking, and calories, again as a way to promote eating. Muscle mass starts to break down as another fuel source, too. This is counterproductive if you are also going to the gym. Essentially going to the gym in a fasted state accelerates the loss of muscle mass not to mention bone mineral density. Other physiological effects start to occur like loss of menstruation to conserve precious energy, hair loss, easy bruising, and lightheadedness. But, hey, you lost 10 lbs. right?

In my professional opinion, there are way more harmful consequences to starvation, purposeful or not, than there are benefits. Weight gain/loss is a consequence of a health behavior change, not a behavior change itself. I recommend looking at what the root causes of weight gain/loss is such as neurotransmitters, hormones, and lifestyle before even thinking about putting your body through starvation. This is a particularly passionate topic of mine and falls right in my specialty area. Please don't hesitate to message me if you are concerned about yourself or someone you love. Or click below and set up a health and wellness assessment. We are here to help.

Jen Pfeilfer, MS, APD

Dr. Thomas R. Schneider, Medical Director

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