SALT LAKE CITY — There are many conversations about intermittent fasting (IF) around lunch tables, at the gym and on social media these days.
Advocates of the diet claim that it's not a diet at all; it’s an adjustment to an eating pattern. However, many health professionals in favor of non-diet approaches to wellness stand firm: Intermittent fasting is absolutely a diet. Afterall, a diet is anything that restricts what, when and how much food is consumed.
Dieting has been around for decades. Some are obvious and others, like fasting, are sly. With health claims such as weight loss, improved digestion and enhanced metabolic health, it's understandable that folks are interested to try. But before breakfast is banned, it's important to get curious because there is significant research against diets.
One study from the Australian National Medical Health and Research Council found that maximum intentional weight loss is reached by six to 12 months. Additionally, the majority of individuals will regain most of their weight within two years; by five years individuals regain all of it.
Anything that has intentional weight loss as the goal, and anything that claims to be a cure-all is a diet. Intermittent fasting claims to do both, but these declarations should be closely examined because the human body is complex.
A single change in how one eats, even if it’s just the timing, cannot eradicate a condition. In fact, restriction and inflexible eating may lead to disordered eating, which is detrimental to overall health and wellbeing. Research from the Journal of Obesity found that the pursuit of weight loss through dieting leads to psychological, physiological and social stress, which is more harmful to health than weight itself.
When it comes to intermittent fasting as a method to lose weight, it might seem to work in the beginning. But if that is the case, it’s merely through a caloric deficit. There haven’t been any long-term intermittent fasting studies done on humans.
Another claimed benefit of intermittent fasting is that it increases a biological system known as autophagy, which is a natural recycling process that works inside cells. This is where the claims of fighting off Alzheimer’s disease or increased longevity come from. However, these studies are done on worms, mice and yeast. Researchers have no way to measure autophagy in humans.
While some research has been done on men, it isn’t long-term; and there hasn’t been any significant research on women. Women are more sensitive to irregular eating patterns and intermittent fasting can potentially disrupt hormone regulation. A study on women participating in Ramadan found menstrual abnormalities. Skipping meals can also lead to bingeing later. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 60% of those with a binge eating disorder are female.
Many people desire to connect to their body better, but pushing aside hunger until the "appropriate" time to eat will only confuse that relationship. One way to reconnect to innate wisdom when it comes to nourishing your body is through intuitive eating. The second of 10 principles, honor your hunger, plays a huge role in healing your relationship with food.
Hunger is an innate physical response that lets your body know it needs sustenance. Yet, many people seem to believe that hunger is something to fear. Instead of nourishing the body when it's hungry, society states that it must be suppressed or ignored. Many people believe they should trick their body into believing that it’s not hungry through diet sodas, coffee, tea, kombucha, lollipops or appetite suppressing supplements — none of which promote good health.
Meeting the body’s needs through proper nourishment is important. And skipping breakfast isn’t necessary to be healthy. In fact, breakfast eaters have been shown to have greater physical activity in the morning and less compensatory eating later in the day compared to fasting.
Intermittent fasting can lead to a loss of joy in eating, constipation, dizziness, malnourishment, decreased metabolism, bingeing, feeling “out of control” around food when it comes time to eat, irritability and increased gallstones. On the flip side, a regular and consistent meal pattern can increase variety in the diet, balance blood sugar and regulate mood.
When it comes to following the fasting trend, think about it. Are the under-researched potential benefits worth it? Or does breakfast sound good right now?
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