Fasting is a popular topic, and some believe it is hands down the best way to lose weight and improve overall health.
So, the question is, does fasting improve your health, and is it the best way to lose weight?
The answer is… it depends on who the person is, their relationship with food, and their goals.
What is fasting?
There are several styles of fasting, which all depend on the period when you can eat and when you can’t eat. Here are a few examples:
Time-Restricted Eating: Fasting every day for a 12-hour or longer window of time and eating within the remaining hours. This could mean eating two meals or more based on your eating habits.
A popular example of TRE is the 16:8 fast which calls for fasting 16 hours a day with an 8-hour eating window.
A 24 Hour fast is simply not eating for 24 hours and drinking water.
Alternate Day Fasting is fasting every other day; it could be 24 hours or eating at most 500 calories on fasting days.
Any of these options result in weight loss due to caloric restriction. For example, if you are usually a late-night snacker but are following a 16:8 fast, you suddenly eliminate a chunk of extra calories.
Will this stop you from snacking all the time? No.
Will it help you stop late-night snacking if you stop fasting? No.
Fasting is just another method for reducing calories and if your goal is weight loss, then entering a calorie deficit and maintaining it is crucial. However, if your goal is to be healthier, should you fast?
Fasting and Your Health
Quite a few books and social media influencers claim that fasting will fix most of your nutrition and wellness problems. Ah…if only it were that simple.
Most of the research conducted has been completed using mice, and unfortunately, you and I are humans. What works for animals doesn’t necessarily translate into the human body. A 2015 review looked at intermittent fasting and metabolic health. It noted, “there are little or no published data linking intermittent fasting regimens with clinical outcomes such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, or other chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”
Research has looked at the benefits of alternate day fasting; however, most of those studies are too short to be conclusive, such as Ramadan-related fasting.
Another popular term lumped in with fasting is autophagy, the body’s way of cleaning damaged cells to regenerate newer, healthier cells. You can think of this as the idea of “anti-aging,” and that’s why it sounds so darn appealing. The suggested fast length to achieve the “best results” is around 2-4 days of fasting in animals. Reducing calories allows the body to undergo this process, and again many of these studies involved rodents. There are no conclusive studies on humans indicating an optimal fasting period to achieve autophagy.
Funny enough, autophagy is happening in your body right now, and doing health-promoting activities like exercising, eating a balanced diet, going for walks, and getting enough sleep all help. So, no need to do a multiday fast in your attempts to live longer. You can be pretty darn healthy without fasting, but what about weight loss?
Weight Loss and Fasting
There have been quite a few studies done trying to see if any style of fasting is more effective for weight loss. Like I mentioned above:
Fasting is just another method for reducing calories and if your goal is weight loss, then entering a calorie deficit and maintaining it is crucial.
A recent randomized study, “Calorie Restriction with or without Time-Restricted Eating in Weight Loss,” randomly assigned 139 patients with obesity to time-restricted eating with calorie restriction or daily calorie restriction alone. At the end of one year, they concluded: “a regimen of time-restricted eating was not more beneficial with regard to reduction in body weight, body fat, or metabolic risk factors than daily calorie restriction.”
In other words, your ability to adhere to a caloric deficit is KEY, and it doesn’t matter if you are fasting or not fasting. It just happens to be more challenging for someone to stick with restricted eating windows vs. finding balance and tracking calories.
Here’s why you might decide to fast.
👉 You don’t wake up hungry or enjoy breakfast
👉 You do a great job of eating balanced meals
👉 You do a great job of recognizing hunger and fullness signals
👉 You tend not to snack between meals
Here’s why you might not want to fast.
👉 You enjoy breakfast
👉 You have a hard time balancing your plate
👉 You frequently snack between meals
👉 You aren’t great at acknowledging hunger and fullness
There are pros and cons to any diet you might follow, and it’s essential to recognize what works for you. Does the thought of eating one less meal sound easy for you? Cool! Do you love breakfast and find you snack more if you skip a meal? Great, then don’t try fasting!
Biohacking is never going to beat finding balance. Most research has shown that all health benefits of fasting are pretty much the same as any continuous caloric restriction. This can be achieved through health-promoting activities that don’t require strict calorie counting. 😉
Something is better than nothing, but put balance before biohacking.
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