As the practice of intermittent fasting has become more common, so have the misconceptions surrounding it. So what is to be believed? The intermittent fasting success stories or the intermittent fasting naysayers?
Intermittent fasting: Good or bad?
Let’s cut straight to the chase. Intermittent fasting, when done right, is healthy for most people. Many use intermittent fasting as a way to manage their weight, and it also helps keep cholesterol and blood sugar at normal, healthy levels.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a dietary practice that focuses on a time-restricted eating schedule, fluctuating between periods of eating and fasting, with the fasting window typically lasting 12–16 hours. The most common IF schedule is 16:8, in which you eat all your meals during an eight-hour window and fast for the remaining 16.
Most of the misconceptions about intermittent fasting stem from people not doing it correctly. To fully understand how intermittent fasting works, it’s important to first clarify what intermittent fasting is NOT:
Starving yourself. The point of intermittent fasting isn’t to constantly deprive your body of food, but rather to give your body a longer break from food each day, which helps stabilize blood sugar levels and gives your body a chance to do something other than digest food.
Anti-food. Again, intermittent fasting is not out to cast food as the villain. Its purpose is to help us to eat at the right times each day and help our bodies get natural breaks from food.
An excuse to eat whatever you want during your eating window. Binge-eating after a long fast may feel like a well-earned reward, but this will likely negate any benefits you gained from your fast and can actually cause weight gain. Intermittent fasting works best when we focus on a healthy, well-balanced diet during the day. Loading up on carb-heavy and processed foods will only increase your hunger and cravings later on, making intermittent fasting harder than it needs to be.
Impossible to maintain long term. Fasting for longer than 12 hours each day may seem like a lot to ask, but in reality, humans have evolved to thrive on this type of schedule. Our bodies need at least this much time to rest and process nutrients. Spending most of our waking hours eating can disrupt circadian rhythms and increase the risk of developing metabolic conditions. Intermittent fasting helps our bodies get back to a more natural fasting/eating cycle.
Fasting is usually associated with hunger, so we tend to lump it in the “bad” category. But in truth, intermittent fasting is more doable than it sounds.
For starters, most of the fasting happens while we sleep. For most people, simply delaying breakfast a few hours and/or avoiding snacking after dinner is really all it takes to maximize the benefits of intermittent fasting—no skipping of meals required.
If you’re considering trying intermittent fasting for yourself, take a look at these do’s and don’ts to help you get started on the right foot.
Getting the fasting window right
Intermittent fasting is a lifestyle, and for any lifestyle to be sustainable, it needs to work with your daily routine.
Finding the fasting window that’s right for you is key. If you can’t start your day without breakfast, then don’t skip it—eat breakfast when you need to and plan on an earlier dinner instead. If you prefer to eat dinner later in the evening, then waiting until 11 or 12 the next day to break your fast might work better for you.
Keep in mind that the length of your fast should be specific for your needs and lifestyle, too. A 16-hour fast is generally considered to bring about the most benefits, but if you need to shorten that to 12 or 14 hours, then by all means do it. The first week or two on intermittent fasting are the hardest, but if you’re still struggling after a few weeks then it’s probably time to make some adjustments.
The great thing about intermittent fasting is that it’s flexible enough to work with just about any lifestyle. As long as you find the fasting window you can stick to, you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.
The bottom line
It can take some time to find an intermittent fasting schedule that works for you, but in general, intermittent fasting is healthy for most people. However, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have a history with eating disorders, or have a medical condition, it’s best to consult with your doctor before making significant changes to your diet.