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Everything you need to know before trying an intermittent fasting diet

    Abdulaziz Sobh

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    Intermittent fasting has become the lively diet of the moment among celebrities, and many swear it. Jenna Jameson loves it, Vanessa Hudgens says it makes her feel "healthier," and Halle Berry says she usually only eats two meals a day on her intermittent fasting diet.

    But intermittent fasting is not for everyone. After all, it involves fasting (yes, without eating) for a certain period of time. Clearly, that won't feel good for everyone.

    While you are likely to have the essence of fasting, you may be a little confused about the details of what it means to be in an intermittent plan to not eat. This is how it works, in addition to what you can really eat when you're in it.

    So ... what is intermittent fasting, exactly?
    Intermittent fasting focuses on a pattern of feeding and fasting periods, that is, times when you don't eat. "Intermittent fasting is when you allow yourself to eat only for a specific period of time each day," explains Alissa Rumsey, RD, a dietitian based in New York, and owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. It usually involves fasting for a certain number of hours or even days that are separated during the week, and there is no "right" way to do it, says Sonya Angelone, RD, spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

    "There are so many different types of fasting now," says Rumsey. The 5: 2 diet is one. In this diet, women eat less than 500 calories (for men, it is less than 600) for two non-consecutive days a week. Therefore, you can have a 500-calorie day on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then eat normally on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. With the 5: 2 diet, you don't need to eat certain foods, you only limit the amount you eat during certain periods of time.

    Another popular type of intermittent fasting is the 16: 8 diet. With this diet, you only eat for eight hours a day. Technically, you can choose when you want your eight-hour period to be, but most people tend to stop eating at a certain time of night, such as 6 pm, and then expect to eat again until 16 hours later (in this case, it would be at 10 in the morning). That way, you sleep for part of your fast instead of sitting down, thinking about the food you're not eating for a good part of the day.

    There is also something known as the 24-hour fast (or full-day alternative fast). "That requires fasting all foods for 24 hours once or twice a week," Angelone explains.

    By the way: you are not expected to survive only with air during fasting periods. People will generally drink water, tea, coffee and other beverages that are very low in calories or without calories during this time.

    Why did intermittent fasting diets become so popular?
    In 2012, BBC journalist Michael Mosley released a television documentary called Eat Fast, Live Longer, followed by a book, The Fast Diet, which brought the idea of ​​intermittent fasting to the cultural vanguard. In 2013, journalist Kate Harrison published her book The 5: 2 Diet and in 2016, Jason Fung, MD, had a bestseller with The Obesity Code, a book that explained how to use intermittent fasting to combat insulin resistance and achieve a healthy weight.

    Along with the books, celebrity endorsements came to the diet, and that certainly hasn't hurt the tendency to intermittent fasting. (I mean, have you seen Halle Berry?) "Many influential people have talked about their experience with intermittent fasting, so they have received a lot of attention and exposure on social media platforms," ​​says Rumsey.

    People also like intermittent fasting because it does not require much reflection. "It does not require counting calories, macros or measuring ketones," says Angelone. "You can eat almost anything you want between a specific period of time, although most programs recommend eating healthy when you eat."

    Can you lose weight with intermittent fasting?
    Research has found a link between intermittent fasting and weight loss, but there is not much research to show that intermittent fasting is a better method of weight loss than other diets. For example, a meta-analysis published in the JBI Database of systematic reviews and implementation reports in 2018 found that intermittent fasting had similar weight loss results than a traditional calorie-restricted diet.

    In some cases, even when intermittent fasting led to weight loss, it was not the most sustainable diet. A randomized clinical trial of 100 metabolically healthy obese adults (published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2017) found that those who fasted every two days for a year had only a little more weight loss than those who consumed a daily low-calorie diet. The difference in weight loss was so slight that it was not considered clinically significant, and 38 percent of people in the fasting group on alternate days had trouble following the diet. Whomp whop.

    Basically, research has found that you can lose weight with an intermittent fasting diet, but you can also lose weight by watching what you eat. It is also worth noting that weight loss due to intermittent fasting is not guaranteed to last. "Some people may experience short-term weight loss, but many people eventually regain that weight," says Rumsey.

    And, most intermittent fasting investigations have only been done in obese people. "There is almost no credible research proving that intermittent fasting is good for people with a healthy weight," says Scott Keatley, RD, of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy. If you are curious about intermittent fasting but don't have much weight to lose, it may not be the best diet for you.

    Are there any long-term health benefits of intermittent fasting?
    More and more research suggests that intermittent fasting has health benefits in addition to weight loss. A study published in Cell Metabolism in 2018 related intermittent fasting and lower insulin levels and blood pressure. The researchers followed a small group of obese men with prediabetes; some received a 16: 8 intermittent fasting diet, while others ate for a period of 12 hours. Both groups did not gain or lose weight. But after five weeks, the men in the 16: 8 group had much lower insulin levels and improved insulin sensitivity. They also significantly reduced their blood pressure and said they had decreased appetite. They were no longer as hungry as before, even though they were fasting.

    It may seem contradictory, but appetite control is a great benefit of fasting. A recent study in Obesity magazine showed that people who ate only for a period of six hours, compared to following a normal meal schedule, felt less hungry than the control group, even though both groups ate the same amount of calories Intermittent fasting has also been linked to an increase in neuroplasticity or the brain's ability to form new synaptic connections and fight injuries.

    Unfortunately, there has not been a great deal of human research that follows the effects of long-term intermittent fasting. While some studies have followed participants for a year, that is almost the same as most. It is a slightly different story when it comes to rats. "In rodents, intermittent fasting has been shown to prevent age-related diseases, including tumors, heart disease, diabetes, dementia and even prolongs the lifespan," says Keatley. But, he adds, "there is a big difference between rats and humans and research does not show these benefits enough to recommend it as the source of youth."

    While anyone can try intermittent fasting, ultimately, people who are overweight and/or have high blood pressure or high cholesterol (but otherwise are healthy) are considered the best options for diet, says Angelone.

    How do I start?
    There really is no magic plan to continue with this, but you could try to discover a form of intermittent fasting that makes more sense to you. The 5: 2 diet can be complicated since it involves restricting calories for a whole day at a time, so it might be better to start with something like the 16: 8 diet and progress from there if it feels good.

    You also want to define what you expect to get from intermittent fasting, and it doesn't hurt to consult with an expert, such as your doctor or a dietitian, before diving. "Work with a professional who understands your goals and can help you determine what you need to eat to achieve a diet like this," says Keatley. Then, he recommends shooting for "small changes and small gains, since they are more likely to cause the least damage and provide the greatest long-term benefits."

    Above all, listen to your body. If you feel you are hungry all the time and feel miserable with an intermittent fasting diet, it is probably not right for you. If you love the simplicity and are seeing the weight loss or health outcomes you want, get away quickly.