. . . recent study sheds light on benefits of fasting to overall health
Historically, fasting has been associated with religious rituals, political protests, and fad diets.
However, research over the past decade suggests a larger, more significant role of fasting—commonly referred to as intermittent fasting (IF)—for losing weight and improving overall health.
Scientists have known since the 1940s that IF promotes weight loss. Yet, it has only recently become popular as a diet plan since it’s re-introduction to the public in 2012 after the release of a book on the subject.
Intermittent fasting does not equal “skipping a meal”
IF is a form of calorie restriction. The premise isn’t to simply reduce calorie intake daily, or skip a meal here or there. But rather, to alternate days of eating one’s normal food intake with days of eating a reduced amount of calories during a specific window of your day…while choosing not to eat during the rest of that day.
Two popular types of IF are alternate day fasting (ADF) and the 5:2 diet. Both versions involve eating what you want on feed days, while eating a restricted diet—one 400-500 calorie meal for women or one 500-600 calorie meal for men—on fast days. Go here for an excellent resource on intermittent fasting for beginners.
First study of its kind
Research shows that the body detoxifies and heals itself, improves metabolism, and repairs damaged organs during a fast.
While much of this past research involved animals, several convincing studies on humans show intermittent fasting lowers the risk of heart disease and diabetes. It does so by increasing HDL-cholesterol (the good type), lowering triglyceride levels, reducing weight, and decreasing fasting glucose and insulin levels.
Granted, most of the human studies were done on obese individuals, or over very short durations. So the question remained…what effect would intermittent fasting have on normal weight or moderately overweight people, over an extended period of time?
That’s what Dr. Krista Varady—obesity researcher and Associate Professor of Nutrition—and her team of researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago wanted to know. So they recruited volunteers for a 12-week trial to test the effect of alternate day fasting on body weight and coronary heart disease in non-obese individuals.
Study investigators provided ADF subjects a controlled diet on fast days. However, they allowed them to eat whatever they wanted on alternating feed days. A control group ate at their own discretion for the length of the study. Both groups filled out a food log on feed days during weeks one and twelve, and researchers used them to compare energy intake.
Additionally, investigators tracked weight loss and body composition in both groups at the beginning of each week. By monitoring blood pressure and collecting blood samples in weeks one and twelve, they assessed the various markers for both heart disease and diabetes.
Here’s what they found…
By week twelve, markers for both heart disease and diabetes—such as cholesterol and triglyceride levels, LDL cholesterol particle size, blood pressure, inflammation, glucose regulation—improved in ADF subjects. More importantly, they saw a significant reduction in both body weight and fat mass compared to the control group.
For the first time, research showed extended alternate day fasting to be an effective strategy for weight loss and cardio-protection in normal and overweight people.
Is intermittent fasting beneficial long-term?
Having studied intermittent fasting in overweight individuals for the past decade, Dr. Varady has published some 25 research papers in peer-reviewed journals on the effects of fasting on both animals and humans. Varady and her colleagues have repeatedly shown ADF benefits weight loss and heart health. In fact, people using her ADF protocol have quickly dropped excess pounds, added lean muscle mass, and reduced their risk of heart disease.
Yet if you’re like most people, ADF doesn’t sound very appealing as a long-term lifestyle change. You might even wonder if there’s any benefit to regular fasting—especially after your initial weight loss goals are met.
However, Varady points out that once her test subjects had lost their weight, they kept it off using a modified ADF protocol. “Instead of eating 500 calories at one meal, people consume 1,000 calories over two meals,” she says.
Ease into intermittent fasting
Some scientists still claim the health benefits of fasting are inconclusive. And, they caution doctors that more studies are needed before recommending IF as a weight loss strategy. However, here at Beyond Health, we’ve learned time and again to not wait for conventional medicine to catch up with sound natural health advice.
Intermittent fasting is something almost anyone can do. The key is to start small….first by abstaining from eating for 12 hours between dinner and breakfast. Then employ any one of several popular intermittent fasting regimens. Or use the above guidelines to custom design a fasting routine that works for you…like fasting for one day per week, or maybe three days at the end of each month instead.
Even better, use an intermittent fasting routine in tandem with the other weight control principles Raymond Francis writes about in his groundbreaking book called Never Be Fat Again.
If you’re ready to give intermittent fasting a try, just one word of caution. Intermittent fasting can pose additional issues for pregnant women or people who struggle with blood sugar regulation, suffer from hypoglycemia, have diabetes, etc. If that’s you, check with your doctor, dietician, or nutritionist before fasting.
If you’ve ever tried intermittent fasting for losing weight, we’d like to hear about your experiences. Please share them with us in the comment section below.