Can You Fast Your Way To Weight Loss?

by Sumdima Rai
For someone like me, who needs three solid meals a day (or more!), skipping an entire meal for the sake of losing weight sounds extreme. But when I read about super fit celebs like Hugh Jackman, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jimmy Kimmel vouching for intermittent fasting diet as an effective weight loss method, I couldn't help but read up on it. Should you go for one? Read on to find out.

Intermittent fasting means adopting a specific eating schedule that aims to cut calories for a couple of days per week, every other day, or even daily. Here are three of the most popular fasting diet plans.

1. The 5:2 Intermittent Fasting Plan
In his book called The FastDiet, British physician and TV journalist Dr Michael Mosley suggests the 5:2 diet plan­—eating normally for five days a week and fasting for two. Mr Kimmel, among other celebs, attributes his significant weight loss to this. You can learn more about it here.

2. Alternate-Day Fasting
This method requires that you follow a fasting protocol as its name suggests: alternating between days of fasting and eating. According to Dr Krista Varady, an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of The Every-Other-Day Diet: The Diet That Lets You Eat All That You Want (Half The Time) And Keep Weight Off, the alternate-day fasting schedule works better than any other fasting diet plan. “Restrict your intake to 500 calories every other day (eating whatever you wish on non-fast days) and you could lose up to 2 lbs per week,” she claims. Check out more information on this here.

3. Time-Restricted Feeding
Dr Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, swears by this plan, which requires you to consume all of the day’s calories in a narrow window, typically six to eight hours, and fasting for the remaining 16 to 18 hours in a day. Studies suggest that this practice may help in maintaining body weight and increasing metabolism. You can get more details here.

What Are The Health Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting?

The scientific community remains divided about the effectiveness of intermittent fasting. While critics say that fasting as a medium for weight loss and health improvement cannot be accurately justified, the advocates point out the growing body of research on the following health benefits.

1. Lowers Insulin Sensitivity 
With intermittent fasting, your body uses fat as its primary fuel instead of sugar (stored as glycogen in the body). When your body becomes adapted to burning fat instead of sugar, the risk of suffering from insulin sensitivity, chronic diseases and heart ailments, is considerably reduced.

2. Lowers Triglyceride Levels, LDL Cholesterol & Blood Pressure
In trials lasting eight to 10 weeks, Dr Varady studied the effects of alternate-day fasting and found that, on an average, people lost about 13 pounds and experienced a drop in LDL cholesterol (also known as bad cholesterol), blood pressure, triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood) and insulin.

3. Aids Weight Loss & Delays Aging
Research has shown that fasting can raise the secretion of HGH—a fat-burning hormone that has many recognized weight loss, anti-aging and other health benefits.

4. Promotes Neural Health
Research by Dr Mattson suggests that alternate-day fasting can boost production of Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor BDNF (a protein which stimulates the growth of new neurons and prevents the death of existing brain cells). This helps in keeping mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease at bay.

The Takeaway

Dr David Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health says that for many people, fasting is too difficult and may also result in slowing down metabolism. He stated that a more practical approach instead could be to limit sugar and other processed carbohydrates in the diet and replace them with natural fats, proteins, and unrefined carbohydrates.

Dr Mattson, who has been practicing fasting for a decade suggests that patience is key to getting the desired results. “If you’ve been sedentary for years and then you go out and try to run five miles, you’re not going to feel very good until you get in shape. It’s not going to be a smooth transition right away. It takes about two weeks to a month to adapt.”

Dr Varady says that the success or failure of intermittent fasting diets depends solely on the discipline with which it is carried out: “The main problem relates to compliance. If you’re truly eating just 500 calories in a day, you will lose weight. The best fasting schedule is the one that you will comply with. If you’re constantly cheating, it won’t work.”
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