Written by Bonny Osterhage
How Does It Work?
As the name suggests, IF involves restricting your food intake for a designated period of time. Why? For most people, the lure is fast and easy(ish) weight loss. But others claim that the benefits extend beyond the scale to include mental clarity, improved sleep quality, and significant boosts in energy. In fact, the National Center for Biotechnology Information published relevant study results stating that that intermittent fasting may provide positive benefits compared to more severe calorie restriction, such as consistent dieting. So, how does it work? We could go into a deep medical dive here, but in the simplest terms, when our body is in a fasted state, our insulin levels drop, which in-turn causes our fat cells to release stored sugar for energy use. In other words, when our insulin levels are down for longer periods of time, our bodies start burning fat---and that’s a good thing, especially since many women tend to store that extra fat around our midsections, which can lead to more serious health issues.
How Do You Do It?
There are a few ways to go about IF, but the two most popular are the 16/8 and the 5/2. The 16/8 requires you to limit your daily food intake to an eight-hour window, which basically boils down to no snacking after dinner and skipping breakfast the next day. This method is the least intimidating to beginners because, depending on what time you eat dinner and go to bed, there’s a good chance you are asleep for a large part of the 16-hour fasting window. The 5:2 method allows you to eat normally five days a week but restricts your calories to 500-600 on two non-consecutive days. This can prove to be a little trickier depending on your lifestyle and may require more planning. However, both methods only work if you don’t calorie binge during your non-fasting hours. Those hours are not the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet. If you gorge yourself on sweets, fast or processed foods, and alcohol, you aren’t going to see the same results as if you follow a normal, healthy diet.
Who Shouldn’t Do It?
While the benefits are grounded in solid research, there are still a few things to consider before jumping into IF, such as preexisting health conditions. For example, if you suffer from or have a history of eating disorders, this might not be the best plan for you. “It encourages periods of starvation,” cautions Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist Angela Aladjem. “I also wouldn’t recommend it for those with thyroid or hormonal imbalances because it can create a stress response in the body, which may exacerbate those issues. There are also those who argue that skipping breakfast, as in the 16/8 method, can backfire because you are more likely to make poor food choices when you are ravenous.”
The Bottom Line
When done properly, IF can be a very effective tool in weight loss, and improved overall health. It can prove especially helpful with the issues that many of us face in our menopausal years in terms of excess belly fat, slower metabolism, and poor sleep quality. However, it is not for everyone. Be honest with yourself about your lifestyle and your will power. If the thought of giving up that glass of wine before bed or your sweetened morning coffee makes you cringe, this might not be the plan for you. Best advice? As with any drastic diet change, consult your doctor first and then make the choice that works for you.
Angela Aladjem RDN, LD
Angela Aladjem is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who relocated to San Antonio five years ago. In PA, she completed her bachelor's degree and internship in Nutrition and Clinical Dietetics at Seton Hill University. In her internship, she had the opportunity to work in many different facets of the nutrition field including clinical, food service management, and community education. She has completed a Certificate of Training program in Adult Weight Management, and currently contributes a monthly column to Fitcitysa.com. Angela also teaches pilates and group exercise classes. This way, she can help people through diet and exercise to achieve the greatest health that they can.