Intermittent fasting (IF) has become increasingly popular over the past several years, especially in the fitness world. But it’s not a new trend—fasting has been around for centuries, as far back as the days when we were hunter-gatherers and went extended periods of time without food. While this wasn’t voluntary fasting, it shows that humans are designed to withstand periods of abstinence, and the body knows how to tap into its own fuel source when needed. One could say, we evolved for intermittent fasting!
IF can be a safe and effective option for weight loss when used correctly. It has been used to keep cholesterol levels in check, lower the risk for cancer and heart disease, regulate blood glucose levels, lower the need for insulin, and help with lean weight gain. IF can also minimize hunger and help improve overall energy levels.
If you are relatively healthy with no pre-existing issues that are a concern, IF is relatively safe and is in line with how a low-carb method would work. As long as you don’t overconsume during the days and times of your meals, you can make the transition to this new eating pattern relatively easily.
Keep in mind that when implementing IF, you need to eat healthy, as food quality is crucial. Eating a bag of potato chips and a container of ice cream during the times when you can eat a meal will not help improve your health or assist you in losing weight; your body needs good nutrients and vitamins to thrive.
If you currently have a condition or disease, especially one that compromises your immune system, IF may not be a safe option. Especially if your kidneys and liver do not function as they should, IF can put added stress on these organs. If you are an athlete or partake in high-intensity workouts every day, IF may not be the route for you. Your heart, muscles, and kidneys need the electrolytes potassium and sodium, and IF combined with heavy workouts could deplete these levels quickly. The first signs this has happened include muscle cramping, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.
People who have congestive heart failure, endocrinological issues, or heart disease should also avoid IF. Restricted eating can cause drops in blood pressure that can be stressful and potentially dangerous for people with these conditions.
In regards to lifestyle, IF may not be safe if your work or home life is high stress and you have poor sleeping habits, or if you fuel yourself every day with sugary foods and drinks and caffeine.
When you combine all these factors, stress hormones can continually flood the body and send everything out of whack.
In healthy, normal weight or overweight adults, there is little evidence that intermittent fasting regimens are physically or mentally harmful. Having said that, any time you want to adopt a new diet plan, especially if it involves periods of fasting, it’s important to speak with your doctor. Adding a dietitian or nutritionist to your team is also a good idea because they can help you develop a eating plan that is healthy and delivers optimal nutrients.
The most important takeaway is this: listen to your body. The only person who can determine if IF is working and feels right is you. If it’s been several weeks and you’re not seeing any positive changes, there’s no shame in deciding to try another method.
To be successful and minimize the stress to your body, eat nutrient-rich food, rest and relax every day, and stick to your normal exercise routine. Going into intermittent fasting with healthy habits, the right mindset, and proper education on the topic will set you up for success and help you safely reach your goals.