For years, our mothers, cereal brands and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have been spooning us the big claim that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Recently, a growing number of health professionals have been recommending intermittent fasting, a kind of diet that turns up its nose to morning-time meals.
Intermittent fasting is not a diet but a way of life. In other words, it doesn’t attempt to change what you eat; it changes when you eat. According to Healthline, fasters go 12 to 18 hours without food. A typical meal schedule might include skipping breakfast, eating your first meal at 12 p.m. and rounding out the day with a meal at 8 p.m. There are other variations which entail picking one or two days a week to only have one meal or to limit your calories to 500 to 600 calories twice during the week. These two variations ensure normal eating on the days you’re not fasting.
Renowned nutritionist, portion-size expert and Steinhardt adjunct professor Dr. Lisa Young believes in embracing more of a lifestyle change as opposed to not eating at all for an extended time period like intermittent fasting encourages.
“The goal of a plan should be to lose weight and improve health by reducing the total amount of calories consumed rather than focusing on when those calories are consumed,” Young said.
Intermittent fasting comes with multiple health benefits, but people mainly fast to lose fast, and rightly so. To just touch upon the science behind this, let us look at the difference between fed state and fasting state — two concepts vital to intermittent fasting. According to James Clear, a lifestyle blogger who intermittently fasts, our bodies are is in the fed state right after you eat. The fed state allows our bodies to digest and absorb ingredients. During this state, we can’t lose weight due to high insulin levels. Around eight to 12 hours after consuming food, we enter the fasting state when our insulin levels are low and fat can burn off easily. This is why intermittent fasting yields results. Studies have also proven that intermittent fasting improves blood sugar levels and decreases the risk of heart disease and cancer. Neuroscientist Mark Mattson’s research has also shown that this method might help in warding off neurodegenerative diseases by improving mood and memory.
However, many experts believe that everyone’s body is different, and these popular diets are usually not as good for us.
Young offered a word of caution for those attempting intermittent fasting.
“I also believe that it is important to get a handle on your portion sizes and understand how much you are eating,” Young said. “When you fast for a certain time period, on the other days, many people get out of control with their portions and eat to much. Losing weight is easy, keeping it off though is what matters. And a realistic, gimmick-free way is best.”
For the past few months, Gallatin junior Matthew Babcox has been an avid intermittent faster. He believes that this method is one of the most convenient ways to stay healthy, mainly because the focus is not on the food you are eating as much as when you are eating.
“[Intermittent fasting] is probably the most effective way to lose weight, especially for somebody who knows little to nothing about macronutrients and meal planning,” Babcox said.
Babcox said that eating within a specific time window and letting the body fast for most of the day will bring about results, but people should try and eat healthily while doing this. He has seen significant results through this practice.
“I have always been in good shape, lifting weights and doing cardio five to six times a week, but [intermittent fasting] really helped me get to a peak level of conditioning without worrying too much about what I’m eating but more about when I am eating.”
There is a growing debate in nutritionist circles over the efficiency and long-term effects of intermittent fasting. The results are not only inconclusive, but also vary too much from individual to individual to draw definite conclusions. No one can determine whether intermittent fasting will work for you, but it could be worth consulting your doctor and seeing if it’s an option.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 12 print edition. Email Misha Vaid at [email protected]