Skipping meals isn’t the newest idea in weight loss, but it’s become a hot trend among many people trying to drop pounds quickly. Hundreds of books, magazines and social media posts are touting “intermittent fasting” as a safe, healthy way to lose excess weight. But does it work? Are there any risks? What do experts say about it?
Here are the straight facts to know before you consider trying it yourself:
Intermittent fasting is simply not eating on a schedule. Some advocates recommend “alternate day” fasting, which means eating a normal amount of food one day and having no or little food the next. Some suggest even having two non-consecutive fast days each week, while other programs urge daily fast periods, cutting out all food during certain hours of the day.
The overall goal of these plans is to keep your metabolism actively burning calories and discourage your body from storing any excess. A variety of studies on the effectiveness of this approach to weight loss and its other effects on our health have been published. Many of them have been done using lab animals, but there are some that involved human subjects. A team of nutrition experts evaluated all of the credible research and shared their findings in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Their conclusions were a mix of positive and negative outcomes of intermittent fasting:
1. Fasting can help with weight loss.
“It appears that almost any intermittent fasting regimen can result in some weight loss,” the report says. Nearly 85 percent of the studies the experts looked at showed the subjects experienced “statistically significant weight loss.”
2. There are other health benefits.
Evidence was limited, the experts note, but they found improvement in cholesterol levels, blood sugar and inflammation as a result of intermittent fasting.
3. People fasting are hungry.
Participants in the studies with humans report feeling intense hunger on their fast days or hours. That’s no surprise to most of us, but the researchers emphasize that the famished feeling did not diminish even after eight weeks of the fasting routine.
4. Fasting isn’t better.
“Research to date has not demonstrated that fasting regimens produce superior weight loss in comparison to standard, continuous calorie restriction weight loss plans,” the report says.
Fasting for quick weight loss can be enticing, especially when you are aiming to shed pounds for a specific event, such as a wedding or a vacation. However, fasting presents serious challenges to losing and keeping off excess weight. For many people, the intense hunger of fast days can lead to binging when it’s time to eat—that includes not just overeating, but gorging on high-calorie, low-nutrition foods in an attempt to satisfy an under-served appetite.
Fasting for weight loss demands a consistently high level of self-discipline. That’s possible for especially strong-willed people, but it can be hard for most of us with busy lives and daily routines that constantly put food in front of us. Going on and off a fasting regimen can lead to “weight-cycling”—losing and gaining pounds over and over again. “Weight cycling has been shown to increase the likelihood of future weight gain and has been associated with an increased risk for metabolic syndrome, coronary heart disease, all-cause mortality and reduced quality of life,” according to a report on successful long-term weight loss published in the journal, BioPsychoSocial Medicine.
The good news: Lasting weight loss doesn’t require fasting or even depriving yourself of meals. The key, according to research reported in the International Journal of Obesity, is smart food choices and portion control. Simply put, eating five to six times of day with a balance of moderate amounts of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats, leads to a long-term lifestyle.
Does that approach seem familiar? That’s because it’s the sensible, easy-to-follow Nutrisystem program. You eat lots of delicious food all day long, and you still lose weight. No need to skip meals or to feel ravenous. In fact, just the opposite—with your Nutrisystem meals and snacks, you don’t feel deprived. And you get the ultimate satisfaction of looking and feeling your best without suffering through days when all you think about is when you get to eat next—that’s the beauty of leading a Nutrisystem-approved lifestyle!