One of the diets on the rise today is intermittent fasting, which consists of going long hours (or days) without eating. Adopted by several celebrities, it promises quick weight loss. But is intermittent fasting good or bad for our health?
Knowing how this diet works and the risks and benefits it can bring to your body is essential before choosing to follow this eating program.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
As the name of the diet suggests, this program consists of spending a period without ingesting any food. This period can vary from 12 to 36 hours - that's right, the person can stay up to a day and a half on food restriction.
Intermittent fasting emerged as a counterpoint to the recommendation that we should have light meals every three hours and never go that long without eating, advocated by most nutritionists.
There are three most popular methods of doing intermittent fasting:
- Lean Gains Method: Men should fast for 16 hours, with an 8-hour eating window. Women, in turn, should fast for 14 hours and eat for a period of 10 hours. During fasting, you can only consume unsweetened water, tea and coffee.
- Warrior Diet: Consists of a 20-hour partial fast (including sleep) and a four-hour eating window when a single, well-fortified meal is eaten. It is permissible to consume some raw fruits and vegetables during the fast.
- Eat, Stop, Eat: fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week, being allowed to consume only sugar-free liquids during the restriction period.
As you can imagine, going for so many hours without eating will certainly result in weight loss, as the body will be forced to use its reserves as fuel to keep working.
In addition, supporters of intermittent fasting – especially the creators of the different methods of this diet – claim that the practice reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, lowers cholesterol levels, improves diabetes and fights inflammation and autoimmune diseases.
These benefits, however, have only been partially scientifically demonstrated in research on mice, not humans. Therefore, adopting intermittent fasting may not be a good idea, giving space to the fractional eating strategy.
Is Intermittent Fasting Good or Bad for Our Bodies?
Despite the claims of the diet's creators and celebrities who have adopted it, most nutritionists and doctors specializing in nutrition and endocrinology are categorical in stating that intermittent fasting is harmful to our bodies.
First of all, it is necessary to consider that the weight loss resulting from this practice is not sustainable. When going long periods without eating, your body understands that it is deprived and will do everything to store as much fat as possible, causing a reduction in metabolism that will hinder the weight loss process.
The weight loss that some people see during intermittent fasting is a loss of muscle. That is, the person even gets lighter but has not eliminated fat and is probably vitamin deficient.
Even if a person consumes vitamin supplements while fasting, they do not provide the carbohydrates and proteins necessary for the body to function. As a result, we are more likely to experience drops in blood pressure, fainting, bouts of hypoglycemia, cramps, and electrolyte imbalances, which lead to dehydration even if a person drinks water.
Given this, the pounds that were eventually lost with intermittent fasting will soon come back with the famous accordion effect, as the person cannot bear to maintain this type of diet for a long time.
Maybe You Already Do Intermittent Fasting Without Realizing It – and It Doesn't Work.
Although nutritionists advise that we eat every three hours, most people go much longer without eating. It is common to find people who only have the three main meals, without any snacks. For example, a person can go 5 to 7 hours without eating between lunch and dinner, which would already characterize intermittent fasting every day.
Another example is people who skip breakfast: if they had dinner at 8 pm and their next meal is lunch at noon, they will spend almost 16 hours on "intermittent fasting". However, not everyone who does this is necessarily thin, which indicates that this is not the best way to lose weight.
Disadvantages of Intermittent Fasting for Brain and Emotional Functions
Another problem with intermittent fasting is that when we go long periods without eating, our memory and concentration begin to suffer. This hinders our performance in studies and work, as we cannot maintain productivity.
Furthermore, we are more prone to making mistakes and causing or suffering accidents, including in traffic because we cannot pay the necessary attention to what we are doing.
When the body and mind lack fuel, it is common for us to become more irritable and anxious, with a greater tendency to cause friction in our professional and personal lives simply because we are hungry. The consequences range from misunderstandings to lost opportunities at work and problems in intimate relationships.
Still, within the problems that intermittent fasting can cause our mental health, we must also consider a possible incentive to risk behaviours concerning food. When adopting such a restrictive diet, some people can become obsessive about reducing their calorie intake.
With this, there is an increased risk of developing disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, as the person starts to ignore their body's needs, wanting only to eat less and less.
To make matters worse, the person finds justification for this behaviour on websites, books and virtual communities that advocate intermittent fasting, making it even more challenging to recognize and treat the problem.
So if you're wondering if intermittent fasting is good or bad, know that it offers much more harm than good. The definitive and healthy weight loss is only possible with physical exercise and nutritional education.