Out of all the nutrition questions I get, none are more prevalent right now than intermittent fasting. In honor of all your fabulous questions, here’s my post on why you should intermittent fast every day (and it’s not what you think). It’s so important to work with a registered dietitian on these kinds of topics. Listening to a friend who had success or an unqualified person offering nutrition advice can be downright dangerous. I can’t wait to explore this with you!
I know that many people report weight loss on intermittent fasting and there is certainly some intriguing research coming out on the varying kinds of fasting. While there is some evidence that intermittent fasting can equal successful weight loss (and keep in mind that there is a lot of animal research here), there are collections of studies or systematic reviews that show it doesn’t equal greater weight loss than other types of diets. Also….we should discuss weight loss and dieting anyhow. Intermittent fasting (I’ll call it “IF”) is often just another form of restriction; a game we play to reduce weight. But why? And is that even important? There’s a LOT to explore here.
Many forms of IF are pretty extreme so that’s never my go-to. There is a gentler form and THIS is what I’m talking about as a registered dietitian when I chat with my patients about fasting. You should intermittent fast every day. While you’re sleeping. Through the night. I know this sounds very obvious but a dietary pattern that I see my patients struggle with so much is not eating all day, overeating all night, and going to bed stuffed. That’s not a pattern I’ve seen success with. You should fast every night while you sleep to better support the body’s natural rhythms. I’ll explain more below.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Before we can dive into the why, we need to break down the what. IF is a broad term that covers several methods of fasting, or restricting food consumption. Here is a quick review of the most common methods:
- 5:2 or twice-a-week: This method of IF focuses on limiting your calories to 500 a day for two days a week. The other five days you will eat regular healthy meals without any restrictions. You can pick any two days of the week that work for your schedule as long as there is at least one regular eating day in-between them. The most common eating schedule is a 200-calorie meal and a 300-calorie meal on the fasting days. It is important for these meals to be high in protein and fiber in order to keep calories low and fill you up. Just like everything, I’ve seen some people do really well with this and others not at all.
- Alternate day fasting: This method involves limiting calories to 500 a day, every other day. There is also a stricter version where you eat nothing on the fasting days. You will continue eating regular, healthy meals on the non-fasting days. It is important for these meals to be high in protein and fiber in order to meet your nutritional needs. This is a more extreme form of fasting and is not recommended for those just beginning to fast. You may find that you are hungrier with this method since calories are limited every other day. Not eating for multiple days a week is definitely not for everyone and can be really challenging. Keep in mind that people with some medical conditions and on some medications should absolutely not fast like this.
- 24-hour fast (also called eat. Stop. eat): This form of fasting is what it sounds like, you don’t eat for a full 24-hour period. This form is usually done only one or two days a week. You can choose when to start and stop the fast, it could be breakfast to breakfast, lunch to lunch or dinner to dinner, whatever works best for you. You will continue eating regular, healthy meals on the non-fasting days. It is important for these meals to be high in protein and fiber in order to meet your nutritional needs. This version of fasting may have more side effects due to the long fasting period. Side effects could include fatigue, headaches, low energy, irritability and hunger. You will return to regular, healthy meals on non-fasting days.
- Time restricted eating: You may have also heard this method referred to as 16/8 or 14/10. This method involved setting hours that you will and will not eat. That is what 16/8 and 14/10 are referring too, the hours fasting and the hours eating. This method is the easiest to begin since you already fast while asleep. By stopping eating earlier in the evening or waiting a little longer to eat in the morning you can achieve the fasting/eating hours you select. This method can be done one or more days a week, whatever works for you. Keep in mind that while this may be intriguing for some people, it is a big step away from being intuitive and non-restrictive in your eating. If you struggle with life-long weight cycling, chronic dieting, disordered eating or an eating disorder, this really may not be right for you. Working directly with an RD like me and many of my friends can help you decide if IF is safe.
Why You Should Intermittent Fast Every Day (and it’s not what you think)
If you and your dietitian have decided that some form of IF would be helpful for you, I’ve got some tips. The way that I like my patients to fast is: overnight when they sleep! I know that may sound obvious but I see a pattern in so many of my clients that doesn’t work for them at all. They skip breakfast, forget to eat lunch then are so starving by dinner that they eat huge portions of food in the evening and then snack late into the night. If this is your patterns, your body will be crying out for the energy it needs. Fueling your body earlier in the day can lead to a healthier cycle that allows you to give your body the rest it needs overnight. This is the type of IF that I often work with my patients on but it really is a natural circadian rhythm for humans that it can make a wold of difference to the way you feel.
Choosing your fasting/eating hours is very individualized. Avoid doing what other people suggest and instead, base it on what works best for your lifestyle and schedule. In addition to a daily schedule, listening to your body and paying attention to when you normally feel hungry is important. If you wake up hungry, you may want to start eating right away and stop eating after dinner. If you typically don’t eat breakfast anyway, you can start eating with lunch and stop eating later. Some research has shown benefits to eating most of your calories earlier in the day, but selecting fasting hours that work for you is most important.
The structure of time restricted eating may also help curb the binge-eating cycle. This could have the added benefit of improving sleep. Lack of sleep and poor sleep quality are associated with weight changes and worse health outcomes. There is also evidence that eating late at night disrupts our circadian rhythm and energy balance. Many studies have been done with shift workers, where natural circadian rhythm is disrupted, and found strong correlations and predisposition to metabolic diseases. The findings “suggest that the timing of food intake is an important determinant of human health and disease risk.”
Improving the quality of sleep you have could also help burn more fat while you sleep. Did you know that sleep is a natural fat-burning time? This natural part of our metabolism is so interesting to me and we’re made to do it. Our bodies burn the most calories during REM sleep, a form of deep sleep. If you are not getting enough hours of sleep or have poor quality of sleep and do not spend much time in REM sleep, you’ll miss out on this natural phenomenon. Limiting alcohol in the hours before bed will also provide benefits to sleep quality. Alcohol inhibits your ability to get into the deeper stages of sleep where that reliance on energy from fat stores really kicks in.
A Word of Caution About Intermittent Fasting
Changing your eating pattern is hard work. It requires time, energy and effort. I work with so many clients on doing exactly this; re-working their day to achieve an eating schedule that works better for their goals. If you’re not used to eating during the day, that can be a big shift! It will require planning meals ahead of time and making time to eat them. If you’re in the habit of consuming large quantities of food at night, you may find yourself in need of another activity instead. These are big changes.
Intermittent fasting is not suitable for everyone. Those who are underweight, pregnant or breastfeeding should not engage in an intermittent fasting eating pattern. Those with health conditions such as gout, high uric acid, diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease, or those taking prescription medication should consult their healthcare provider before beginning an intermittent fasting eating pattern. Anyone with a history of eating disorders or disordered eating should not consider an intermittent fasting eating pattern. And please, do think about WHY you’re interested in IF. Is this just another diet? Or would you like to instead focus on a healthier, more balanced pattern that is good for your body in general. IF can actually be a wonderful way to focus on your health; weight aside completely.
Want to Start Eating Breakfast? Let’s Make it Easy!
If you need some ideas on how to get your day started in an easy and delicious way if you aren’t used to eating breakfast, here are just a couple recipes that could be used as part of an intermittent fasting eating plan. This chia seed pudding is great for breakfast or a snack. The whole-grain millet breakfast bowl can also be eaten as lunch or dinner. And who doesn’t like tacos? You’ll look forward to this tempeh variety.
If you like a little flavor in the afternoon or evening and you’re working on your hydration (this can actually be wonderful after dinner! Use decaf tea if needed), try my Pineapple Cucumber Mint Infused Water.
This is a complex topic that needs an individualized approach. Contact me to get your specific questions about intermittent fasting answered.
Ginger Hultin,MS, RD, CSO
Thanks for visiting! If you’re like me: obsessed with eating, wine, going out and traveling, you’re in the right place. Champagne Nutrition® LLC is a Registered Dietitian-run concierge virtual practice helping clients look and feel better. On this blog, you’ll ﬁnd cocktails, mocktails, and plant-based recipes that are easy to make quickly at home and pack for leftovers on your adventures.