Is intermittent fasting the best route to weight loss?
Don’t you love that feeling of new beginnings that happens as we start September? Maybe it’s because I spent a lot of time in school, or maybe it’s from watching the transition every year with my own kids, but September always feels like an opportunity to start fresh and get back on track. The fall is the time of year that many of my fellow Age Sisters think about making some changes to live a healthier life. As women, sometimes the change we tend to focus on most often is diet.
I’m asked a lot these days about my view on the latest diet trend, intermittent fasting. Let me start by saying that many of the modern diet approaches have some merit, especially if you are eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, thinking about more variety, or being more thoughtful about when you eat. But the thought of intermittent fasting always causes some tension in my psyche. Here’s why…
Growing up in the era of the grapefruit diet, the lemon-juice and cayenne cleanse, and Jenny Craig portion-controlled meals, made me (and many women around me) hyper aware of the need to treat food like the enemy. Women were celebrated when they were able to have the type of self-control needed to ward off food cravings at all costs, even if that meant being tired or regularly hungry. My own wafer-thin mother seemingly lived on cigarettes, tea, and the occasional small bites of food.
Not to be too political here, but doesn’t all this deprivation seem like it’s targeted more often than not at women? I think we should be able to love and enjoy our food; to see food as an absolute pleasure and let go of the consistent monitoring of everything that goes in our mouth. There’s my sermon - let’s get to intermittent fasting.
Looking to the research
If you think about it, we have an enormous data set for intermittent fasting. There are millions of folks around the world who regularly fast for cultural or religious reasons. As far as I can see in the current research, there isn’t much reporting on the harms of this type of fasting (although a word of caution - this may be because those groups have not yet been studied). What about for those in the western world using intermittent fasting as a dietary approach? What about the impact in post-menopausal women?
The small number studies on intermittent fasting all seem to draw the same conclusion: fasting and continuous diets (a regular old calorie restricted diet), have almost identical outcomes. That is, whether you fast or practice calorie restriction, you will likely lose some weight, and improve your metabolic profile. Unfortunately, many times these gains are reversed when you either stop fasting or stop dieting.
Intermittent fasting seemed liked it might have some utility for the control of type 2 diabetes. It turns out that when subject to randomized control trials (considered the gold standard when researching the impact of a health treatment), the only diets that showed promise with the management of diabetes were vegan, vegetarian, or the Mediterranean diet. Intermittent fasting was not effective in the management of diabetes and, not surprisingly, researchers have found that fasting increases the rate of hypoglycemia.
So, let’s circle back to what you can do that doesn’t include starving or restriction. My suggestion for those trying to improve their overall eating habits are these tried and true strategies that I mentioned way back in November. Here’s a recap:
- Forget the diet trends and just re-engage with your food. What if the only goal was to enjoy every bite? I for one, am up to that challenge.
- Make your plate less of a science project and more of a pleasure. Yes, a pleasure! Look to countries in the developed world with lower rates of obesity – having the best quality, nicest looking food is a serious pursuit.
Your food is not carbs, fat, and proteins. It is an experience, it connects you with family, and it brings friends together. Let’s end the love-hate relationship and start really enjoying our food again. This leads me to my next point…
- Focus on how you are eating rather than just what you are eating. How many meals, coffees, and other drinks do you consume while on your phone, standing, walking, sitting in front of a TV, reading a paper, or driving a car?
What would happen if you changed your focus to allow yourself to eat anything you wanted, as long as it was eaten slowly, with no distractions, and while sitting at a table? Try this the next time you’re planning to eat a chocolate bar – I guarantee it will be much different experience than when you are distracted by something else.
- Use the same marketing tactics as the food companies, but in your home. Think of all the subtle (and not so subtle) food advertising that surrounds us all. Have you ever wondered why there is food at the gas station? Why the candy section in a grocery store is right near the checkout?
You can use these same “nudges” in your own life: Move your vegetables from the hidden drawer in the bottom of fridge to the top shelf (better yet, cut them up and store them in a transparent container). Put out a fruit bowl, set a beautiful table, and move healthy choices into sight.
- Be kind to yourself. Change is hard and takes time. Let’s face it, we live in an “obesogenic” environment. There are cues all around us to eat processed food, to eat when we aren’t hungry, and to eat more than we need to fulfill our calorie requirements.
A healthy diet truly starts by just keeping it simple. So, this week make a deal with yourself to re-engage with your food, try something new in the produce section, cook whenever possible, and give yourself permission to truly love what you eat.
And, if you want to explore establishing a new healthy habit this fall, join us for our free Five-Day Healthy Habit Challenge starting September 16th. You can sign up here.
Your sister in health,
 Papamichou D, Panagiotakos DB, & Itsiopoulos C. (2019). Dietary patterns and management of type 2 diabetes: A systematic review of randomised clinical trials. Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases : NMCD, 29(6), 531-543.
 Corley, B. T., Carroll, R. W., Hall, R. M., Weatherall, M., Parry-Strong, A., & Krebs, J. D. (2018). Intermittent fasting in Type 2 diabetes mellitus and the risk of hypoglycaemia: a randomized controlled trial. Diabetic Medicine: A Journal Of The British Diabetic Association, 35(5), 588–594.
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