What Research Says About Fasting & What to Actually Believe

Fasting is a recent trend that is gaining popularity, but is it really healthy to abstain from all or some particular foods and beverages for certain periods of time?

Fasting is often referred to when talking about various religions, but nowadays it is becoming a fad diet for the everyday layman. Is the hype all it is cut out to be, a quick fix to the bulging waistline or a scheme to detoxify the body?

Growing research suggests that integrating super-low calorie days into your normal eating regimen could potentially improve your overall general health.  That is only one overarching benefit. Intermittent fasting (IF), or occasional starvation done with intent, may extend your lifespan, which is likely to be attributed to the way in which abstaining from proper nutrition affects cell and hormone growth and function. In a recent study on metabolism, for example,  periodic fasting likened to lower the risk of cancer, aging, disease and type-2 diabetes.

Intermittent fasting does not have to mean abstaining from all foods and beverages for a full 24 hours, but rather restricting oneself to a maximum number of calories, a figure far below daily recommended values. It also does not have a strict time frame which must be followed. Many will eat the majority of their daily allotted calories within a defined window and will stop eating the rest of the day.

The 5:2 Diet, which Jimmie Kimmel told Men’s Journal contributed to his weight loss success, involves restricting calories for 2 non-consecutive days a week and eating without limitation the rest of the time. Kimmel admitted to the magazine, "On fasting days I'm pretty unpleasant to be around. I mostly just drink coffee and eat pickles endlessly. For 'meals' I'll have some peanut butter and an apple, or the whites of hard-boiled eggs, or if I'm really hungry, a bowl of oatmeal. The rest of the week I'm a glutton — pizza and pasta and steak."

How can this be, it sounds too good to be true? Valter Longo, PhD, recently explained to Health that during the fasting period, many cells die and stem cells are stimulated, starting a regeneration process increasing the production of new cells.  Other studies show that intermittent fasting may decrease low density lipoproteins or “bad” cholesterol and inflammation. It is also believed that occasional fasting can improve insulin resistance, helping the body to stabilize blood sugar levels.

Sounds like going without food could battle many of the problems impacting today’s society. So, why isn’t everyone ravenous from time to time? Libby Mills, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, reports there are issues that are fundamentally wrong with the diet. “The focus isn’t about nutrition. A lot of the time it’s just about calories.” Mills continues to say that fasting is up to individual interpretation. There are no exact rules; it is all about the numbers. Nutrition and eating whole, healthy foods makes little difference. Practitioners of the 5:2 Diet are “allowed” to consume whatever they please on the off days. It is in this fact that often the objective of the diet is compromised and backfires completely.

While intermittent fasting may help to lose weight in the short term, it is not really sustainable for the long haul. Every individual is different, but restricting one’s calorie count will have an adverse effect on the physical body and the mind. Low sugar levels and hunger pangs will torture even those with the greatest determination at first. Some will be able to cope, but many will see a change in their personality. Going through mood swings, binges, and low energy spells do not make this diet attractive nor healthy to maintain for long periods.

Add to that, the long term effects have not been “fully measured.” Current research is based on the short term and primarily inflicted on animals. Adverse all the great potential this growing body of “research” presents, other medical experts will argue, Intermittent Fasting is not a good weight loss tool. It significantly slows your metabolic rate, says Joel Fuhrman, MD. Okay, if you have a healthy diet, fasting will rarely cause a problem, but if you entertain a poor diet with little to no exercise, have liver or kidney problems, or any other issue that compromises the immune system and have to take meds, then Intermittent Fasting is very dangerous and should not be practiced.

What it boils down to is fasting does not promote a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. Eating a diet full of whole foods, lowering fat intake, drinking plenty of water, engaging in exercise and sleeping adequately is the answer, not some “cure all” remedy.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

References:

Weisman, Aly and Griffin, Kristen. 21 May 2016. Jimmy Kimmel Lost a Ton of Weight on this Radical Diet. Business Insider UK. Retrieved from http://uk.businessinsider.com/how-jimmy-kimmel-lost-weight-2016-5

Gunnars, Kris BSc. 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting. Authority Nutrition. https://authoritynutrition.com/10-health-benefits-of-intermittent-fasting/

Seliger, Susan. 01 February 007. Is Fasting Healthy?. Web MD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/is_fasting_healthy#1

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