Weight Loss Intermittent Fasting: Intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial as you think. Read why

By David Clayton, Lecturer in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, University of Nottingham

If you’re someone who’s been thinking about losing weight or wanting to be healthier in the last few years, you’ve probably come across these two words: intermittent fasting. From celebrities to fitness enthusiasts, intermittent fasting has many thousands of loyal advocates online, claiming that this way of eating has helped them lose weight better than other dieting methods.

It’s easy to see the appeal of intermittent fasting as a weight loss method. Not only is it simple, but it’s also flexible, adapts easily to each person and doesn’t require you to cut out foods or count calories. But despite its popularity, intermittent fasting may not be better than other dieting methods when it comes to losing weight.

To date, numerous studies have shown that intermittent fasting is as effective as calorie counting when it comes to weight loss – including a recent study, which followed participants for over a year.

This has even been shown with many types of intermittent fasting, including alternate day fasting (where you fast or restrict calories every other day), the 5:2 diet (eating normally five days a week, then fasting or restricting calories for two days) and time-restricted eating (where you eat all of your day’s calories within a set window of time, such as eating only for an eight-hour window and then fasting for 16 hours). But no studies have yet shown that intermittent fasting is better than conventional diets.

Intermittent fasting reduces how much you eat, but it can have a downside. This reduces both the amount of physical activity we do and how hard we push during exercise.

This is true no matter what type of intermittent fasting you practice. This suggests that when caloric intake is drastically reduced – even for a short period of time – the body adapts by reducing the number of calories used during exercise. However, researchers don’t know exactly why this happens.

Although it doesn’t necessarily affect weight loss, lower levels of physical activity can have other negative health effects. For example, a recent study on alternate fasting found that even just three weeks of this diet reduced physical activity levels and led to greater loss of muscle mass than a daily calorie restriction diet. The fasting diet was also less effective than daily calorie restriction for fat loss.

Muscle mass is crucial for many reasons, including blood sugar regulation and physical capacity as we age. It is therefore better to avoid diets that lead to muscle loss. However, combining intermittent fasting with exercise programs — such as resistance training — may help people better maintain lean muscle mass while encouraging fat loss.

Are there other benefits of fasting?

While intermittent fasting isn’t a silver bullet when it comes to weight loss, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have other health benefits.

A recent study on intermittent fasting found that it improved blood pressure, insulin sensitivity (how well the body regulates blood sugar), and lowered cholesterol levels to the same extent as daily calorie restriction .

It is likely that this effect is due to weight loss. But since few studies have followed participants for more than a year, it’s unclear whether these effects persist.

Some research also suggests that how you fast may also be critical. A number of studies have shown promising results from early feeding, which consists of eating all the calories for the day at the start of the day and fasting in the evening, generally from 4 p.m. Eating early in the day aligns food intake with our natural circadian rhythms, which means nutrients are processed more efficiently.

Early, time-restricted eating has also been shown to improve several health markers, such as insulin sensitivity, which is a key risk factor for type 2 diabetes. These improvements have even been observed without loss of weight.

(This article is syndicated by PTI from The Conversation)

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