Is Fasting Safe? Tips from the Experts

Low-fat. Low-carb. Paleo. Vegan.  When it comes to healthy eating, there is no shortage of methods. One of the latest trends is fasting, where you intentionally go without food for periods of time. Studies suggest that intentional fasting may aid in weight loss and help improve other aspects of your health, but it’s not without drawbacks. Here’s a closer look at the benefits of fasting, its risks and how to do it safely.

One reason fasting is hot now is because people are revisiting how our ancestors ate and lived, says Patricia Jurek, RD/MBA, manager for Henry Ford Macomb Center for Weight Management at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital in Clinton Township. For example, a diet such as Paleo, which is based on the foods that were available centuries ago, eliminates or limits the processed and refined foods that are a staple of most people’s diets today. And our ancestors had minimal amounts of food during certain periods, like winter, when food was scarce.

Diets come and go, but intermittent fasting is one that people are liking today, Jurek says. People assume it’s a way to get rid of the body’s toxins that come from eating food with preservatives and chemicals. There’s no evidence, however, that fasting is necessary to “detox” your body.

Some studies suggest that fasting may lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and helps regulate the hormones that control hunger and feeling full. However, Jurek points out that research showing a link between fasting and overall health has been primarily done on animals, not people. “We can’t necessarily say that what happens in animals also happens in humans,” she says.

The biggest reason people are flocking to fasting, however, is because of its promise to help you shed body fat. A systematic review of 40 medical studies found that intermittent fasting was effective with weight loss, with a typical loss of 7 - 11 pounds over 10 weeks. However, those studies didn’t look at whether people kept the weight off in the long term.

Fasting may help you limit your caloric intake simply because you aren’t eating for stretches. There also may be a metabolic shift that occurs after about 12 hours, when your body switches from using glucose, or blood sugar, for fuel and uses additional stored fatty acids instead. This way, your body uses some of its fat for energy, which can assist in weight loss.

Before you decide to fast

Healthy people in their 20s, 30s and early 40s are likely to suffer few consequences from going without food for short periods. However, if you have a chronic health condition, fasting can stress your body too much.

Fasting also can make you feel hungry, tired or just plain cranky – and your performance at work may suffer. When you go too long without eating, your metabolism slows, which means you burn fewer calories. Not the ideal scenario for shedding pounds.

If you’d like to lose weight, Jurek suggests that instead of simply going without food that you consider changing what you eat and when. One of the easiest changes is to stop eating at a given time at night – say, 7 p.m. This eliminates snacking on foods that tend to be high in calories and fat. Think chips, cookies and ice cream. Wait until 7 a.m. the next morning to eat and you’ve fasted for 12 hours, which is typically a safe time stretch and can produce some health benefits such as maintaining steadier blood sugar levels.

“You want to fast in a healthful way,” Jurek says. “You don’t want to overtax your body or take it from a healthy state to an unhealthy state. It’s more important to eat breakfast and eat enough throughout the day, so you can eat less or not at all at nighttime, than it is to rely on fasting for weight loss.”

Adding more activity, such as getting up and moving around every hour, is also likely to be more beneficial for your health and body weight than intermittent fasting.

The bottom line? Done safely, fasting may help you lose weight, especially if you have a nighttime snacking habit. However, if you have any health issues or concerns, talk to your doctor before you try it.

Some ways to fast

Intermittent: Typically, this refers to fasting for different periods, usually at least 12 hours or longer.

Time-restricted: Eating only during certain periods such as between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Alternate-day: Eating normally on some days and fasting, or eating significantly fewer calories than usual, on others. One popular plan suggests a 5/2 ratio: eating normally five days a week and fasting for two.

All-day: Going without food on a particular day.

Categories: Get Healthy

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