What the heck is Intermittent Fasting?

What the heck is Intermittent Fasting?

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Consumer behaviour is complex. With the chaos of the global pandemic, consumers’ have shown us panic buying, levels of overt hostility and kindness different than we had witnessed prior to the crisis, plus more controlling behaviours to gain power over certain aspects of their lives. The relationship of diet and control is not new; however, a light is being shone on it during this global health crisis because people are expressing a renewed interest in their health, along with elevated concerns about the food supply, especially, as we were forced to shelter at home with our kitchens front and centre for the first few months of the pandemic. Based on this, I have been getting the usual RD questions much more frequently: What is the healthiest food? Should I cleanse? Are you vegan? What’s the best diet?  I have been planning to write about Intermittent Fasting (IF) since last October, so here goes, let’s explore what the heck is intermittent fasting.

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What is it?

Intermittent fasting involves eating and fasting during a set time frame. There are three popular methods of IF: 1) The 16:8 Method which includes a 16-hour fasting window and an eight hour window to eat; 2) The Eat-Stop-Eat method which is two 24-hour fasting periods during the week; and 3) The 5:2 method which is consuming 500-600 kcal, two days per week.

IF has become popular over the past few years due to its potential weight loss and health benefits. The 16:8 Method seems to be the trendy approach among healthy individuals. It is less complicated and disruptive to the traditional routine of breakfast, lunch, and supper but within an eight-hour window. General claims include improved sleep, digestive and mental clarity.

Keep in mind IF is not for everyone, especially for people who are pregnant, with chronic medical conditions or who have a history of eating disorder(s). As always, it is important to consult your qualified, credentialed health professional before starting any new regime.


Potential Health Benefits

Most of the scientific literature has been focused on weight loss, however other documented health benefits of IF include brain health and immune health

Weight Loss

Overall, the potential for intermittent fasting to improve weight loss results in adults       is promising in the literature. An eight-week study using the 16: 8 Method within resistance-training demonstrated a significant decrease in fat mass (1).  Another study    conducted on 40 obese adults demonstrated that a high protein diet combined with IF resulted in improved body composition and weight loss (2).  A study exploring the 5:2 Method in pre-menopausal women did show weight reduction (3).

Brain Health

IF has shown the potential to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In animal studies, it demonstrated that intermittent fasting could decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease possibly through protecting neurons and removing cellular waste within the brain (4-5). Human trials are required to conclude the ability of intermittent fasting to improve brain health and reduce Alzheimer’s risk; however, the literature shows promising results.

Immune Health

A study involving 3061 non-diabetic women found that the risk for breast cancer decreases with increase night-time fasting of more than 13 hours (6). IF has also been shown to reduce the rate of tumor growth and improve the sensitivity of cells to chemotherapy as demonstrated in a cellular-culture study (7).
A mice study demonstrated reduced reactive oxygen species giving alternated day intermittent fasting an antioxidant effect which can decrease cancer risk (8).

Final Thoughts

The road ahead may seem uncertain, therefore, remember no single dietary pattern is a silver bullet for everyone. It is necessary to seek out qualified health professionals to support your IF goals and to confirm it will be beneficial and not put you at risk.

A lifestyle filled with healthy habits including a balanced dietary pattern, exercise and restful sleep is the best approach for long-term consistent, mind body health.

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  1. Moro T, Tinsley G, Bianco A, Marcolin G, Pacelli QF, Battaglia G, et al. Effects of eight weeks of time-restricted feeding (16/8) on basal metabolism, maximal strength, body composition, inflammation, and cardiovascular risk factors in resistance-trained males. J Transl Med [Internet]. 2016 Dec 13 [cited 2019 Aug 27];14(1):290.
  2. He F, Zuo L, Pannell B, Ward E, Arciero P. High-Protein, Intermittent-Fasting Intervention is Effective in Weight Loss and Improving Arterial Function in Obese Adults. Med Sci Sport Exerc [Internet]. 2016 May.
  3. Harvie MN, Pegington M, Mattson MP, Frystyk J, Dillon B, Evans G, et al. The effects of intermittent or continuous energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers: a randomized trial in young overweight women. Int J Obes [Internet]. 2011 May 5.
  4. Halagappa VKM, Guo Z, Pearson M, Matsuoka Y, Cutler RG, LaFerla FM, et al. Intermittent fasting and caloric restriction ameliorate age-related behavioral deficits in the triple-transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Neurobiol Dis [Internet]. 2007 April.
  5. Zhang J, Zhan Z, Li X, Xing A, Jiang C, Chen Y, et al. Intermittent Fasting Protects against Alzheimer’s Disease Possible through Restoring Aquaporin-4 Polarity. Front Mol Neurosci [Internet]. 2017 Nov 29.
  6.  Marinac C, Neslon S, Natarajan L, Sears D, Breen C, Pierce J, et al. Abstract P3-09-01: Intermittent fasting in breast cancer risk and survivorship: Insight from the women’s healthy eating and living study. In: Poster Session Abstracts [Internet]. American Association for Cancer Research; 2016.
  7.  Lee C, Raffaghello L, Brandhorst S, Safdie FM, Bianchi G, Martin-Montalvo A, et al. Fasting Cycles Retard Growth of Tumors and Sensitize a Range of Cancer Cell Types to Chemotherapy. Sci Transl Med [Internet]. 2012 Mar 7.
  8. Descamps O, Riondel J, Ducros V, Roussel A-M. Mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen species and incidence of age-associated lymphoma in OF1 mice: Effect of alternate-day fasting. Mech Ageing Dev [Internet]. 2005 Nov.
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