If the word “fasting” has you ready to click away, hear us out. You don’t need to deprive yourself as much as you might think to be successful at intermittent fasting (IF). There are several iterations of this way of eating, all of them roughly equal in terms of efficacy, so you’re sure to find an arrangement that you can live with. In fact, many experts cite how easy it is to adhere to this “diet” as the main reason it is so superior to others.
Texas State University researchers have found that doing intermittent fasting, or time-restricted feeding, in the 16:8 ratio can improve people’s heart health while reducing problems like diabetes. The cardiometabolic health benefits this way of eating can bring about include body composition and blood lipid improvements, weight loss, reduced blood pressure, improved cholesterol and reduced inflammation.
Interestingly, these benefits aren’t attributed to a reduction in calorie consumption. While you might think that restricting your eating to just eight hours a day would automatically mean you eat less, the study had some groups reduce their daily calories in addition to IF while others consumed the same number of calories they usually eat while doing IF. Both groups saw results.
There are two main ways you can try IF, and experts say they both provide similar benefits so it’s really a matter of personal preference. The most popular route, and the one used in the aforementioned study, is 16:8. This involves alternating periods of 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating.
You choose a set eight-hour window during which you’ll eat, and then fast for the remainder of the day. For example, you might choose to make your eating window from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, or perhaps you’ll go for something a little later in the day to accommodate eating with your family or socializing in the evenings – for example, from 12:00 to 8:00.
During your eating window, you will eat normally. There’s no need to restrict your calories unless you’re looking to lose a significant amount of weight. During the fasting window, you can’t eat anything, but you can – and should – drink water. You are also free to drink black coffee or tea – hold the cream!
Another option is the 5:2 protocol. With this way of eating, you will eat normally five days per week. Two days a week, you’ll restrict your calorie consumption to one quarter of your daily needs. This is somewhere in the range of 500 to 600 calories per day for most people. On these “fast” days, you can choose to have three small meals or two meals that are slightly larger. Focusing on foods high in protein and fiber is a great way to ensure you’re not too hungry. Soups, eggs, and fish are all popular choices.
You can choose the two days of the week that work best for you, as long as they aren’t consecutive. For example, many people choose to make Mondays and Thursdays their fast days because it allows them more freedom to socialize on the weekend.
While the research is indeed very promising, common sense must always prevail. Remember that choosing processed food and junk food will only undo your efforts to be healthy. No amount of fasting will compensate for eating an unhealthy diet.