Over the past several months during the pandemic, I have taken comfort in cooking. It became one of my favorite stay-at-home activities, and I willingly shared the fruits of my labors with family and friends. It seemed I was not alone. Social media is brimming with photos of drool-worthy baked goods and yeast breads. In fact, earlier this summer, yeast was as hard to come by as disinfectant wipes and toilet paper.
Perhaps as a result, I, along with others, have noticed an increase in body weight. Unfortunately, with gyms still closed or inaccessible, finding places to burn off that excess weight has become challenging. For now, dieting may be our best option.
One way of losing weight that has become quite popular is intermittent fasting. This type of diet has been around for centuries. People seem to take to fasting. It’s part of several world religions. And unlike other diets, fasting does not deprive oneself of any food group, making it widely palatable, regardless of food preferences or aversions. Even better, new research is emerging that this type of diet, based on the timing of meal consumption, may improve a person’s cardiac health.
There are many variations to intermittent fasting, and no one right or wrong way to go about doing it. Two of the more common methods are alternative-day fasting and time-restricted fasting.
In alternate-day fasting, you’ll eat for 24 hours and then fast for another 24 hours. This pattern is typically repeated twice each week, resulting in five days of typical food consumption and two days of fasting. In time-restricted feedings, the most popular methods are 16 hours of fasting followed by eight hours of feeding, or 20 hours of fasting followed by four hours of feeding most days of the week. There is no evidence to definitively recommend one or the other. The small study mentioned below showed that the amount of weight loss after a period of time was about the same, regardless of which fasting method was employed.
By its very nature, fasting incorporates skipping meals, with breakfast the most commonly skipped meal. Prolonging the natural fasting state during bedtime and into the early morning hours seems to be the way most people tackle this diet. Many question how this type of eating aligns with the belief that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Well, new research calls this belief into question. It shows that extending the timeframe between the last meal one day and the next meal the following day encourages your body to lose weight more rapidly.
Many theories have emerged as to why intermittent fasting works. One theory is that this timing of eating leads to less free radicals. The fewer the free radicals, the less inflammation occurs in your body. Another hypothesis is that nighttime eating leads to higher levels of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance and obesity both contribute to cardiovascular disease. It would follow that limiting food intake at night would lead to the opposite effect. The last and most popular hypothesis is that prolonged fasting allows the body to better utilize fat stores for energy rather than using glucose. This in turn leads to a more efficient way to lose weight.
Theories aside, how exactly does intermittent fasting lead to better cardiac health? The risk factors that lead to heart disease and strokes is what comprises cardiac health. These include obesity, blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes. Intermittent fasting has been shown to lower cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose levels along with weight loss. Improving those risk factors in turn leads to better cardiac health outcomes.
Fasting may be a great way to lose weight, but it’s not for everyone. Those with certain medical conditions affected by the timing and caliber of meals should not attempt to fast without a doctor’s input. And special populations such as children or the elderly should not participate in these types of diets. Side effects of fasting may include headaches, lightheadedness and dizziness. For many, however, it could be a good way to get back on track and lose weight. The evidence is certainly pointing in this direction.
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