You may have seen this latest diet trend splashed across the pages of fitness magazines: “Intermittent Fasting – The No-Diet Diet!” That isn’t an actual headline that I’ve seen – it’s the kind of thing I would write as a headline if I worked for a women’s magazine. Then they would pay me $48.00 an hour for it, and I would go home to my penthouse and my dog named The Duke of Kensington and we’d both have a martini.
What is intermittent fasting? It’s a type of diet that uses extended periods of not eating in order to burn fat and lose weight. You divide your day up into two periods: An eating period and a fasting period. It will vary from person to person, but ordinarily the eating period will be between eight and six hours long. For instance, your eating period might be from noon to eight o’clock p.m. That means that between those hours, you can eat as you wish. After eight p.m., you would stop eating completely, and not resume until noon the next day. Small things like black tea and coffee, chewing gum, and vitamins might be allowed, but other than that, no calories shall pass thy lips during thy eating window.
Within the eating window, theoretically, you can eat almost anything you want; that is why people lose their shit over intermittent fasting. “I can eat cake!” they cry deliriously. “I can fulfill my long-harbored fantasy of diving into an Olympic swimming pool full of melted butter!” Unfortunately, nutrition doesn’t really work that way. If you spend your eating window eating nothing but bacon, you are not going to lose any weight. You still need to be at a caloric deficit for the day in order to lose fat. People also wonder, “Well, won’t I get super hungry by the time my eating window rolls around?” Yes, for the first few days, you probably will. After that, your body will get used to its new schedule and you won’t feel as hungry.
Which brings me to how exactly intermittent fasting (also known as IF) works: it really is just a tool to help you eat better. The actual act of limiting your food intake to an eight-hour period has not been proven to have any effect on your body’s ability to burn fat. It’s been suggested that, because you don’t constantly have food in your stomach, your body can focus its energy on burning fat instead of digesting food, but that alone isn’t going to make you lose weight. It is more the fact that you are probably only eating one or two meals a day that helps people to focus on their nutrition and consume fewer calories overall for the day.
Be warned: IF isn’t for everyone! I tried the diet for about six months, and it was not for me. I am a serious breakfast person – if I don’t eat breakfast, I feel grouchy and tired all morning, and I eat less healthfully at lunch. My fasting schedule did not allow for breakfast, and so it wasn’t the right choice for me at this particular time. However, my boyfriend has been doing IF for almost a year now, has lost about fifty pounds, and looks and feels amazing. It all depends on your body’s chemistry and your personal habits. I found it very difficult to fast during my work day, because I need fuel to do my best work while I am at my job. Whereas my boyfriend doesn’t usually get hungry till one in the afternoon, and IF fits perfectly into his schedule.
If you are struggling with your nutrition and want to try something new, IF could be for you. Just keep in mind that you still need to pay attention to your calories and macronutrients, or else you won’t lose any fat. And remember – IF is just a way to help yourself eat right. It’s not magic, and it’s not some sort of easy fix for a problem. Read the magazine articles, but take them with a grain of salt and decide for yourself.