When you need to lose weight, it’s tempting to turn to the latest diet fad for quick and seemingly easy results.
These days, one of those trends—intermittent fasting—is being highly touted not only for weight loss but for other health benefits, too.
The diet plan includes periods of fasting followed by unrestricted eating. It has proven successful for many in the battle to shed pounds.
But one dietitian urges caution in viewing it as a cure-all for everyone.
“I think a lot of people are looking for a quick fix to lose weight,” said Kristi Veltkamp, a registered dietitian with Spectrum Health. “It seems easier just to skip a meal, but that’s not the same as changing to healthier eating habits.”
Based on her reviews of the latest research, intermittent fasting hasn’t been proven to show any better results than the age-old methods of reducing caloric intake through reducing portion size and eating a healthy, balanced diet throughout the day.
“(People) want me to tell them the magic thing,” Veltkamp said. “It’s hard to make changes. It’s hard to eat healthy. But that’s really the tried and true way.”
Still, Veltkamp said, intermittent fasting can be a tool to aide some in their quest to lose weight.
So how do you know if it’s right for you?
Consider these 3 things:
1. Research the evidence
Because it’s attracting so much attention recently, intermittent fasting has been the subject of much research to determine its true benefits.
Studies have looked at whether it reduces blood sugar and insulin levels, increases hormones that suppress hunger, reduces the risk for heart disease, increases metabolism and more.
Veltkamp said results of these studies are mixed. She urges the public to research the quality of the study before believing the corresponding headlines and findings.
2. Consider your lifestyle
You can choose from various styles of intermittent fasting, including methods that restrict eating to a certain window of time every day. Some methods call for fasting periods of 24 hours or more.
The 16/8 method, for instance, calls for eating 8 hours per day—9 a.m. to 5 p.m., for example—and then fasting the rest of the time.
Another example is the 5:2 method, or eating normally for five days and then fasting two days per week.
If you’re interested, think about whether you can maintain those approaches.
Are you someone who can go without eating for long periods of time? If so, are you tempted to eat unhealthy foods after you have abstained?
“If you’re going all day without eating a lot, you’re going to be hungry. When you get hungry, usually you end up eating bad things. That’s why they call it ‘hangry,’” Veltkamp said.
The restricted eating window can be beneficial in cutting out night-time snacking, which is a downfall for many people who are trying to cut down on calories, she said.
“A lot of the time, that’s when most people are eating extra calories and unhealthy foods,” she said.
Eating a bigger breakfast and lunch and a smaller meal for dinner also lines up with your circadian rhythm, or internal body clock, she said.
3. Consider other health factors
Some people might not be candidates for intermittent fasting because of medications they take or other health concerns.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s definitely not right for you, Veltkamp said. She’s also concerned it could trigger bad habits in those with a history of eating disorders.
Most importantly, Veltkamp urges, remember that intermittent fasting—like many other diet trends—is not likely to surpass the benefits of healthy eating and staying active.
“It’s not the miracle that everyone is dreaming it to be,” she said.