Is Intermittent Fasting (IF) for You?
Intermittent fasting is the new diet trend capturing everyone’s attention with claims that it will help you lose weight, regulate hormones, improve your body composition (lean body mass), boost your metabolism, and prolong your life. Truth be told – a lot of the research is quite young with small human sample sizes. And, many of these studies are short term, failing to show whether this ‘fad’ is actually a sustainable eating pattern individuals can stick to for years.
Interestingly, it is creating a lot of division among healthcare providers, in particular, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists. Some are all in, helping clients and patients apply the principles within their lifestyle. Others are proclaiming it another calorie-restrictive ‘fad’ diet with some inflated claims and may have some potential harm.
Chances are, you have tried it or know someone who has. Intermittent fasting is an umbrella term that houses several different types of fasting. Some of these different approaches include:
The 16:8 Method
This method of fasting includes an 8-hour window for eating (or ‘feeding’), but fasting occurs for the remaining 16 hours of the day. For example, someone would skip breakfast and eat between 11am-7pm. Some individuals follow this method but create an even smaller feeding window of 4 hours.
The 5:2 Diet
Individuals who follow this method eat ‘regularly’ on 5 days a week and 2 days they ‘fast’ consuming no more than about 500 calories.
This method involves a 24-hour fast 1-2 times per week.
Simply, intermittent fasting, in whatever form practiced, doesn’t specify which foods to eat but instead when to eat.
Of course, it’s important to note that even though you are eliminating meals or restricting your food consumption, your body still needs certain nutrients on a regular basis. Do you tend towards iron deficiency anemia? Does your GI tract work best with a high fiber diet? Do you tend to have low blood sugar when you haven’t eaten for several hours?
Remember, this is a diet. There are no long-term studies out there looking at how well people keep the weight off or long-term effects from following this eating plan. We don’t know about the sustainability of this diet. But, if you are wondering if you will lose weight, you probably will, at least initially.
Fad or Fix
We know that a majority of diets fail and most everyone regains the weight within 1-5 years. Is intermittent fasting just another one of those diets that will fail us? We don’t really know.
It’s true that some of the research sounds promising, especially if you have some concerns about your weight or your health. It’s true that IF is a structured eating pattern that is pretty simple to enforce. But, before you decide to try out Intermittent Fasting for yourself, there are a few things you should consider first:
1. Is hunger good or bad?
Pain, the need to urinate, thirst, redness and swelling, hunger… all of these are signals your body gives you to send you a specific message. IF teaches you to deny these innate body signals. Instead of hunger being a neutral message, communicating that your body needs nourishment and energy, the intermittent fasting approach requires you to conform to a dietary pattern as a means of controlling your body.
Does your body need controlling? When we are wholly submitted to God, we are Spirit-led and self-control is a natural result or fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). Sounds like complete surrender is what we really need!
Do you think God gave you these signals on accident? Or, to harm you? Or, tease you?
Hunger isn’t your enemy, like some might propose. It isn’t bad. It isn’t out to get you. Hunger isn’t out to tempt you to binge on a box of Oreos or a bag of Doritos. Don’t give it that much power. It’s just a signal – a completely natural, neutral signal that your body is needing energy.
When I asked one woman at my local gym if she gets hungry during her fasting period she replied, “Oh, you just chase it with water and within 15 minutes you forget about it!” Is that the goal? To simply forget and neglect our body so we can move on with our day?
My body is what allows me to love others well and live out my purpose. I don’t want to neglect it – I want to care for it well.
Some might wonder then, how quickly do I need to respond to this signal? Is it ever okay or healthy to deny my body what it wants? Yes – it’s okay to say ‘No.’ These questions can help you decide how to wisely respond:
- What does my body want right now?
- What does my body need right now?
- Will delaying my response to this signal in any way influence how I live, serve, and love?
For example, if you are ‘hangry’ because you haven’t eaten in hours, do you find yourself snapping at your kids? Can you concentrate in your meetings and contribute, create, and excel?
If practicing intermittent fasting doesn’t help you be a more amazing, energetic and generous person, it might be worth reconsidering this eating pattern.
2. What Eating Pattern Are You Modeling for Your Kids?
“More is caught than taught.” – Dave Ramsey.
The way we live, the words we speak, the actions we commit – they do not go unnoticed. In fact, they are often imitated by our children. What if your pre-teen asks to do IF with you? What if you begin noticing that your 6th grader keeps bringing home a lunchbox with uneaten food? Are you ready and willing to engage with your child or teen if they challenge you on the hypocrisy of making them do something you refuse to do?
Kids are looking to fit in, feel beautiful, and attract the attention they crave. In a diet-crazed culture, they are fed daily messages that their size and physicality matter. As Believers, we are teaching our children that the foundation of their identity is Christ – He is everything and more than enough. But, if they see us chasing weight loss or slimness, it’s natural for them to want to join in or to think that this quest is normal and good.
As the head of your household, you get to decide. What will you model? What will you teach? Food choices, eating patterns, rest, play, movement – How can you demonstrate what ‘healthy’ really looks like?
3. What does a sustainable eating pattern look like to you?
If you want an eating and lifestyle plan that makes you feel good and promotes healthy living, it’s essential to choose what you can see yourself doing over the next few decades. I mean, if you plan on living a long time, then your eating plan needs to be flexible enough for the unexpected and structured enough to help you feel energized and vibrant.
Depending on the fasting method chosen, birthdays, holidays, vacations, gatherings and even family meals may be affected. We know that more than 90% of diets fail. This means that most of us are not able to continue following them and at some point give up before having reached a goal. Research also shows that weight regain is common among most individuals within 1-5 years, and ⅓ to ⅔ of dieters regain MORE weight than they lost on their diet.
If you want to beat the odds, because they definitely aren’t in your favor, you must choose food and lifestyle behaviors that are sustainable.
So, what’s the play call?
You always get to choose. There is no formula for stewarding your body. Since it houses the presence of God, you get to determine how to nourish it, care for it and celebrate it so that it allows you to run your race well.
But, in a culture inundated with diets and messaging that our size matters, you must refuse to get sucked in. If you are still interested in trying this eating style out, here are a few things to do:
- Set up an appointment with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist; he/she can help you make sure you are able to meet your daily nutrient needs and answer your questions.
- Consider an 8- or 10-hour window for meals. For example, meals from 9am-7pm or 10am-8pm. This type of window allows you to set boundaries on night snacking (if this is an issue for you), but also allows you to enjoy a family dinner together.
- Make sure you are already practicing nourishing, life-giving habits like eating whole foods, drinking plenty of water, moving daily, and carving out time for rest. If these practices aren’t already in place, focus on these first.
- Pray about it. Your Father knows you inside and out – He wants you to flourish and feel amazing!
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. — James 1:5 (NASB)