Intermittent fasting (IF) is a health trend that has grown in popularity over the past few years. For those who are not familiar, IF is a way of eating that restricts meal and snack consumption to a certain time period each day. One version of IF is the 16:8 method which includes fasting for 16 hours followed by an 8 hour eating window. Other popular versions of IF include the 20:4 and 12:12 methods.
Many people try IF with the goal of losing weight and supporting optimal health. But is IF right for everyone, and is it something you should try?
Let’s start with the research. Studies on IF versus non time-restricted diets show that IF isn’t superior for body composition change. Instead, the number one factor that leads to weight loss and fat loss is a calorie deficit (meaning consuming fewer calories than the body burns). The timing of eating doesn’t seem to make a difference, but total calorie intake does.
Another popular claim about IF is that it helps optimize health beyond weight and fat loss. When it comes to supporting optimal health, there is no good research showing that IF is a superior way of eating compared to a traditional, non time-restricted diet. Instead, focus on what you eat rather than when you eat to improve your health. The more vitamins, minerals, fiber, and nutrients we get from high quality foods, the better our health will be.
That being said, we shouldn’t completely discount IF as a potentially beneficial way of eating. For some people, eating within a certain time frame through IF helps them consume an amount of calories that is right for them. For others, IF may be extremely difficult to maintain and in these cases, a traditional eating schedule focusing on healthy choices spread throughout the day will work better.
In summary, IF does work for some people to help maintain a calorie balance. However, IF isn’t the only solution, and it isn’t for everyone. If you dislike the idea of fasting for 16 hours and get moody when you are hungry, then IF may not be for you. The good news is that you can still be healthy by eating in a more traditional way, and in many cases this way of eating is more sustainable than an IF approach.
Instead of focusing on IF, try some of these health-boosting nutrition tips:
Eat half a plate of vegetables at meals
Have a source of protein at all meals and snacks
Eat when you are hungry, and have healthy snacks easily accessible
Drink half your body weight in ounces of fluid every day (all fluids besides alcohol count!)
Nutrition is very personalized. If you want to optimize your nutrition and learn how to eat healthy for life without focusing on fad diets or short term fixes, I’m here for you. As a dietitian and health coach, I help people get healthy without unsustainable dieting or tracking calories. I am currently offering free initial nutrition sessions for new clients, so to learn more about me or to schedule your free session, click here.