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The Pros and Cons of Intermittent Fasting

Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights

Growing up in the 80s and 90s saw the come and go of numerous diet fads; from the cabbage soup diet to the fat-free “revolution,” we watched our parents go to some pretty extreme lengths to attempt to lose weight.

Fast forward to the present day, and we aren’t without our own ideas and philosophies about losing extra pounds and achieving wellness. One of the most popular eating styles for the current day is known as intermittent fasting, or “IF.”

Together we’ll explore the different methods of intermittent fasting, talk about the pros and cons, and offer some additional tools that can help you maintain a healthy weight and increase your wellness. 

Intermittent Fasting: What It Is

You’ve probably got a few friends who have tried intermittent fasting or maybe one or two that swear it’s been the key to their dieting success. Others try it and find it isn’t a viable plan for them. Either way, intermittent fasting involves what you might think: fasting for certain periods of time. 

There are numerous ways you can practice intermittent fasting, but here are the four most popular. 

14/10 or 16/8 Method

By far the most popular form of intermittent fasting is the 14/10 or 16/8 method. For this method of fasting, you’ll fast for 14-16 hours, and consume your calories in 8-10 hours. It would look something like this:

  • For the 16/8 method, you might consume your last meal of the day by 5:00 p.m. and fast until 9:00 a.m. the next morning. Then, you would eat your necessary calories for the day between the hours of 9:00 a.m. until you start your next fast at 5:00 p.m.
  • Both methods rely on the consumption of your day’s calories during your eating window, and it’s important to make sure you’re able to consume enough calories in that window to sustain you before you begin your fast. 

This method of IF is generally easier to adhere to because the majority of your fasting occurs overnight while you sleep.

The 5/2 Method

Another popular IF eating plan involves eating normally for five days of the week, and fasting two days of the week. For this plan, you would eat normally five out of the seven weekdays, and take two 24 hour fasts the remaining days of the week. 

Your two fasting days should never be taken back to back, and the 5/2 method allows for consumption of 500-600 calories on your two fasting days. 

Alternate Day Fasting

Alternate day fasting is an IF plan that operates on an every other day basis. For this plan, you’ll eat normally, but restrict your caloric intake every other day. For instance, you may eat normally on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, but on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday you’ll restrict your calories to 500-600. 

It goes without saying if you choose this plan, your alternate fasting days will change from week to week, based on a rolling seven-day schedule. 

Eat Stop Eat

The “Eat Stop Eat” method of intermittent fasting involves eating normally most days, but taking a complete 24 hour fast once or twice a week. This is similar to the 5/2 plan, but on the two days you fast on the Eat Stop Eat plan, you won’t consume any calories. 

This can be a difficult plan to follow because many people don’t tolerate complete fasts very well. If you’re just beginning intermittent fasting, this may be too advanced to jump into headfirst.

Why People Choose Intermittent Fasting (the Pros)

The word “fasting” doesn’t make most people immediately excited about the prospect of a new diet plan. However, many people do find that intermittent fasting has benefits that can help them achieve their goals.

It’s Easy

Unlike some complicated diet plans that include specific times to eat specific portions of specific foods, intermittent fasting really only requires that you eat during a certain window each day. What you eat, and how much you eat, is entirely up to you (which can sometimes be a detriment). 

You won’t have to track macros or count calories with IF either. You simply need to remember when to stop eating and when to start. 

Helps With Weight Loss

Plenty of studies have been published about the effect that intermittent fasting has on weight loss

Because of the structured eating style of intermittent fasting that places your body in a caloric deficit during certain hours, researchers have found that IF can offer greater weight loss success to some people over traditional dieting methods that simply involve restricting caloric intake.

Boosts Longevity

Researchers made an interesting discovery while studying intermittent fasting; it may help you live a longer life.  Early studies have shown that calorie restrictions over fasting periods may reduce your risk of developing certain age-related diseases, which could help you live a longer, healthier life. 

Aging and longevity is a process that happens on a cellular level, but intermittent fasting may help your cells age more healthfully.

Can Help Manage Blood Sugar

If you struggle with insulin resistance, you know how important it is to keep your blood sugar numbers in healthy range. Part of getting your blood sugar level under control is maintaining a healthy weight. 

Because intermittent fasting can help you lose weight and may even help you reverse your insulin resistance. 

Why It May Not Work For You (the Cons)

Just because a diet is wildly popular or successful for people you know doesn’t always mean it will pan out that way with you. Especially when considering fasting diets, it’s important to consider your own wellness and other factors prior to beginning the diet to make sure you’re set up for success.

It Can Be Hard to Adjust

Consuming all your calories during a specific time frame can be difficult to do. It usually means you’ll have to eat more food sooner than you normally do. Breaking up your calories into smaller meals can make it easier for you to get the calories you need.

Although it is tempting to just cut out calories if you aren’t hungry, this can result in low blood sugar levels, hunger, and even malnutrition. 

It’s Not Socially Conducive

Your crew wants to go out for dinner and drinks… but the time will be outside of your eating window. This can make it difficult for you to engage in social situations or produce some awkward glances if you decide to go anyhow and sip on ice water. 

If you’re practicing a type of IF that calls for full fasts on particular days, you can find it hard to engage in any social activities on those days, or even work lunches or dinner dates. People who use IF as their preferred method of dieting often find it difficult to participate in activities to the time frame of their fasts.

Medication Considerations

Taking a necessary daily medication often requires a meal. Some medications must also be taken at certain times. If you’re taking medication like this, you may have to adjust the time in which you fast. 

Fasting isn’t a good option for some people with certain medications. Your doctor can help you decide if it’s a good option for you. 

No Focus on Nutrition

Although intermittent fasting may help you lose weight, most plans don’t focus on nutrition. In other words, what you consume during your eating period is irrelevant provided you are eating as many calories as you need.

Initially, you may lose weight, but if you are attempting to increase wellness or health, you won’t do so by focusing solely on the quantity of your calories and not the quality.

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Diet fads come and go, and when you find a healthy eating plan that works for you and is sustainable, you’ll find it is easier to maintain a healthy weight and a healthier lifestyle. 

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Intermittent Fasting-4 Different Types Explained|Cleveland Clinic.org 

Intermittent Fasting and Human Metabolic Rate|JANDOnline.org 

Calorie Restriction and Fasting Diets: What Do We Know?|NIA.NIH.gov 

Intermittent Fasting: The Choice for a Healthier Lifestyle|Cureus.com
Profile photo for Eric Venn-Watson

Eric Venn-Watson M.D.

Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.

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