To get rid of unwanted pounds, some people try fasting—not eating at all or eating less than usual for a set period of time. But a new method of fasting may help you lose weight and boost your health in many other ways.
It’s called intermittent fasting. It means eating little or nothing on certain days of the week or eating only during certain hours of the day.
For many people, intermittent fasting makes it easier to lose weight. Studies show that it is as effective at helping people shed excess pounds as regular weight-loss diets. In a 2017 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people who fasted every other day lost roughly the same amount of weight as those counting calories.
Intermittent fasting may be easier to stick to than traditional dieting. On the days or hours when you are not fasting, you can eat normally and not feel deprived.
The benefits seem to go beyond weight loss. Intermittent fasting has a lot of other health benefits.
More and more research shows that it also improves your heart and your overall health by lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, insulin, and blood sugar levels. This can happen even if you do not lose weight while you are doing it.
In a 2020 study in the journal Cell Metabolism, intermittent fasting helped women with metabolic syndrome. This is a group of symptoms—high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess abdominal fat, and abnormal blood fat levels—that raises the risk of heart disease and diabetes. When the women only ate within a 10-hour window during the day, they had lower blood pressure, better cholesterol, and fewer blood sugar spikes.
Research also shows that intermittent fasting lowers chronic inflammation. Inflammation can damage blood vessels and increases the risk for heart attacks and strokes.
Intermittent fasting seems to work because the human body evolved to store food as fat to fuel you when food is scarce. Having longer time periods when we don’t eat seems to help our bodies perform their best.
If you want to give intermittent fasting a try, first pick an approach you think will work for you. Some people fast every other day. Others eat less (about 500 calories) on two days of the week, called the 5:2 method.
One of the most popular ways is to eat every day but only between certain hours of the day. This is called time-restricted eating. Often people eat during an 8-10 hour window—for example, between 10 AM and 8 PM.
Intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone. If you are on insulin, other diabetes drugs, or blood pressure medications, you should discuss it with your doctor first. Plus it may not be wise for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Keep in mind that it can take several weeks to get used to intermittent fasting. But most people eventually adjust. The effort can be well worth it for your heart and your metabolic health!