Fasting has a long history. Many indigenous cultures and world religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hindu, and Jainism, call for fasting during high holy periods or spiritual rites. The Greek physician Hippocrates, for whom the Hippocratic oath is named, recommended fasting to some of his patients.
Today, fasting has also become part of the diet culture. How much of fasting is about health and how much is a fad diet? Read on to find out what’s true and what’s not about intermittent fasting.
What is intermittent fasting?
Fasting is the abstinence of nourishment. Some fasts will prohibit all food and drink. Others will allow you to have certain things, like water, tea or juices, but not others. An intermittent fast is a pattern or cycle of eating where you switch between fast days and non-fast days.
There are many different types of intermittent fasts. Some might have you restrict the calories you eat for 2-3 days during the week and then allow you to eat whatever you want for the other 4-5 days of the week. Others will have you fast for a large portion of the day and then eat as much as you like for a few hours in the evening. Some alternate fast and feast days, and some have you eat nothing for an entire day each week. Certain fasts restrict the types of food you’re allowed to eat during the day, while still others have you skip a meal.
Intermittent fasting is focused on establishing a routine for what and how you eat. A successful fast doesn’t mean fasting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. There must be a balance to ensure that intermittent fasting works for your body rather than against it.
Is intermittent fasting safe?
Fasting isn’t safe for everyone. If you’re considering adding intermittent fasting to your wellness routine, you should first consult with a doctor to make sure that you can do it safely.
Pregnant people are at the top of the list of those who should not try an intermittent fast. Prenatal nutrition is essential to the growth of a baby in the womb. Fasting can put the child in danger.
Some health conditions and medications can make intermittent fasting a bad choice for some people. Diabetes is one of these conditions.
The fast-feast cycle can also strain the digestive system. People who are already struggling with poor digestion or an irritable bowel disease shouldn’t try a fast without medical supervision.
Those who struggle with disordered eating should also avoid intermittent fasting because it can encourage the development of eating disorders.
What are the pitfalls of intermittent fasting?
Like any diet, intermittent fasting requires discipline for it to help you achieve your health goals. Cravings and food-focused thoughts can derail any diet, but this is particularly true with fasting because of the extreme calorie restrictions it requires.
Intermittent fasting also has the potential to turn into disordered eating. If you follow this type of diet, you need to be just as strict about breaking your fast as you are about maintaining it.
Another problem with intermittent fasting is that some practitioners use the “feast” part of the cycle as an excuse to truly eat whatever they want. To make the fast-feast pattern work for you, you need to make your calories count, even when you’re breaking the fast. The end of a fast cycle isn’t an excuse to load up on every junky type of food you’re salivating over.
The biggest mistake most people make while fasting
It’s hard enough to remember to grab a glass of water when you’re not fasting. Hydration, however, is where a lot of intermittent fasters go wrong. It’s essential for you to keep tossing back water, tea, juice—or whatever your diet allows—while you’re in the middle of a fasting cycle. You might want to use a system to track how much water you’re drinking. That could be a habit tracker in a bullet journal, an app, or something else that works for you.
If you’re allowed to eat raw fruits and vegetables during your fast, do so! Produce contains lots of water, and eating them will help you stay hydrated in addition to filling up your belly with fiber.
What happens when you’re done with intermittent fasting?
A notorious downfall of dieting is that once you’re off the diet, you gain back all the weight you lost—and sometimes, even more. This can be true for intermittent fasting, too.
When it comes to a cyclical fast, the best way to move away from the pattern is to do it slowly. Don’t introduce a huge daily breakfast and lunch when you’ve been eating just dinner for weeks on end. Add or rebalance your calorie consumption slowly so that your body can adapt to the change in a positive way.
And, as always, stick with the healthy eating lessons you learned while you were fasting. Carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals don’t change when you return to a more normal eating schedule. You still need to stay hydrated and eat well, even when you’re not technically on a diet.
When it comes to changing the way you eat, you should always do it carefully and intentionally. As you plan out a new diet, consider adding supplements. They will improve the way your body breaks down and absorbs the food you consume.
Probiotic and digestive enzyme supplements can make a huge difference in how you fuel your body. Probiotics and digestive enzymes help with digestion and support the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. This is hugely important when your body is powered by lesser amounts of food.
Remember, whole-body wellness is about giving your body the nutrients it needs to power you through your day. If your main goal is weight loss, focus your intermittent fasting not just on restricting what you eat but on making sure the calories you do consume count.