If we told you that restricting your food intake for a few extra hours a day could actually help you lose weight, reduce inflammation, and improve your cardiovascular health, would you try it? While it's not uncommon for most of us to grab our first bite of food shortly after waking up and ending the evening with a late-night bowl of cereal, a few studies have shown that intermittent fasting—the dieting trend that restricts your food intake to an eight-hour eating window—can actually be beneficial to your overall health.
If, like me, you are not a breakfast person, this doesn't sound too hard—eating your first meal around lunchtime and finishing up dinner around 8 p.m. isn't too much of a stretch of the imagination. In fact, it may already unknowingly be your default routine.
How does intermittent fasting actually work? What are the restrictions, benefits, and risk? Is it for everyone? We tapped dietitian McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN, author, and founder of Nutrition Stripped, to give us the lowdown on the new diet that's taking over the wellness world. Want to try introducing intermittent fasting in your life? This is a good place to start.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
"If you sleep for six to nine hours a night followed by breakfast or a meal, then you've technically already done an intermittent fast," explains Hill. "In a nutshell, intermittent fasting is a method or way of describing a method of changing your eating patterns throughout the day and night with a short-term fast to improve your health." The benefits are tenfold. The dietitian claims improvements with fat loss, reducing inflammation, and improving cardiovascular health.
"Typically people who engage in intermittent fasting prolong a typical overnight fast to anywhere between eight to 24 hours, and then break the fast with a meal. The first meal doesn't technically have to be breakfast or in the morning, it's up to the person and the method they choose."
What Are the Eating Restrictions?
"The biggest restriction is what intermittent fasting is based on, restricting all food and drinks during the fast," explains Hill. "Otherwise, just like any diet or method of eating to improve health, there are so many templates that people can follow."
Some popular methods include eating all your meals within a six- to eight-hour eating window and fasting for the rest of the day, while others stretch it to 12 hours and restrict their calories to 500 a day one to two days per week. The trick is finding the method that works best for you.
What Are the Main Benefits?
"Most people who engage in intermittent fasting do it for weight loss and fat burning," says Hill. "The most popular time period for intermittent fasting is fasting for 16 to 24 hours. During that time period, our bodies switch to use fat as the primary fuel source instead of glucose (which is the preferred energy source). There also have been some studies showing the benefits and improvements in cardiovascular health, especially in reducing total cholesterol, and reducing inflammation."
Are There any Associated Risks?
"Intermittent fasting isn't for everyone, especially those who have a history of disordered eating habits, as this may be a mental or emotional trigger for them," explains Hill. "I also recommend avoiding intermittent fasting during pregnancy, breastfeeding, or trying to get pregnant. There are also individual risks for people who may need higher levels of calories because of nutrient deficiencies. If you're interested in trying intermittent fasting, I recommend consulting with a registered dietitian who can guide you through the process."
How Can You Curb Hunger?
"A hack is to time your fast during normal sleep times," explains Hill. To extend your fast beyond your sleeping cycle, try extending your fast for three to four hours after you wake up and before you go to bed, which would give you a remaining eight-hour eating window assuming you sleep an estimated eight hours per night. "Otherwise, consult with a dietitian who can help you come up with an intermittent fasting plan if it's right for your health goals."
Next up: I tried five wellness trends for a week—here are the ones that are worth it.