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Intermittent Fasting: Pros and Cons, Yes or No?

Intermittent Fasting has been all the rage online, but is it all it seems to be?

By: Natalie Hickey

Drawing of a clock with a spoon and fork as its hands and food in a quarter of a clock
Graphic By: Mia Overbo

I’m sure many of you have heard about intermittent fasting, whether you came across it on social media or recently saw it in Vogue’s wellness article. But what is this newest “diet obsession,” and is it a good idea?

First, let’s define “intermittent fasting.”

According to Mass General Bringham, intermittent fasting is an eating plan where you alternate between eating and not eating for a certain period of time during the day. Similar to most diet plans, the idea is to lose weight and boost overall health. While these “eating plans” can be adapted to your lifestyle, the two most common seem to be the 16:8 method, where you fast for 16 hours of the day and eat during the other 8, and the 5:2 method, where you restrict your calorie intake by about 70% for two days of the week, and eat normally the other five days.

Reading online articles describing the benefits of intermittent fasting, it looks pretty promising. It boasts weight loss, lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, improves blood sugar levels, and promotes an overall longer and healthier life. Further, there is hard evidence to show its benefits.

For example, one study examined three different eating patterns, with one group restricting calorie intakes (the more traditional counting calories), one fasting on alternate days, and another continuing their typical diet. The study concluded that both diet groups had lost weight; however, something crucial to note is that the faster and traditional calorie cutters didn’t have much of a difference in outcomes.

Therefore, it seems that the advocacy for intermittent fasting goes beyond just weight loss and tackles a greater goal: weight loss without the downsides of calorie counting and restriction. According to well-respected nutritionist Rhian Stephenson, as quoted in a Vogue article, the downfalls to calorie counting include our bodies’ unanticipated ability to adapt: “When we restrict calories for a prolonged period of time, hormonal mediators of hunger will increase, which usually leads to increased cravings.” He also explains that calorie counting tends to come with negative side effects, including discontent, social withdrawal, and being overly fearful of food.

As with any diet plan, intermittent fasting does have its downsides as well. As discussed in my “Introduction to Nutrition” class with Dr. Joan Salge Blake, some cons to fasting of any sort can lead to low blood sugar levels, which can leave you feeling lightheaded, dizzy, with headaches, and/or nausea. Skipping meals and severely limiting calories can be especially dangerous for people with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes. Further, fasting for long periods of time can lead to binge eating habits to form.

Possibly, the most important distinction to make is that neither diet plan focuses on nutrient intake when the most important and beneficial thing we can do for our bodies is to eat a diverse range of foods, making sure to obtain the most amount of beneficial nutrients possible. The plans aren’t actually beneficial unless you use them alongside an overall healthy and all-inclusive diet.

It is important to take into account your body’s needs and wants when deciding what is best for you, as, at the end of the day, food is what keeps us up and running.


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