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The If Diet: Intermittent Fasting — Hype or Help?

Aug 31, 2016 02:00PM ● By Becca Newell
By Becca Newell

To fast or not to fast? That is undoubtedly the question many of us have asked when considering a quick weight-loss solution. In recent years, promising studies have been published revealing success in a diet that combines periodic calorie restriction with regular food consumption, appropriately dubbed intermittent fasting.

The Hype

There are several variations of intermittent fasting—from two days a week to every other day—but generally speaking, participants keep to a strict intake of about 500 calories (upwards of 600 calories for men) per fasting period. On non-fasting—or “feed” or “feast”—days, participants eat and drink whatever they desire. While results vary, studies in alternate-day fasting—rotating on a daily basis between fasting and non-fasting—have shown the diet to be effective for weight loss and heart disease protection in obese individuals. A 2009 study on ADF (Alternative Day Fasting) saw both overweight and normal-weight participants lose an average of about 11 pounds over a 10-week period. The study also looked at cardio protection aspects of the diet in participants; positive results were noted in both groups. Studies focusing on the food consumed during feed days saw little difference between low-fat or high-fat meals, suggesting that it doesn’t matter what is eaten in between fasts. According to the Mayo Clinic, intermittent fasting may also decrease “bad cholesterol” and reduce the risk of diabetes.

The “16:8”

An IF diet that doesn’t require calorie-counting, this program calls for 16 hours of fasting—sleep included—and eight hours of “feeding” within 24 hours. This eating schedule doesn’t have to occur daily, however. Advocates claim a 16:8 fast held once or twice a week works as well as a daily fast—and isn’t as difficult to maintain!

The Theory

Researchers believe intermittent fasting is effective because it somewhat mimics the diet of our ancient ancestors, who went for long periods of time in-between meals while hunting their next prey. While eating multiple smaller meals throughout the day—often referred to as “grazing”—has long been theorized to aid in weight loss, a 2011 study at Purdue University found that eating regular-size, high-in-lean-protein meals a few times a day led to reductions in appetite.

The Recipes

So how exactly do you get through the day on a mere 500 calories, you ask? Dr. Krista Varady one of the first to publish research on intermittent fasting, released “The Every Other Day Diet” in 2013. Along with the tales—and results—of her various studies in the field, the book features numerous recipes for fast days, helping readers get through lunch, dinner, and snacks in no more than the allotted calories.

The Long-Term

In terms of long-term weight loss, reports are contradictory as to whether or not the weight stays off. While fasting—at least for short periods of time—isn’t exactly harmful to the body, it may decrease your metabolism, which means the pounds could pile back on once you resume to eating regularly. While some intermittent fasters say the diet is easy to maintain, others refute that claim, describing feelings of lethargy, dizziness, and extreme hunger that caused them to cease participation. One study looked at the correlation between intermittent fasting and eating disorders and concluded it is nonexistent, implying there is no circumstance under which intermittent fasting leads to an eating disorder. That said, it’s recommended to speak with a medical professional before starting any new diet; fasting can be particularly unsafe for those who are pregnant/breastfeeding or suffering from chronic diseases.

A sample meal plan from The Every Other Day Diet

400-Calorie Lunch + One 100-Calorie Snack

(to be eaten whenever you choose)

Lunch: Taco Salad

Place three cups mixed bagged salad greens, one quarter cup of shredded, reduced-fat cheddar cheese, four ounces of cooked chicken breast (shredded or chopped), and half of a red sweet pepper (seeded and chopped) in a medium bowl. In a separate, smaller bowl, stir together one tablespoon of light ranch dressing and two tablespoons of jarred salsa. Pour dressing mix over salad and toss to coat. Top with 10 bite-sized round tortilla chips (broken into pieces).

Savory Snack: Tomato-Basil Melt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toast half of a Thomas’ Light Multi-Grain English muffin. Top with 1 small Italian plum tomato (sliced), two or three basil leaves, and two tablespoons of shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake for four to five minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Sweet Snack Chocolate Stack

Spread one teaspoon of creamy almond butter on one Dove Rich Dark chocolate square. Slice one hulled strawberry and place slices on top of chocolate square. Serve with three hulled strawberries.

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