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  • Markb

Is Intermittent Fasting a Trendy Unsustainable Fad?

This question does not necessarily elicit a yes or no answer.

There are many reasons for the popularity of intermittent fasting. The most popular reason is weight loss. And like most weight-loss diets, I suggest Intermittent Fasting is a trendy, unsustainable fad. I know that is a bold statement, on which I do get some pushback. But if you understand Intermittent Fasting, my view might make sense.

In my blog post, 'Intermittent Fasting versus the Magic Pill', I offer my perspective on intermittent fasting. You might want to read that post to understand better as you continue reading.

So is the concept of intermittent fasting a fad?

Fad diets, which have been around for centuries, appeal more to people's vanity than their desire to stay healthy.

Fad diets focus on waistlines, inches, and pounds, not necessarily on addressing today's long-term health problems.

And thanks to social media, the support of celebrities, and the big business of THIN, we gravitate to whatever and whoever will keep us feeling good about our physical appearance and promise something everyone wants: an easy fix. Intermittent fasting has been called one of these popular fitness trends. It is an eating style that caught on quickly among those looking to lose weight because of its simplicity and effectiveness.

And as a fad, intermittent fasting seems to have become overcomplicated and oversold. There is an option for everyone. Depending on your eating/not eating preferred schedule, there is the 12 hours fasting plan, the 8-hour window plan, the alternate-day plan, the daily time-restricted plan, the 5:2 plan, and the erratic "anything goes" hunger-centered fasting plan (10). And we now have dirty and clean fasting (scientific rationale is still pending on both). Choose your weapon!

I realize I am (generally) on the 12-hour plan. (Of course, I do break this rule every so often). I try not to eat after 7 pm, and my breakfast is generally not until +/- 9 am. That's up to 14 hours daily! Go figure! What fasting plan are you naturally on?

Is intermittent fasting sustainable?

Intermittent fasting does have a place in our lives when applied and used for the right reasons. Intermittent fasting could help control the global obesity epidemic and the more than half of American adults at high risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases because of weight gain.

I recently spoke with Dr. Kristina Varady, Ph.D., Professor of Nutrition at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Her research focuses on the efficacy of intermittent fasting for weight loss and metabolic disease reduction in people with obesity. Dr. Varady clarified this efficacy and many other aspects of intermittent fasting. Please listen here to my talk with Dr. Varady.

If you are intermittent fasting and it is working for you, then by all means, keep it up. We all must find out what works best for each of us.

But although intermittent fasting is still in its infancy and could evolve, ultimately leading to better health, intermittent fasting is often considered a short-term trendy Fad diet, not a health intervention. It is right up there with some of the most famous diet fads. Dr. Varady strongly supports the Weight Watchers diet (WW), which is no longer a fad. WW has had an excellent track record of success for more than 40 years and remains one of today's most popular diets. The WW mantra has remained the same: eat a balanced diet, eat in moderation, and eat what you want.

I have recently read Dr. Varady's book, The Every-Other-Day Diet. While I have not tried her suggested diet plan, it seems like a viable weight-loss eating pattern. Please let me know if you have any luck with Dr. Varady's plan.

While often not based on scientific research or evidence, many diet fads are money makers. In 2020, the weight-loss industry in the US was valued at $71 billion. A tremendous financial incentive for businesses and professionals to promote intermittent fasting. And since our favorite top celebrities swear by this diet, WHY NOT! Remember that these celebs have personal trainers, shoppers, dieticians, etc., who ensure they are always on the best diet and exercise plan.

But for most of us, if not for the global spread of the western diet, the ongoing obesity epidemic, and the prevalence of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, intermittent fasting might never have become part of that $71 billion budget. We are bombarded every day with another possible solution to these preventable diseases.

And like most trendy weight-loss interventions that we are bombarded with, Intermittent fasting may not be unsustainable, and its results questionable (2).

Brittany Jones, MS, RD, LD, CEO of the Brittany Jones Nutrition Group, and author of "5 reasons Intermittent Fasting is a Fad Diet and Not a Lifestyle Change' (6) outlines five negatives to Intermittent Fasting:

1. Intermittent Fasting is not a magic pill.

2. It is not a sustainable lifestyle change and can lead to the 'diet cycle' (12).

3. It does not teach us anything about the composition and nutrients in food.

4. It causes you to ignore your body's natural hunger cues.

5. It can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and put you at risk of an eating disorder.

Do you want to try this diet trend?

Be clear why you want to try it, and know your options. And speak to a medical professional with your questions and concerns.

As suggested earlier in this discussion, intermittent fasting may not be necessary with a healthy diet and lifestyle. Your body will take care of its natural fasting needs.

So here are six things you might try to better your health and avoid intermittent fasting:

1. Avoid the Western Diet as if it were a plague! Eat as your life depends on it (because it does!) Eat healthily. Michael Pollen defines a healthy diet as: "Eat Food, Not Much, Mostly Vegetables." In his book, In Defense of Food, he refers to the western diet The Slow Weapon Of Mass Destruction.

2. Avoid snacking or eating at nighttime (or most of the time).

3. Eat balanced meals and avoid sugars and refined grains. Instead, eat fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Eat a sensible, plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet, sometimes referred to as the No White Diet: no white flour, no white rice, no white sugar, and no white potatoes. You may notice that all of those are carbohydrates, which are all metabolized into sugars and, therefore, can lead to blood sugar overload and Insulin sensitivity.

4. Keep it moving! Let your body burn fat between meals. Don't snack. Be active throughout your day. Build muscle tone, Cross train, do house chores, go for a walk. At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly activity can significantly reduce heart disease and stroke risk.

5. Consider a natural and straightforward form of fasting. Limit the hours of the day when you eat. For example, some nutritionists suggest eating earlier in the day, IE, between 7 am to 3 pm, or even 10 am to 6 pm and avoiding eating in the evening, especially late before bed. And know the difference between regular natural fasting, time-restricted eating, and calorie-restricted eating.

6. Go to bed a little hungry as long as you get sufficient calories and nutrition.

7. Sleep: as Mathew Walker says, set aside time to get lots of it! Allow your body to do its regular and natural 'intermittent fasting'.

Finding what is 'right' for each of us is an ongoing task. You will evolve and arrive at what is suitable for you repeatedly (as that will change, as you do, over the years). And this will include a healthy diet (whatever that is for each of us will be an ongoing discussion) and an overall healthy lifestyle (which is itself a life's journey).

You may discover that your body is already doing "planned Intermittent fasting," so modifications to fasting will not be necessary. Remember, our bodies will naturally take care of us if we take the time to listen to them and not override what our body and appetite are telling us.

Please let me know your thoughts on this subject. The above discussion has opened multiple dimensions to our health, and I would like to know what you have discovered relative to the concept of fasting.

I look forward to your comments.

Your friend and fellow Bluerisa traveler,

Mark Block


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