Intermittent Fasting (IF) has become popular lately, and people are turning to IF to lose weight and lower LDL cholesterol.
But what’s the deal with IF? There are plenty of resources out there, many are contradictory, and it can be hard to know how to IF properly. So we turned to our good friend, Dr. Jason Marr, a Naturopathic Doctor, Performance and Productivity Coach based in Vancouver, BC, to take a deep dive into what the current research on IF is saying—to help you decide whether IF is right for you.
Read on to learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about IF. Including:
- What is IF?
- Why should you consider trying IF?
- What are the different types of IF (and their benefits)?
- How to find the best form of IF for you (and do your genes play a role?)
- How to IF: What you can and can’t have when fasting
- How to properly break a fast
- Why high quality protein is key at meals
- Dr. Marr’s easy-to-follow weekday IF protocol
Are you ready?
What is IF and what are the benefits?
IF is also known as intermittent energy restriction or intermittent calorie restriction. IF is a general term under which several forms of cyclical fasting fall, and these various fasting diets are highly variable in terms of how long we fast for, or how long a time window we have to consume food (calories).
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a hot topic in the health and wellness community right now, with everyone from celebrities to US Marines and Navy Seals to everyday urban professionals leveraging the potential benefits for weight management and performance or productivity. Intermittent Fasting is often touted as a method that works for everybody and that the benefits will be universal.
But like almost every drug, supplement, herb or treatment, that’s almost never the case. We always have to take the context of each individual person’s genetics and environment (physiological, physical, mental-emotional and social) into account.
But first thing’s first. Let’s look at the benefits of Intermittent Fasting, the research behind it, and the very important question… should you try IF yourself?
Established Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Weight Loss, Fat Loss, and Lowered LDL Cholesterol
It’s clear that obesity is a pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) stated in 2016 that over 1.9 billion people in the world were overweight, with over 650 million of those qualifying as obese. This represents a tripling of these numbers since 1975. From my perspective, this represents a desperate need for an overhaul on how we think about prescribing physical activity, movement and nutritional recommendations. But we live in a world today that is fast and based on immediate gratification, so the dieting world is still a massive industry. (Side note: Notice that I didn’t say “diets,” but “nutritional recommendations.” Diet does NOT equal nutrition.)
That being said, if there’s one thing that IF has been relatively well-studied for, it’s for short-term weight loss, and specifically, fat loss, even if the studies lack consistency in baseline populations, outcomes measured, type of fasting, and study design. A 2018 systematic review of four human, randomized control trials done by Ganesan et al. (2018) showed a statistically significant decrease in fat mass, as well as LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels when people took on various forms of IF.
Potential Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
What many people might not realize is that IF is still fairly poorly studied in humans for many of its benefits that are claimed. There is a wealth of information available regarding IF in small animals (especially rats and mice), but many of the benefits that are claimed for IF in humans are extrapolations of this animal data. That doesn’t mean that IF doesn’t work for humans in these ways, just that all the benefits have not yet been definitively proven, as compelling as the animal studies may be.
Animal models have shown that IF may reduce oxidative stress and free radical damage, improve cognition, performance and productivity, delay aging, and even provide an anti-inflammatory benefit. These improvements may also benefit gut microbiotial diversity and lead to improved autophagy (when your body turns over old cells and generates new ones), another emerging and trending discussion in the health and wellness space. Some human studies have not yet shown clear statistically significant benefits in humans for blood sugar balancing, or beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity, though they are suggestive of this positive effect, and all microbiome testing and autophagy data on IF comes from animals at this time.