This fantastic article was written by Dr. B.J. Hardick, an organic food fanatic and green living aficionado who has spent the majority of his life working in natural health care. Follow him on Facebook!
In my clinical practice, I’ve watched numerous patients struggle with weight, frustratingly transitioning from one diet to another and eventually regaining that weight. That being said, based on empirical evidence and research, there is one approach that I have seen work – intermittent fasting.
As its name implies, intermittent fasting alternates between eating and not eating (or fasting). Numerous methods exist including alternate-day fasting, fasting 16 – 18 hours every day, and fasting 24 hours several times a week. The key concept for each of these is that during your fasting hours, you eat zero (or as close to zero) calories as possible.
Intermittent fasting challenges conventional health theories such as skipping breakfast, not counting calories (or anything for that matter), and going long hours – sometimes days – without eating. With intermittent fasting, when you eat may be just as important as what you eat.
If you’re interested, I recommend starting with a 16-hour fast daily or even a few times a week. This isn’t as hard as it might sound: Have a big dinner, close up the kitchen for the evening (no nighttime snacking!), and then have a late breakfast or early lunch the next day.
Please, please use common sense here. If you feel like you’re going to pass out or otherwise might jeopardize your health, eat something.
Who Shouldn’t Try Intermittent Fasting?
While copious research supports its numerous benefits, including weight loss and chronic disease, no one way of eating works for everyone, and that becomes especially true with intermittent fasting.
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For these 7 patients, I recommend modifying – and in one case, not doing – intermittent fasting to prevent potentially creating further health damage.
- You have gallstone disease. When you fast, your gallbladder doesn’t release bile. As your liver continues to deliver bile, it becomes concentrated. Breaking your fast means your gallbladder could forcefully release sludge or small stones (from that buildup) that could get stuck in the bile duct. For most people, this wouldn’t be a problem, but if you have gallbladder issues, proceed cautiously. One studyshowed among people with gallstone disease, a long overnight fast increased hospitalization risk.
- You’re female. Women are more sensitive to hunger, knocking hunger-regulating hormones like leptin and ghrelin out of whack. Sorry ladies: I’ve observed, compared with guys, females require longer fasts (18 hours or longer) to get benefits, potentially creating hormonal imbalances. I’ve written more about why females should approach intermittent fasting differently in this blog.
- You have an eating disorder. If you have bulimia or otherwise struggle with other psychological eating disorders, intermittent fasting could exacerbate those problems. If you struggle with eating disorders, I absolutely recommend not doing intermittent fasting.
- You have adrenal fatigue. Fasting can keep your stress hormone cortisol ramped up when it should taper down, stressing your already-overworked adrenals. One study with 16 young healthy female volunteers who fasted for 48 hours had elevated cortisol levels, suggesting fasting could create stress. You’re probably not going to fast that long, and if you have healthy adrenals intermittent fasting shouldn’t be a problem.
- Your thyroid is shot. Studies show fasting decreases T3, your active thyroid hormone. Again, this shouldn’t be a problem for most people, but if you have mild to moderate hypothyroidism, you’ll want to consider modifying intermittent fasting.
- You’re sick. Your body needs a steady supply of nutrients when you’re sick. It could also create physiological or metabolic stress; the last thing you want to create when you’ve got a cold, flu, or other virus.
- You have Type 1 diabetes. If you take insulin to control blood glucose, fasting could drop your blood sugar to potentially dangerous levels. Once your body becomes accustomed to intermittent fasting, those glucose levels might steady out, but in the beginning those dangerous drops could create disasters.
Other than eating disorders, none of these conditions should deter you from completely avoiding intermittent fasting, but you’ll definitely want to consider modifying fasting hours to avoid potential problems.