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Intermittent fasting — does this fad really work?

Reviewing the eating strategy
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SKYLAR CHUNG/THE VARSITY
SKYLAR CHUNG/THE VARSITY

In the world of health, there is no shortage of eating strategies — whether it be going keto, vegan, or even Mediterranean. Although some of these don’t really work, others can be promising and have been adopted by the public. 

Consider intermittent fasting, which is characterized by eating in cycles that are split between eating and fasting. One way this can be done is by only consuming food during eight hours of the day and fasting for the remaining 16 hours. Some people even choose to do cycles of four and 20 hours, while others tend to eat for five days and fast for two.

When we examine human history, we can actually see that intermittent fasting makes sense. When we were hunter-gatherers, we could not eat whenever we wanted, so fasting would be a pretty common practice. Moreover, many religions today make fasting a regular practice.

Fasting can also be linked to elevated growth hormones, greater insulin sensitivity, changes in gene expression, and increased cellular repair. It has also been shown to reduce inflammation, reduce chances for heart disease, reduce risk of cancer, and even has anti-aging capabilities. With all these health benefits, intermittent fasting has become a very popular way to lose weight. Some studies have backed this claim, but as new evidence comes in, we keep learning more. 

Although many are in favour, fasting is highly contested since it’s hard to be completely sure of its efficacy. Like all eating patterns, fasting will not work for everybody. For beginners, it would be wise to talk to a health care professional about whether intermittent fasting is the best course of action for you. People who have had eating disorders or are underweight should be especially cautious, and we should be wary of the psychological detriments of an eating pattern centred on restriction. 

In addition, if you have certain pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, intermittent fasting may not be for you. All in all, intermittent fasting is an eating strategy that has lots of apparent advantages, but the method is also disputed. As such, it is best to talk to your doctor before starting it.