Intermittent fasting: A solution for successful weight loss?

Woman fixing herself a salad

For patients interested in losing weight, an approach known as intermittent fasting has seen a surge in popularity lately — and for some, it can sound both approachable and intriguing. But many may also be left wondering: Is this a healthy weight-loss method? Does it present any health risks? And is it recommended by health professionals?

Here, we’ll take a deeper dive into the topic with Wilmington Health nutrition specialist Hillary Kidd, MS, RD, LDN. As a Registered Dietitian, Kidd regularly counsels/coaches patients to help them find success and wellness during their weight-loss journeys.

An intriguing example

Kidd shares the story of a patient who recently managed to lose 80 pounds in a year, primarily as a result of intermittent fasting. The patient followed the 16:8 routine, whereby she fasted for 16 hours of each day and ate within an 8-hour window. Typically, she only ate between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day. She praises this method as the main reason she’s been so successful in shedding weight and keeping it off.

An increasingly popular weight-loss method

Intermittent fasting has become exceedingly popular in the last several years as a means to promote sustainable weight loss. The method supports a specific eating pattern in which patients alternate between periods of eating and fasting. It does not specify what types of foods to eat, but rather a time frame when foods should be consumed, such as the 16:8 routine mentioned above. 

Humans have practiced fasting for centuries, whether for religious purposes or out of necessity when food was unavailable. In more recent years, people have utilized this protocol to support metabolic health. However, it may not be for everyone.

It is important to note that the body naturally “fasts” each night while we sleep. Fasting allows the digestive system to get adequate rest so it can feel and function optimally. This impacts various bodily functions related to digestion, including metabolism. 

The risks and benefits of intermittent fasting 

As with any type of diet, intermittent fasting presents risks and benefits. Kidd warns that individuals with a diagnosis of type I or type II diabetes should be cautious of this specific diet. People who are on medications such as insulin should speak with a registered dietitian or medical provider before fasting for extended periods. This restriction can place a person at risk for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) if medications are not taken with the proper amount of food. 

Intermittent fasting also poses a risk for mood swings, irritability and lower energy, Kidd says. Moreover, once a person starts to “eat normally” again, the likelihood of weight gain is high. This is because fasting puts the body in a starvation/survival mode, which can slow the metabolism. Once calories are increased, the body will naturally maintain this mode. Further, due to the time restrictions placed on eating during intermittent fasts, patients should be aware that they can miss key nutrients in their diet. 

Ultimately, Kidd advises, consuming balanced meals daily to include complex carbohydrates (such as those found in fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains), proteins (such as those found in eggs, legumes and lean poultry), and heart-healthy fats (such as those found in avocados, nuts and seeds) — along with exercise, stress reduction and adequate sleep — can support a healthy metabolism. When a time constraint is placed on eating, this can be challenging to obtain. Individuals engaging in intermittent fasting should ask their registered dietitian about whether they should be taking vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as about what specific foods they should consume to avoid nutrient deficiencies. It is also recommended that patients have a nutritional blood test panel performed to ensure nutrient intakes are optimal.

The importance of ensuring proper nutrition

In summary, what works for one person may or may not work for another. Intermittent fasting can be useful for those who have lower appetites, are looking to avoid unhealthy snacking and/or have busy lifestyles. But at this time, evidence is unclear on whether practicing this diet long term is a healthy choice.

If an individual chooses to follow intermittent fasting over the long term, Kidd notes that it is essential to consume a healthy variety of nutritious foods each day during the non-fasting window to avoid any nutrient deficiency. Adequate nutrition has a profound effect on energy, mental health, immunity and reduction of chronic disease. When following any diet, it’s important to work with a registered dietitian or physician to ensure you are on the path to better health.

Looking to follow a healthy diet and achieve a healthy weight? Wilmington Health can help

Specializing in personalized nutrition counseling for adult patients, the members of Wilmington Health’s Nutrition and Diabetes Management team take a personal interest in patients’ lifestyles, medical issues and health-related goals. Through patient empowerment, understanding and compassionate care, they can help you achieve a healthier lifestyle and a healthier weight.

To learn more about how the providers at Wilmington Health can help you embark on a healthy weight-loss journey, visit our website today.

Contributor: Hillary Kidd MS, RD, LDN, Wilmington Health Bariatric Surgery.