Can fasting help you lose weight?

Let’s face it. There are about a million and one options for weight loss on the market. Social media, magazines, books, and infomercials are advertising the next best way to “lose fat fast!” But most of the time, we either find ourselves trudging through restricted diets and giving up after only a few weeks or drinking strange teas and hoping that they will flush out our “toxins.”

People need to detox: Myth or fact? Watch this Health MythBusters video to find out.

In recent years, the weight loss market has begun singing the praises of fasting. There are many variations of fasting, including intermittent fasting, time-restricted fasting, and once-a-month fasting. Because of this, it can be difficult to decide where to start or whether it is a healthy weight loss solution in the first place.

The answer, like many diet fads, is complicated.

What is fasting and why is it so popular?

Fasting has been around for centuries. When humans’ only source of survival was hunting and gathering, humans would frequently go without food for days until they found their next meal. Certain religions practice fasting on an annual basis as a spiritual cleansing or community tradition in recognition of their belief.

Fasting is the act of limiting your food and/or liquid intake over an extended period of time. Sometimes, this can mean not eating any solid foods for a set period of time and drinking juice instead. Other times, it can mean stopping your food intake at specific hours of the day.

More recently, fasting has entered the weight loss and health arena as a way to help people manage their food intake, diminish fat, as well as reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

What are some of the potential benefits of fasting?

Many people decide to try fasting because they can’t seem to stick to a regimented calorie restriction diet plan. Researchers have found that it can be much more challenging to continuously monitor your caloric intake then it is to fast once a month. In a study done by gerontological researcher Valter Longo of the University of Southern California, he found that when mice and human volunteers practiced a type of short-term fasting that they call “fasting mimicking,” they were able to jumpstart the rejuvenative effects of fasting without the hardships faced in hard-core fasting, defined as a water-only diet for an extended number of days.

Once a month, the subjects would eat approximately 1,200 calories, for five days straight and then would resume their natural eating habits until the next month. They found that “Only three rounds of alternating between the diet and normal eating appeared to improve the participants’ physical condition, reducing blood glucose, trimming abdominal fat, and cutting levels of a protein associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Longo and colleagues also detected a slight rise in the abundance of some stem cells in the blood, suggesting that the diet might promote regeneration in humans.”

What are the potential risks of fasting?

Because calorie restriction is hard to adhere to and can negatively impact health, it is important for individuals thinking of fasting to speak with their health care provider before attempting to drastically change their daily eating habits.

Fasting does have risks. The medical community does not unanimously agree whether fasting can effectively help you lose weight and keep weight off. It is especially difficult to lose weight in continuous fasting regimens because of our natural compensatory reactions to intensive calorie restriction. Studies have found that people may get into a pattern of fasting and then binging afterwards. And eating less than 1200 calories per day can prompt your body to decrease its metabolism. These can create the opposite of the intended effect and increase the risk of unwanted weight gain and eating disorders.

Also, despite the claims made in popular fasting advertisements, fasting has not been proven to help “detox” the body of its toxins.

Trying to find the right weight loss plan can be frustrating. But, if you take your time and do it in a research-based, supervised way, you can shed unwanted weight and keep it off. Talk to your health care provider, and they can help create the best path for you.

St. Joseph Health has many registered dieticians who specialize in helping patients with weight loss, including the nationally recognized HMR weight management program offered at St. Jude and St. Joseph Heritage Medical Groups, voted the best fast weight-loss diet in America. Call (714) 446-5154 for more information about the HMR program or to sign up for a free orientation.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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