Intermittent Fasting: Will it Work for You?

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To speak with Lilian de Jonge and other faculty experts on topics related to obesity, nutrition, diabetes, food systems, and food insecurity, please contact Michelle Thompson at mthomp7@gmu.edu/703-993-3485.  

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Learn About Intermittent Fasting and Find Out if it is the Right Plan for You. 

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Lilian de Jonge, assistant professor of nutrition, shares insight and answers common questions regarding intermittent fasting.

According to The Washington Post and Healthline, the average weight gain during the pandemic was approximately 29 pounds per person. In America, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 42 percent of Americans have obesity, which is the second-leading cause of preventable death and is responsible for nearly 300,000 deaths per year. Obesity is also a risk factor for other chronic diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and several cancers, making efforts for sustainable weight loss crucial to the public’s health.

With more parts of society returning to pre-COVID operations, many individuals are grappling with recent weight gain and are looking for ways to lose weight during the summer, including intermittent fasting. Dr. Lilian de Jonge, associate professor of nutrition at the George Mason University College of Health and Human Services, answers common questions and provides insight regarding this popular weight management trend.                                                                           

What is intermittent fasting, and how does it work?

Intermittent fasting is a weight loss plan where individuals eat at certain times a day or on alternative days and can be a valid method to lose or maintain weight.  Intermittent fasting works by manipulating how the body processes calories. There are three sources of calories: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. During normal eating cycles, carbohydrates are readily available in the body, so the body processes carbohydrates first and stores fats, leading to weight gain. During periods of intermittent fasting, the body no longer has carbohydrates readily available, so the body will begin processing and burning fat instead of carbohydrates.

Are the different kinds or patterns of fasting (e.g., 16/8, 5:2, Eat Stop Eat) better than others?

There are different benefits for each fasting plan, and they all depend on the individual. Some individuals do well with fasting during certain times of the day, and others find fasting every other day more beneficial. The diet’s success is determined by how well someone can follow the diet and continue the diet until the desired weight is reached or maintained. There isn’t enough research to determine which type of fasting is better than the other.

The Internet is full of pictures showing that some forms of fasting are better for different body types. Is this true?

In general, it is best to be wary of diets that promise certainty, as all diets work differently for each person. Scientists cannot know if a diet plan works best for a certain body type until that specific study has been conducted. Typically, the studies focused on intermittent fasting involve subjects who have similar characteristics and are only conducted for a short period of time, making it difficult to determine a diet’s effectiveness for certain body types.

How much weight can someone expect to lose from intermittent fasting?

While the success rate for intermittent fasting varies from person to person, an average individual can expect to lose between 1 to 2 pounds of weight each week. For a healthy weight loss plan, the recommended amount of weight to lose is 1 to 2 pounds per week without experiencing negative health effects. For some, individuals can lose more weight within the first two weeks of intermittent fasting due to losing water weight.

Do you have to count calories during intermittent fasting?

The difference between a caloric restriction diet, where individuals consume a certain number of calories (typically 500 less than the body burns) each day, is that intermittent fasting allows individuals to eat normally during certain periods of time while restricting their eating during fasting times. Typically, individuals find intermittent fasting as an easier and more sustainable form of dieting than caloric restriction diets. However, practicing a healthy diet is still needed for individuals to see success from the dieting regimen.

How do you know if intermittent fasting is right for you?

Each person is different, so intermittent fasting is not a one-size-fits-all approach. While some people can handle periods of not eating, others can experience health concerns such as headaches or feeling like they may faint from going periods at a time without eating. If you find yourself struggling with intermittent fasting, reach out to a dietician or nutritionist to work on a diet plan that works for you.

What are the health benefits of intermittent fasting?

Aside from losing weight, individuals can experience several health benefits by going short periods at a time without consuming food. In some cases, the health trend can serve as a type of cleanse by feeling healthier and increasing a sense of clarity in the mind. In addition, following an intermittent fasting plan can help individuals make healthier choices when eating as well as being more mindful about what to eat and when to eat.

Can anyone try intermittent fasting?

There is more research that needs to be done to determine how intermittent fasting affects which populations or demographics differently. For the average adult, intermittent fasting can be a viable and healthy solution to lose weight. This form of dieting is not recommended for some individuals, such as growing children, athletes following a strict workout plan, or individuals with type-1 diabetes. For growing children, a diet plan is only recommended in certain situations. In most cases, children are taught how to eat healthier and make lifestyle changes to improve weight. For athletes following a workout plan, intermittent fasting can be difficult to follow by going certain periods without food and protein, given their level of activeness. Individuals with type-1 diabetes need to regulate their glucose intake and find that a consistent, daily diet is more beneficial to their health.

Individuals with questions about the best weight loss plan for them are encouraged to speak with their care provider and to consider working with a nutritionist to ensure long-term success.

What can I do to lose weight without trying intermittent fasting?

Practicing a healthy diet is beneficial for individuals who want to lose weight without practicing intermittent fasting. Tools such as MyPlate allow individuals to monitor their daily caloric intake and ensure that each meal meets the recommended requirements for fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy. Individuals can also modify the plan based on their gender, age, weight, and height to get more personalized recommendations on healthful eating.

What determines if a diet plan is right for me?

The success of a diet plan is based on how sustainable it is for an individual to maintain the diet. In most cases, a lifestyle change needs to be made to successfully follow a diet. The important aspect of dieting is to determine if the diet feels right for each person. Every person will have different experiences and results with diets depending on how well their body adapts to the new change in eating and how long the individual can practice the diet. Speaking with a dietician or nutritionist can help answer questions about a certain diet as well as ensuring that the diet is the best plan for you.

What research still needs to be conducted on intermittent fasting?

Typically, studies regarding intermittent fasting are set in relatively short periods of time with specific subjects who share similar characteristics, such as gender and body mass index (BMI), and depend on what factors the scientists are looking to discover. Scientists are unable to determine the long-term effects of intermittent fasting or determine which type of person would have more success with this diet than others until the studies are completed. While there are still many unknowns, to ensure you are on the best track for your weight loss, it is best to consult with an expert who can answer questions and modify the plan based on what works for you.

About Dr. Lilian de Jonge

Dr. Lilian de Jonge has worked in several areas of nutrition, including nutritional support in burn patients and the effects of diet composition on body weight and chronic diseases, with a particular depth in human energy metabolism. Collaborations have interested de Jonge in the role of functional foods and nutraceutical compounds on health, determinants of weight gain, and the development of metabolic syndrome in children.

Some of her specific research interests include variability in the adaptation to changes in diet composition and energy balance; the role of sleep and circadian rhythms on the development of obesity and metabolic disorder and more specifically in the effects of disturbance of circadian rhythms on food intake, food preferences, nutrient metabolism, physical activity, and their interactions; and the effects of nutraceuticals with anti-inflammatory properties on the metabolic syndrome and weight regulation and lately school nutrition programs.

Attention Media: 

To speak with Lilian de Jonge and other faculty experts on topics related to obesity, nutrition, diabetes, food systems, and food insecurity, please contact Michelle Thompson at mthomp7@gmu.edu/703-993-3485.