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Intermittent Fasting

Good Idea?

Hindy Norensberg

“How was your fast?” my mom asked the day after Asara B’Teves. My response? “Easy as pie this year since I’ve been practicing for months, remember?” By “practicing” I meant that I was participating in the intermittent fasting process for months, losing weight, and feeling great.

Intermittent fasting sounds complicated and scary to most people but it doesn’t need to be. It has become a trendy concept and diet in recent years and there are many different types that have been developed since it’s so popular. 

As a registered dietitian I was quick to dismiss this diet as a fad, thinking that it wouldn’t be around for long and might encourage extreme behavior like binge eating in some people. After much research I decided to try it. I began the diet not as a diet but as a way to feel light yet satisfied so I could go through the day and night feeling less bloated and heavy.

The most salable diet is the 16/8 method: fast for 16 hours per day and restrict your daily eating window to 8 hours. Within this window, you can fit two, three, or more meals that should be as healthy and nutritious as possible. This diet can be as simple as skipping breakfast or not eating after dinner. Drinking water, coffee and non-caloric beverages during the fasting period is allowed and can help reduce hunger. This diet has vast research demonstrating its effectiveness.

Another version is the 5:2 diet, wherein you fast for two days per week. This diet doesn’t have much research backing it up and is not very promising. This involves eating normally five days each week and restricting calories to 500 to 600 calories on the other two days. Also called the FAST Diet, you can eat the standard meals all days besides the two days when you can eat two small meals of approximately 250 calories per meal for women and 300 calories per meal for men. 

The Warrior Diet sounds dubious: fast during the day and feast at night within a four-hour period with whole, unprocessed foods and snack options. Research suggests that this is more beneficial for men than women. This diet is not one I would recommend. And remember that calories count and quantity is critical, so you can’t expect to eat junk food and lose weight on this diet.

The 16/8 diet is the most popular one, for good reason. Just changing the timing of your meals by eating earlier and extending the overnight fast can benefit metabolism and so much more. 

Based on this reasoning, researchers from the University of Alabama conducted a study with a small group of obese men with prediabetes. They compared a form of intermittent fasting called “early time-restricted feeding,” where all meals were fit into an early eight-hour period of the day (7 A.M. to 3 P.M.) or spread out over 12 hours (between 7 A.M. and 7 P.M.). Both groups maintained their weight (did not gain or lose) but after five weeks, the eight-hours group had dramatically lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity, as well as significantly lower blood pressure. The best part? The eight-hours group also had significantly decreased appetite. They weren’t starving.

With the 16-8 diet, you aren’t eating fewer calories; you are using your calories more wisely. Eating sensible foods most of the time and then eating nothing for an extended period every now and then and indulging occasionally does sound nice to most people. 

Intermittent fasting is currently one of the world’s most well received health trends, where people are losing weight, improving health, and simplifying their lifestyles. It takes time to adapt to the new routine and many feel weak and hungry at the start. Much research has shown a powerful effect on body and brain. It has been shown to lessen inflammation, improve heart health and change the body for the better with an increase in growth hormones, which can increase fat loss and aid in muscle gain. It may reduce insulin levels which leads to better access to body fat for easier weight loss. Cellular repair and gene longevity and protection are positive components of the diet as well. There are currently many studies on the anti-aging and brain health benefits that are present in people who participate in the diet.

Intermittent fasting is not recommended for individuals under the age of 18. It is also not for those with eating disorders, low blood pressure, or who are pregnant or nursing. (See sidebar for full list of conditions that would prohibit fasting.) Always speak to your health professional before trying a restrictive diet. 

Intermittent fasting can be a safe and favorable way to live for healthy individuals – like me.

So, bring it on, Taanis Esther. I’m ready for you!


Not for Everyone

Anyone considering an intermittent fasting diet must consult their health care professional to sign off on it. If you are given the green light but experience negative side effects, stop the diet.  

This is not the diet for you if you are: 

 – under the age of 18

– have a history of eating disorder

  – nursing

 – pregnant

 –  have fertility issues

 – are taking medication

 –  have low blood pressure 

 – are underweight 

 – have diabetes

Hindy Norensberg is a registered dietician and certified group fitness instructor and personal trainer in the Flatbush and Borough Park areas. She specializes in yoga and pilates, and has worked in adult and pediatric nutrition to ensure her clients live their healthiest lives. Hindy can be reached at hindy@norensberg.com.

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