July 25, 2023
Can Intermittent Fasting Help in Treating Obesity?
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In a world where obesity rates continue to rise, the search for effective, sustainable, and science-backed solutions has never been more critical. Among the numerous strategies gaining prominence, intermittent fasting has emerged as a groundbreaking approach for treating obesity. Beyond just another fad nutrition plan, intermittent fasting taps into the body’s innate ability to optimize metabolism and utilize stored fat, offering a glimmer of hope for millions struggling with weight management. Intermittent fasting involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting, and it doesn’t prescribe specific foods but instead focuses on when to eat. This approach can take various forms, such as the 16/8 method (fasting for 16 hours and eating during an 8-hour window) or the 5:2 method (eating normally for five days and restricting calorie intake on two non-consecutive days).
Intermittent fasting offers several potential benefits for treating obesity, making it an attractive and promising approach to weight management. Some of these benefits include promoting weight loss, enhancing fat burning, improving metabolic health, encouraging healthy eating habits, and more.
Types of intermittent fasting
The two main categories of fasting are whole-day fasting and time-restricted eating, each of which has a variety of approaches as well as pros and cons:
- Whole-day fasting involves not eating for one or more days at regularly scheduled intervals. An aggressive approach is alternate-day fasting, where a day of regular eating is alternated with a day of complete fasting (having only non-caloric drinks) on a regular basis. Since this approach can be challenging to do for many, some people advocate for a less aggressive approach called the 5:2 diet, where fasting is done only two days a week, and a small number of calories (up to 500) is allowed on the two fasting days.
- Time-restricted eating (TRE) is a less aggressive approach, but for some people, TRE is a more sustainable approach. With this method, eating is restricted to a certain number of hours per day, and this approach is done every day of the week. For example, some people will limit their food intake to an 8-hour window of the day between 10 AM and 6 PM, followed by 16 hours of fasting. Others limit food intake to a 6-hour window between noon and 6 p.m.
Intermittent fasting can also be highly individualized and adjusted for each person based on hunger levels, goals, and interests. The greatest benefits of intermittent fasting occur the longer the fasting period and the shorter the eating window.
Research on intermittent fasting for weight loss
Recent research on intermittent fasting as a weight loss strategy has garnered significant attention in the scientific community, unveiling a plethora of insights into its potential effectiveness and impact on overall health. A study conducted by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found the outcomes associated with modified alternate-day fasting included a moderate reduction of body weight, body mass index, and cardiometabolic risk factors in adults with overweight or obesity. Another study conducted by the University of Adelaide was conducted to measure the success of intermittent fasting on women with obesity over the course of 10 weeks. They found that the most successful participants lost approximately 0.5 to 1kg per week of the study.
It is important to acknowledge that individual responses to intermittent fasting can vary, and more long-term studies are needed to ascertain its effectiveness compared to other weight loss methods. Nonetheless, the accumulating evidence highlights the potential of intermittent fasting as a valuable tool in the fight against obesity and offers a promising avenue for further investigation and refinement of dietary interventions.
Precautions for intermittent fasting
Although intermittent fasting is safe for most people, it is not for everyone. Some medications, especially those that affect blood sugar, can make intermittent fasting difficult and possibly even dangerous.
Fasting is not recommended in children or in women who are pregnant or nursing. Patients who take medications for diabetes or high blood pressure should consult with a healthcare provider before trying intermittent fasting, as these medications might need to be adjusted while fasting.
Intermittent fasting holds significant promise as a viable and effective approach to obesity treatment. While more research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects and optimal protocols for different populations, the existing evidence suggests that intermittent fasting can be a safe and sustainable intervention for combating obesity. Furthermore, its flexibility in application makes it appealing to individuals from various lifestyles, making it more likely to be adhered to compared to restrictive nutrition plans.
Incorporating intermittent fasting into a comprehensive obesity treatment plan, alongside a balanced diet and regular physical activity, may lead to more successful and long-lasting outcomes. Nevertheless, it is essential to remember that no single approach fits all, and adopting a holistic lifestyle change that includes healthier eating habits and increased physical activity remains pivotal in addressing obesity and maintaining overall health.
Listen to our podcast episode: “Clinical Conversations: Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting”
"Intermittent Fasting and Obesity-Related Health Outcomes An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses of Randomized Clinical Trials." JAMA Network, 17 Dec. 2021, jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2787246. Accessed 25 Jul. 2023 U. O. A. (2019, January 8). Intermittent fasting could improve obese women's health. Science Daily. Retrieved July 25, 2023, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190108125526.htm
Article written by:
Jeffrey Sicat, MD, FACE, FOMA
Jeffrey Sicat, MD, FACE, FOMA, is the founder and medical director of Virginia Weight and Wellness in Richmond, Virginia.
Dr. Sicat received his undergraduate degree from Williams College in Massachusetts and his medical degree from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, where he remained to complete his Internal Medicine and then subspecialty training in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and metabolism. He is board-certified in Endocrinology, Diabetes and metabolism, and Obesity Medicine. Dr. Sicat is a fellow of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and a fellow of the Obesity Medicine Association.
He has an active practice in obesity medicine and endocrine-related disorders and is a passionate clinician and educator.