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If you struggle with maintaining a healthy weight, you've probably heard about every diet under the sun and tried quite a few of them.
The good news is emerging research about intermittent fasting is promising for dieters with complications related to being overweight, such as issues with insulin production and asthma symptoms, and it could even improve neurological health.
To understand intermittent fasting, it helps to know what happens when you eat: Food is broken down in your digestive system and ends up as molecules in the bloodstream. Carbohydrates turn into sugar, which cells use for energy, with the excess sugar being stored in fat cells. Insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas, brings sugar into the fat cells.
"Between meals, as long as we don’t snack, our insulin levels will go down and our fat cells can then release their stored sugar to be used as energy," according to the Harvard Medical School blog. "The entire idea of intermittent fasting is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat."
Participants in a study on intermittent fasting showed improvements to asthmatic symptoms and inflammation, in addition to dropping about eight percent of their body weight, according to a study in the Free Radical Biology & Medicine journal.
Even the fasting that naturally occurs when you sleep at night can help with weight loss, which is why metabolic experts recommend circadian rhythm fasting. This is where you eat only meals — no snacks — in a 10-hour window during daylight hours, and then stop until breakfast the next morning. Participants in a study on this type of time-restricted feeding had increased insulin sensitivity, improved cell function and lower blood pressure, according to research published in Cell Metabolism journal.
So, how do you start intermittent fasting?
First, make a plan. There are some fasting plans that recommend you skip food entirely for 24 hours. Other plans recommend you switch it up every other day: On feasting days, eat full calorie meals, then dial back to about 500 calories on fasting days. Write out your meals for the week and make them something to look forward to.
"If someone wants to do intermittent fasting, I recommend being conscious of food choices during periods of eating," says Nina Gray, MD a bariatrician with TriHealth Weight Management who specializes in non-surgical weight loss. "Choose high protein, complex carbohydrates for sustained energy."
Second, shop for the good stuff. Pick fruits and vegetables, high quality dairy products, grains and meats that you'll enjoy. If certain produce seems too complicated to prepare, buy it already peeled and cut, so it won't seem daunting when it comes time to cook.
Third, stick to your food plan the best you can. Remember that feast days shouldn't be a free-for-all, as it can keep you from reaching your goal.
"There will be no weight loss if someone fasts, and then eats whatever they want when breaking the fast," Dr. Gray said.
When it comes to working toward a healthier lifestyle, TriHealth Weight Management has a specialized team of dietitians, bariatric surgeons and other professionals to help their patients lose weight and keep it off safely.