Intermittent fasting – the benefits and drawbacks

Intermittent fasting – the benefits and drawbacks

by Vanessa Ng 17 Jan 2020

As countless diet trends have come and gone, intermittent fasting (IF) has proven to be one of the more persistent ones. Despite its relatively recent emergence, IF is based on the cultural practice of dry/absolute fasting, where adherents would typically abstain from imbibing solids and liquids for close or up to an entire day. While research has been fairly kind to the health effects of fasting, IF (like any other diet) does have its pros and cons.


Intermittent fasting is potentially beneficial to our body in numerous ways. It helps in triggering fat loss, curbing hunger, keeping cravings at bay, feeling energised, raising focus, increasing strength and endurance in workouts, regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and more. In fact, some studies have shown that intermittent fasting can even reduce the risk for certain heart disease risk factors. Over time, it can even improve metabolic flexibility so that your body can better utilise fat for energy to sustain fat-loss and maintain body composition.


Autophagy is another widely researched benefit of fasting, Basically, the body “eats” unnecessary and dysfunctional cells in order to fuel new cell formation. This has lead many to hypothesise that this is what’s responsible for the “healing” properties commonly associated with IF. Many anecdotes detail how IF proved pivotal in addressing conditions such as IBS, Crohn’s disease and even cancerous tumours.


However, there is a flip side to intermittent fasting. Just as not all diets work with every singly body type, IF can cause some to feel excessively hungry, have low levels of energy, feel light-headed, and even have trouble falling asleep. This may be triggered by the imbalance of hunger-reducing hormones. Furthermore, whenever you go without food for long periods of time, your body automatically activates the fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system and increase cortisol secretion levels to mobilise energy stores. In this case, if your neurotype is predisposed to high levels of cortisol secretion, you may end up being exposed to heightened stress markers, which can trigger excessive food intake. If these symptoms continue to persist after one or two weeks, you may need to try a milder version of intermittent fasting to transition your body gradually or seek help from a licensed dietician or health professional before continuing.


There is also a prevailing notion that engaging in IF gives an individual a license to eat anything and everything, as long as it occurs within the feeding window. While time-restricted feeding can be helpful in limiting total caloric intake (which is still the primary mechanism behind weight management), it can sometimes lead to less disciplined eaters forgetting to prioritise nutrient density. On the flipside, having a ceiling on caloric intake can make it difficult to put on lean body mass, which means that individuals on a bulking phase may find it difficult to sustain progress while following an IF-style approach.


Remember to be conscious and pay attention to how your body reacts to dietary changes. Whichever diet you choose to adopt, always pay close attention to the initial stages of adaptation and tweak your diet accordingly. When it comes to fasting, you might consider lowering the overall intensity of your training at first, at least until your body catches up to the changes. Even when it comes to IF, it’s imperative that you make it work for your body instead of the other way around.