Imagine that one of your patients, who has been struggling with her weight for years, comes to see you and asks about a new dieting trend involving a sort of strategic starvation. “Is intermittent fasting safe for me?” she asks. How should you respond? “Fasting” and “starvation” are two red flag words in a doctor’s vocabulary, and it seems silly for a physician to advise a patient to fast. However, for many individuals, intermittent fasting is, in fact, a safe and healthy way to diet and lose weight. From family practice to neurology, a patient’s weight is important in all kinds of specialties. As a physician, it’s great to be informed about new dieting trends. Read along as we define what intermittent fasting (IF) is, and outline a few different methods. In addition, we’ll discuss the safety of IF and which types of patients it’s best suited for.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
In basic terms, intermittent fasting is a way of dieting that involves alternating cycles of fasting and eating, according to Healthline.com. Studies say that it can lead to weight loss, increase metabolism, and protect your body against disease. It also could even help you to live longer! Sounds good, right? Well, it can be, if it’s done properly and safely. There are a variety of different intermittent fasting methods, but we’ll discuss three of the most popular.
- The 16/8 Method. This method involves fasting every day for 14 to 16 hours and restricting food intake to an 8 to 10-hour window. However, it’s important to note that healthy eating is key during the “eating window.” This method won’t be very effective if your patient eats junk food during their eating period. In addition, this method may not be the best choice for individuals who need to start their days off with a meal.
- The 5:2 Diet. This one involves eating normally five days a week and fasting for two. During the two fasting days, patients should restrict calorie intake to around 500-600 calories. If your patient has an unpredictable schedule, the 5:2 diet is a viable option, it only requires fasting for two days a week.
- Alternate-Day Fasting. This method is the most difficult of the three we’ve mentioned. As its name suggests, it involves fasting every other day. On the fasting days, patients should only eat a few hundred calories, but they can eat at they please on their “days off.” Due to its difficulty, alternate-day fasting is not the best option for beginners. For those who value their cheat days and enjoy limited commitment, this could be an acceptable method.
Is Intermittent Fasting Safe?
If you’re a physician, you’re probably going to be asked the question, “is intermittent fasting safe?” Most of the time, yes, intermittent fasting is safe, if it’s done correctly. However, it’s not safe for everyone. There are certain individuals who are not right for IF.
Direct Patients to Stay Away from Intermittent Fasting if…
- They take medication that impacts their blood sugar, like insulin or metformin. Patients who take drugs like these should eat regularly.
- They are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Hopefully, this one’s obvious, but pregnant women should absolutely steer clear of intermittent fasting. Expectant mothers and their babies require proper nutrition!
- They have (or have had) an eating disorder. Intermittent fasting is a definite no for any patient who has been diagnosed with a disorder like anorexia or bulimia. The fasting style of intermittent fasting could potentially trigger an eating disorder to flare up.
While there are individuals that should definitely avoid intermittent fasting, this diet is a viable option for many, especially those who struggle with traditional dieting methods.
It’s Safe to Suggest Intermittent Fasting to Patients if…
- They’re prediabetic. If a patient is at risk for diabetes, intermittent fasting could help their cells to become more sensitive to insulin. Since prediabetic patients are insulin resistant, fasting could be beneficial, since it requires the body to produce insulin less often.
- They always find themselves hungry. Fasting for longer of periods of time causes the body to release hunger hormones less often. For patients that have a tendency to overeat or are always hungry, IF could help them to get their appetites back in order.
- Their weight loss has plateaued. For patients who just can’t seem to shed those last few pounds, intermittent fasting is a great way to pick up the body’s metabolism.
So, now you have a better grasp on the answer to the question “is intermittent fasting safe?” While many dieting trends tend to be scams, this one is actually proven to be successful! However, safety is key! If you’re suggesting IF to a patient, make sure they’re healhy and are educated about the different methods. Do you have any experience with intermittent fasting? Share your stories in the comments below!