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These days, intermittent fasting—eating lightly, or not at all, for planned periods during the day or week—is something of a fitness phenomenon. The original IF bible, The Fast Diet by Dr. Michael Mosley, was an international bestseller, and dozens of other guides and cookbooks have followed in its wake. Adherents claim that it improves hormonal profile, body composition, and heart health, and celebs like Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Joe Rogan, and Terry Crews all reportedly practice it. But should you try it?
Early animal studies suggested that fasting might lead to not just better body composition, but to improved cardiovascular health, metabolic health, and increased lifespan as well. In humans, however, large-scale studies failed to show a significant difference in any health markers, including fat loss, between IF and a more conventional approach to dieting. “Intermittent fasting,” concludes one 2015 study, “represents a valid—albeit apparently not superior—option to continuous energy restriction for weight loss.”
So long as you’re consistently eating fewer calories than you’re expending, the researchers concluded, you’ll lose weight and get healthier whether you eat one huge meal a day or six little ones. The science, as the saying goes, is compliance.
While this may come as a disappointment to some devoted IF practitioners, it’s good news for the rest of us.
“Having many paths to the same goal—fat loss—means you can choose which one works best for your taste, lifestyle, and goals,” says Angelo Poli, SPN, CFT, SET, founder of the MetPro diet system. “It also allows you to switch strategies if you get bored, or if the one you’re using stops working.”
It’s important to remember that if your goal is gaining muscle mass, intermittent fasting—and, indeed, any form of caloric restriction—is not the best approach because for that, you need to consume more calories than you expend. But if you’re looking to lose fat and would rather skip a few meals altogether than watch your calories like a hawk every time you sit down to a meal, IF might be just what you need.
Feel like giving IF a try? Here are some of the most popular strategies:
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