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Eyeing an Intermittent Fasting Plan? Here's What to Consider Before Trying One

What to Consider Before Trying an Intermittent Fasting Plan

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Intermittent fasting has soared in popularity, thanks in large part to its associated weight loss outcomes. But, how can you follow this plan safely and successfully?

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MAY. 12, 2021    4 MIN. READ
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Refraining from eating for long periods, more commonly known as fasting, is a time-honored practice. Religious fasts such as Ramadan and Yom Kippur have been observed for centuries. More recently, some people have been turning to an intermittent fasting plan to manage their weight, blood sugar and other aspects of their health. But what is intermittent fasting? And is it safe for everyone?

We spoke with Abbott expert Jennifer Williams, a research scientist specializing in hydration and pediatric nutrition, about the benefits of this current, trendy diet and what you should consider before trying it 

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

"This approach has many variations and definitions," Williams says about intermittent fasting, "but it essentially requires you to eat only within a certain window of time and fast during the remainder of it."

Because of the variety of fasting options available, this eating plan can work for a wide range of lifestyles. However, it's important to choose a method you can truly commit to. Otherwise, you may not see results. Some of the approaches you can take when intermittent fasting include:

  • Time-restricted fasting. People usually start with this intermittent fasting plan. Often referred to as 16:8, this approach requires fasting during a 16-hour window — such as from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. — and allows eating for eight hours. "In this type of fasting, you would spend the majority of your day in the fasted state," explains Williams, adding that some people choose a more liberal 12:12 window.
  • Alternate day fasting. As its name suggests, this style of intermittent fasting alternates between one fasting day and one feasting day. There are no calorie restrictions on the feasting day. "On a 'fasted day,' you can consume energy-free fluids; and on a 'feast day,' you can liberalize intake," says Williams.
  • Modified fasting. "Sometimes referred to as 5:2 intermittent fasting, this style involves eating a normal or typical diet five days a week, and then limiting your typical intake to 20% to 25% of calorie needs on two nonconsecutive days," explains Williams.

What Are the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?

Often, people are interested in intermittent fasting because it's been shown to kick-start weight loss.

In one study, adults with obesity who followed a high-protein intermittent fasting diet saw results similar to those who followed a heart healthy diet in both reductions of BMI and blood lipids — or fat found in the blood. A review of current studies found when compared to calorie restriction, intermittent fasting allows individuals to achieve similar weight loss without losing as much muscle mass.

But intermittent fasting's benefits go beyond quick weight loss. According to Williams, this diet can help you establish behaviors that allow you to lose weight and keep it off over the long term.

"When it comes to behavioral factors, intermittent fasting can lead to weight loss for those individuals who tend to mindlessly snack when they're bored, stressed or unhappy," she explains. "An intermittent fasting plan can help establish anti-grazing rules that effectively limit overeating."

How Important Is Hydration When You're Dieting?

While some fasting diets only allow water consumption during the eating periods, intermittent fasting allows you to have H2O whenever you want. In fact, hydration is encouraged when you're following this diet.

"Hydration is key to so many activities in the body, including body temperature regulation, blood volume and pH equilibration, brain function, and lubrication of skin and joints," explains Williams. Water is also necessary for digestion and delivering key nutrients to cells in the body.

When intermittent fasting, "It's important to hydrate, preferably with water, first thing in the morning upon waking to replenish what the body uses while at rest," Williams says. She also recommends consuming water and other noncaloric beverages throughout the day.

But the foods we eat also play a large role in how hydrated we are. That's why it's crucial to choose foods for hydration, Williams emphasizes. "About 20% of our daily water intake is through foods like fruits, vegetables, soups and rice."

How Can You Stay Hydrated While Fasting?

However, it's important to not go overboard with liquids. When people try intermittent fasting for the first time, Williams says people may drink too much to stave off hunger — especially in the early stages of the plan. However, overhydration can come with risks such as reduced sodium levels in the blood and nausea.

"Unless intermittent fasting is causing a decrease in fluid intake during the fasting period, there should not be an issue with hydration while intermittent fasting," says Williams. Still, if you notice the tell-tale signs of dehydration — i.e., dark-colored urine or barely any urine at all — incorporating an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte® may help you boost your hydration levels to where they need to be.

Pedialyte is an advanced rehydration solution designed to help prevent mild to moderate dehydration brought on by illness, heat, exercise and travel. It can also help you replenish lost fluids and electrolytes, as well as provide fluid to compensate for times when you just don't get enough.

"During intermittent fasting for a religious occasion, Pedialyte could help you rehydrate after a fast because it has been shown to hydrate better than water [Sollanek et al, 2018]," says Williams. She adds that rehydration solutions can also be used to pre-hydrate before a fasting occasion, which can help ensure your body stays hydrated throughout the fast.

What Should You Consider Before Trying This Diet?

Although there are plenty of benefits that come with intermittent fasting, its lack of restrictions can be misinterpreted by some as a call to eat anything and everything. However, you should still follow a well-balanced diet while practicing intermittent fasting in order to meet all your nutrient needs. This can also help curb any binging on higher-fat and calorie-dense foods.

Additionally, Williams doesn’t recommend intermittent fasting for athletes in heavy training, pregnant and nursing women, or people managing diabetes or another chronic condition. And, as with any diet, it's best to speak with your primary care physician before trying an intermittent fasting plan. 

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