Health

Despite 24/7 food culture, periodic fasting gaining followers

NEW YORK On low-carb diets, meat and cheese are okay.

On low-fat diets, fruit and oatmeal are fine.

With the latest diet trend, no foods at all are allowed for long stretches of time.

A diet that forbids eating for hours might seem doomed in a culture where food is constantly available, but apps and Facebook groups are popping up for people practising intermittent fasting.

Ms Bri Wyatt, a 32-year-old from Tennessee, tried it last summer. "At first I was like, there is no way."

But after reading more about it, she thought it might not be that hard. She started by skipping breakfast and night-time snacks, and later moved on to a 60-day challenge of fasting every other day.

Studies on the potential health benefits are still limited, including for its effectiveness with weight loss.

But in the new year, you may be wondering whether it could help you get in better shape.

Like other diets, intermittent fasting helps you lose weight by setting boundaries around food. But instead of limiting what you eat, it restricts when you eat.

"It is really another way of fooling your body into eating less calories," said Dr Krista Varady, who studies intermittent fasting at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Proponents have said intermittent fasting helps with weight loss in other ways.

For instance, it apparently forces your body to start burning its own fat for fuel after depleting the energy it normally gets from food.

But any effects would depend on the approach you take, and Dr Varady said there is no strong evidence yet that intermittent fasting has any unique effects compared with other diets.

Regardless, people should consult their doctor before trying it. It is not advised for children, people on certain medications and people with a history of eating disorders.

One of the more popular approaches to intermittent fasting is to limit eating to an eight-hour window and to fast during the day's other 16 hours.

NOT AS TOUGH

This is called time-restricted feeding and is not as difficult as some other approaches, since the fasting period can include the time you are asleep.

Many people tailor the eating window to be shorter or longer. Some eat just one meal a day, while others fast entire days a couple of times a week.

On fasting days, people may allow themselves around 600 calories if needed.

But Dr Jason Fung, who has written books on intermittent fasting, said skipping food altogether might actually be easier, since eating small amounts could stimulate appetite.

Whatever the method, people are not supposed to gorge when they stop fasting.

Dr Fung said it is a myth that fasting leaves you famished.

Entrepreneur Sumaya Kazi, 37, who posts about her intermittent fasting online and offers coaching services on the diet, said it seems more difficult than it is partly because overeating has become the norm.

"Intermittent fasting is more of a mental challenge than physical," she said.

It also may be easier than other diets for people who already skip meals when they are too busy, said Dr Varady, adding that to make weight loss stick, people should pick diets that resemble how they already eat. - AP

Food & Drink