There’s crash dieting, and then there’s intermittent fasting. Crash diets aren’t sustainable and rarely factor in healthy food options. Intermittent fasting on the other hand is gaining attention because people are seeing weight come off, and therefore stay with it. It’s being touted as the go-to way to lose 15, 20 pounds within a month or two. Is it just a popular hashtag or can the weight actually stay off leading millions of people to reach their weight goals? To get clarity, we spoke to Dr. Niket Sonpal who not only is Board Certified in Internal Medicine specializing in Gastroenterology; but lost 6 pounds his first week of intermittent fasting when he decided to do it himself. Here’s what he has to say about intermittent fasting.
What inspired your decision to do intermittent fasting?
I noticed the winter weight became the spring then summer weight and I wanted to take off extra pounds that I noticed had crept on. I was with friends talking about how they lost weight during religious observation and that intermittent fasting was a “thing.” I rolled my eyes. I was skeptical. Then I went online and applied my doctor mind to the concepts I was reading about it and went for it.
There are several ways to go about intermittent fasting. Which way did you do it, when did you start and what was the result?
This is true. The way I chose, and the way I would imagine most people would try, is the one that calls for 16 hours of fasting with 8 hours of eating time per day. This basically means if your last meal of the day is 8pm you will have your first meal by noon the following day, free to eat until 8pm again. I figured since I sleep most of those hours, it wouldn’t be that tough. The 5-day 2-day option of intermittent fasting, calls for normal eating for 5 days and then strict calorie counting for 2 days (500 calories for women and 600 for men). I didn’t want to be obsessing about calorie counting.
What were the challenges (if any) that you faced when intermittent fasting?
I live across the street from a bagel shop in New York City. I also have delicious New York pizza on every other corner. Cravings and temptation were there for me for sure. When I left my home and smelled those fresh bagels my brain said. "let’s eat."
Coming at your intermittent fasting as a doctor, what were some things you were thinking about that others must consider too?
I thought when I would fast. When would be my 8-hour eating period. When we start caloric consumption right when we wake up we do better with weight loss. However, that would mean eating from 7 am until 4pm. This would require a later meal around 3pm. Then I thought, does my lifestyle better allow a 12 noon to 8pm food window?
I also thought about the physiological aspect to what happens to our bodies when we fast intermittently. For one thing, it facilitates weight loss by enhancing hormone function. Insulin levels also lower, plus there’s a rise in noradrenaline. This combination is what helps us to breakdown body fat for energy. While this all reads well on paper there is a lifestyle aspect to it that must be factored in. I’ll add that anyone with a condition should consult with their doctor before going all in on intermittent fasting.
Why do you think it is so difficult for people to fast? What are some of the common symptoms people feel when fasting and what causes them?
When people think of fasting they think of starvation and deprivation. They anticipate they will feel terrible will have a growling stomach, dull headaches, and a bad mood. While these are common symptoms felt at first when fasting, the 16/8 intermittent fasting option allows for food every day. When people see quick results, they stick with it.
What was your diet? What did you cut out and add in?
I looked at my schedule and my overall daily lifestyle and how food was involved. For people who live very hurried lifestyles, food is typically something that is grabbed fast on the go. When we approach food this way no diet will be sustainable. I realized this would require consistent changes in my behavior. It would also require me to get very mindful about what I was eating during the 8 hours of eating time. I chose to eat what I liked in moderation. So, if two slices of pizza twice per week was the lunchtime norm, I reduced to it to once slice. I still ate pasta just not as often and not as much. I also added in a lot more vegetables, proteins, healthy fats and cut out all fast food and soda. Hey, I’m a doctor, but also a human!
For those thinking about intermittent fasting, how would you advise them to proceed?
I would explain that at around the 2 to 4-week mark, someone may plateau. When you notice this don’t think this is the most weight you are able to lose. This is normal and if you are also exercising with weight or resistance training you may be building muscle mass. Pay attention to how clothes fit, body fat loss and how weight loss shows beyond the scale. Knowing how over time the body gets used to intermittent fasting and starts to store up all that is eaten, leading to less weight loss, I suggest resetting your body by eating small, healthy meals throughout the day for a week and then resuming the 16/8 intermittent fasting option again.
People may happily think that they can fast and then enjoy a big bowl of pasta or cheeseburger. What kinds of foods should people eat during intermittent fasting?
You can get results without cutting out your favorite foods which means enjoy that burger or pasta, I did! However, you can’t binge on fast food and think you’re going to make any lasting changes. You want to up your vegetable intake. Things like grilled zucchini or eggplant make for great sides to a piece of grilled chicken or steak. Avocados are a good staple for healthy fats and are versatile. There are loads of recipes out there so plan out your food options in advance, so you stick with it.