Eating in Intervals

Illustration by Sarah Barton This is easy.

I eat supper, sleep, have a few cups of coffee in the morning, then nothing until lunch.

I’m trying to trim a few winter pounds by limiting my eating to an eight-hour window and having nothing for the rest of the day. I’m in the early days of an intermittent fast, and aside from a few belly rumblings just before lunchtime, it seems fairly manageable, so far. In fact, it feels like I’m cheating or something, since sleep time is part of my food-free hours, but that fits the parameters of the information I’ve found online regarding this fad.

Unlike traditional dieting, there is no measuring of portions, no counting of carbs or math involved in any other way except maybe reading a watch. While I have no set time for my eight-hour window aside from “lunch” through “supper,” some people get specific, say 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Others may eat as they usually do, say, five days a week, then fast two days.

There may be few rules, but there’s more to it than simply skipping a meal.

“This is a more conscientious approach,” says Whitney Voorhees, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Bon Secours. “It’s all about meal spacing or time restriction in some ways.”

Voorhees sees intermittent fasting as 2019’s keto diet, which is fat-focused. You’ll see a host of health claims for fasting, but Voorhees cautions that many of the studies have involved small populations, limited time periods or animal research, so they may not extrapolate to the general population.

“I wouldn’t put a whole lot of stock into that,” she says.

Still, intermittent fasting may help with weight control in the short term, and may benefit blood sugar and cholesterol levels. “This is a more conscientious approach … . It’s all about meal spacing or time restriction in some ways.” —Whitney Voorhees, Bon Secours dietitian and diabetes educator There are few hard do’s and don’ts with this approach to eating. You can drink coffee or other beverages to take the edge off your hunger. In fact, Voorhees, says, adequate water intake is critical.

She also notes that intermittent fasting is probably not a good idea for people with eating disorders, those who are younger than 18; women who are pregnant or breast feeding, or people with medical conditions such as diabetes. Voorhees says that diabetics who take insulin probably need their doctor to change their insulin regimen before they begin fasting, in order to mitigate the risk of hypoglycemia.

Otherwise, her advice is to avoid taking fasting to extremes, to use common sense and to eat sensibly when you do take your meals, treating yourself to healthy foods, with an abundance of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.

“Just listen to yourself,” she says, “and figure out what your own needs are.”

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