In our fad diets article, we explored different types of dietary crazes to hit the scenes in recent times. Now there’s a new trend that we’re adding to that list, a phenomenon known as reverse fasting. So here’s the scoop on this weight loss fad.
What is Reverse Fasting?
You might have heard of intermittent fasting, a weight loss technique in which you abstain from food for a number of hours and then consume all your required calories within a certain period of time. The Reverse Fasting Diet is a type of intermittent fasting that utilises your circadian rhythms (our 24-hour internal clock or sleep-wake cycle) to promote weight loss. This diet is not intended for you to starve yourself or create an unrealistic calorie deficit. Instead, the aim is to modify meal timings, whereby you shift your meal timings to start eating earlier in the day and stop earlier.
How Does it Work?
The good news is: there is no need to skip your meals. The aim is to avoid the usual three to four meals that are usually consumed between in the 12 hours between breakfast to dinner. You just have to consume breakfast much earlier than before, about six or seven in the morning. You can have a proper meal but ensure that you choose a nutrient-dense plate consisting of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts. Avoid processed or oily foods. In between, consume only water or low-calorie fluids such as tea. Don’t wait until 9 pm to have your dinner. Instead, have your final meal at around five or six in the evening consisting of a good portion of protein, carbohydrates and fats. This effectively means that you will be fasting for 12 to 13 hours daily, including overnight, which makes it easier to endure hunger pangs as you will be asleep. Experts recommend that you might even want to push this duration up to 15 to 16 hours as your body adjusts to the fast.
Weight Loss & Other Benefits
The popularity of reverse fasting is mounting. A recent study deemed it the most effective diet for weight loss compared to any other type of intermittent fasting. In particular, it helps with reducing the size of your waist.
Another study by the University of Alabama, Birmingham, proposed that your body can be sent to fat-burning mode simply by modifying your eating schedule by consuming food earlier in the evening. Our digestion tends to be slowest at night, therefore finishing dinner by 6 pm means that our last meal is likely to be fully digested before we go to bed. This is the key to effective weight loss. Research has indicated that our bodies are less sensitive to insulin later in the day. This means that we tend to store food eaten late at night as fat rather than burn it as energy, hence causing us to put on weight. Reverse fasting could additionally reduce the number of calories you consume as your meals are confined to a 12-hour timeframe.
Evidence for the other health benefits of reverse fasting is also growing. Some studies suggest that reverse fasting can even reduce your heart rate, lower blood pressure and slow your metabolism. Others have shown it to be effective against type 2 diabetes, so successfully in fact that some patients have claimed that it significantly reverses or even reduces the need for diabetic medication. However, findings in this area have been mixed (see the section on “Risks”). Finally, our bodies are also programmed to attend to gene repair, gut health and hormones in the evening, therefore eating late could hinder your body’s ability to do so.
One problem in fasting diets, in general, is that if you hit the gym later in the evening, you might not have the energy to push through your routine, given that your body is undergoing a period of fasting. Circumvent this problem by fitting in a workout early in the morning, then having an early lunch instead of snacking after.
Another caveat is that a short period of fast only sheds weight in water and carbs, which you will regain when you start eating regularly again. A better approach might be to follow frequent cycles of short-term fasting and regular eating.
1. Mixed Findings on Type 2 Diabetes
While studies have exalted the benefits of reverse fasting on type 2 diabetes, recent research suggests that regular fasting can have adverse effects on insulin, the hormone that regulates blood-sugar levels. Specifically, fasting diets can impair the function of the pancreas, which secretes insulin, resulting in long-term health problems.
2. Elevated Cortisol Levels
Another risk of a reverse fasting diet is that you might develop chronically high levels of cortisol. Cortisol is secreted during fasting and this, in fact, stimulates the release of fat as energy, which is great in the short-term but not in the long-term. Prolonged exposure in the event of a longer fasting period can, in fact, have the effect of increasing fat storage and breakdown muscle tissue instead.
3. Other Health Issues
A long diet of reverse fasting can lead to electrolyte imbalances, which can destabilise the heart and make it prone to arrhythmias (i.e. frequent occurrences of irregular heartbeat). In the same vein, it can cause the depletion of vital nutrients, such as calcium, omega-3 and fatty acids. It might be hard to compensate during times you actually eat. If you notice the occurrence of any symptoms, you might need to get your physician to prescribe additional supplements.
4. Unhealthy Preoccupation with Food
This one might hit you when you least expect it. If you have to deprive yourself of food for hours on end, your next meal might end up being the only thing you look forward to and think about. All your other (and possibly more pressing) priorities become secondary. Consequently, when you cave and lose control, you end up stuffing yourself and decide to procrastinate the fast another day. Check out our articles on emotional eating and food binges for more information.
5. Is Fasting Safe for You?
Fasting is not recommended for:
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Those with Type 1 diabetes
- Those with chronic medical issues
- Children and adolescents
- Those with body image issues and eating disorders.
Consult your physician before embarking on a reverse fasting diet. They could advise you to determine whether it is suitable for you and develop an appropriate diet plan. They might also be able to help you monitor your nutrient levels with regular blood tests and essential supplements.
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