When it comes to figuring out how to live a healthier life, I sometimes find myself lost in a vacuum of information that works overtime to explain why each and every diet or food fad is better than the last. One trend that's captured my attention (because it just seems so hard to do) is intermittent fasting, which involves eating only during a certain period of time (ex: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and not consuming any calories before or after that. It's a diet that involves willpower and the ability to listen to your stomach growling without putting any food in your mouth to make it stop.
But the latest spin on the structured eating diet is called flexible intermittent fasting, and according to Kyle Kamp, the owner of Valley to Peak Nutrition, it's exactly what it sounds like. "Flexible intermittent fasting is an approach to fasting that isn't as tightly restricted as many of the other approaches to intermittent fasting for weight loss," says Kamp. This means, first and foremost, there's no magical eating window to stick to. "The flexible approach, by comparison, allows its followers to create that window at any point during the day. It doesn't have to be the same window day after day."
According to Kamp, another big distinction is that during fasting times, you may consume some calories, albeit lower than your normal daily intake. This may include a certain type of beverage or very low-calorie meals. This contrasts with many intermittent fasters in that they swear off any calorie intake during their fasting windows.
Who Should Try This
Not all food plans are right for everyone, so before you decide to try flexible intermittent fasting, make sure you understand your body and your motive for wanting to do it. Meagan Lindquist, a coach at Precision Nutrition, says that flexible intermittent fasting can be a great tool for weight loss and disease prevention. "If done right, it forces your body to dip into its own fat stores for energy, instead of the granola bar and banana you just ate that's circling through your bloodstream," she explains. "It also gives your digestive system a much-needed break, which aids in manageing and fighting disease in the body. Carrying excess weight, especially around your midsection, can put you at more risk for certain diseases."
For women especially, Lindquist recommends using this as something to cycle through and not to implement every single day. "If you want to dive into this, try flexible intermittent fasting for a couple weeks, then switch it up again with your normal three meals a day. Use it as a tool, not a daily lifestyle."
When done properly, Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, says that intermittent fasting accomplishes several important things at once: "It teaches structure, control, and discipline. Plus, it empowers your mind and body, getting you in the habit of delaying gratification and mindful eating."
What You Should Know Before You Start
Before giving flexible intermittent fasting a try, Kamp says it's important to pay attention to your blood sugar levels. "Flexible intermittent fasting can certainly help folks manage their weight and blood sugar; however, at the end of the day, it shares one thing in common with all weight-loss approaches: reduced calorie intake," he says. "Some people find this approach easier because the usual recommendation of 'eat five small meals per day' is a program too complicated for them to adhere to. A word of caution for folks considering this approach: keep an eye out for blood sugars dropping too low. This is particularly important for folks with diabetes on medication to be aware of."
Backe says that before you begin a fast diet of any kind, you should consult with your general practitioner, get some blood work done, and see where your day-to-day health is at. "Once your body adapts to the schedule, it becomes a lot easier to go about your day and eat when the time is right," he says.