Today, there is no shortage of popular diets, and for people who are trying to lose weight or adopt a healthier lifestyle, the variety of options can be both inspiring and overwhelming. If you are seeking a career as a nutritionist, you’ll be working with clients to develop strategies that help them meet their nutrition goals.
When it comes to dieting, a relatively new and popular method is intermittent fasting: an eating plan which focuses on when to eat rather than what exactly is being eaten (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2022). Intermittent fasting involves following a specific schedule that dictates when to eat and when to fast. When practicing intermittent fasting, a person might leave a long period of time in between their last meal of the previous day and their first meal of the next day, eating all of their calories for the day in a specified window of time (O’Connor, 2020). Intermittent fasting has been shown to lead to weight loss, in addition to improving cognitive function, heart and tissue health and preventing the onset of certain diseases (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2022).
During your nutritionist career, you might consider recommending intermittent fasting to your clients as a strategy to enhance their health. Below, discover more about how intermittent fasting works, as well as the benefits and potential drawbacks of this approach.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work? A Guide for Those in a Nutritionist Program
For humans, fasting is not a new phenomenon. In fact, humans evolved from the hunter-gatherer stage equipped with the ability to go without food for long periods of time (Gunnars, 2020). Intermittent fasting operates on the principle that by fasting, we can encourage a few different things to start happening in our bodies (Gunnars, 2020). In simple terms, intermittent fasting works because the period of time that the body has to burn calories and burn fat before the next meal is consumed is increased (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2022). For one, the body’s insulin levels drop, allowing fat cells to release sugar that is stored, using these stores as energy for burning fat (Tello, 2021). Fasting also leads to autophagy, a process in which the body begins recycling the structures inside cells, removing waste and allowing for the formation of new cellular structures (Park, 2022).
After completing your nutritionist diploma, you can recommend a few different methods to your clients who may benefit from intermittent fasting. The most popular method of intermittent fasting is the 16:8 diet, in which all meals are consumed within an 8-hour window, meaning that 16 hours per day are spent fasting (O’Connor, 2020). Another option is the 5:2 diet, in which two, nonconsecutive days of the week are spent eating only 500-600 calories, while a normal amount of calories are eaten on the other 5 days (Gunnars, 2020).
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
When an intermittent fasting plan is followed correctly, there are a few potential benefits that can occur. For one, intermittent fasting can encourage the body to become more equipped to repair itself on its own, by boosting the occurrence of autophagy (Park, 2022). Additionally, fasting has been shown to lead to greater protection for our organs against chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2022).
Intermittent fasting has also been shown to improve our metabolism, as our bodies grow accustomed to switching from a fed to a fasting state (Tello, 2021). According to a variety of studies, intermittent fasting can also lead to weight loss, as it boosts the release of norepinephrine, a hormone that burns fat (Gunnars, 2020). Once you complete your nutritionist program, you might consider intermittent fasting as a strategy for clients looking to lose weight or improve their overall health.
Potential Drawbacks of This Approach
While intermittent fasting has many potential benefits, there are a few things to keep in mind for those who are interested in adopting this approach. As a nutritionist, keep the following in mind before recommending intermittent fasting to the clients you work with:
- While an intermittent fasting approach doesn’t involve restricting what is eaten, if one’s goal is to lose weight, reducing their calorie intake is still important. Weight loss can result from intermittent fasting as long as the individual isn’t compensating by eating greater amounts during the time designated for eating (Gunnars, 2020).
- Intermittent fasting may be dangerous for some people, given the amount of time spent without food. Those who have a history of disordered eating, such as bulimia or anorexia, have an advanced diabetic condition, are pregnant or are breastfeeding should avoid this practice (Tello, 2021).
Taking these factors into account, you can make an educated decision as a nutritionist about whether intermittent fasting may be right for your clients.
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