Here’s the skinny on a ‘fast’ and free route to weight loss

Dr. Raman Ashta [Photo: Denise Ritchie]

What if there was a way to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, reduce your cholesterol and blood sugar levels – and not cost you a dime?

And what if you could do all that without any pills, pre-packaged meals, shakes, gym memberships, classes or anything else?

Dr. Raman Ashta, a primary care physician with Steward Health Care’s Sebastian River Medical Center in Vero Beach, says there is, and it has been around longer than the pyramids.

It’s called “fasting.” Or at least “intermittent fasting,” and it is trending big time these days among almost every age group in the U.S. and beyond.

Medical News Today reports “intermittent fasting diets have been gaining more and more traction among people who want to lose weight quickly,” and Ashta points out “it’s been around since our hunter gatherer ancestors [and] it’s been a religious practice for thousands of years,” for virtually all the world’s faiths including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.

Fasting has also been used as a therapeutic or medical technique since at least the 5th century BCE when Hippocrates – the “father of modern medicine” – recommended abstinence from food for patients who exhibited certain symptoms of illness.

But be aware. There is fasting … and then there is fasting. That is, some modern fasting diet plans border on the extreme while others are relatively benign.

Ashta, for example, points her patients toward one of the least extreme plans which she calls the “16-8” approach.

“That’s what I usually suggest to almost all my patients,” she says. “It means that you don’t eat for 16 hours and eat only during an eight-hour window.”

Immediately, however, Ashta adds an important caveat.

Before starting any type of fasting regimen, you need to consult your primary care provider.

Why? Because, as Ashta explains, “if you’re currently taking any medications, it is absolutely necessary to talk your doctor before you start fasting.”

“That’s especially true,” she says, “with the blood pressure and diabetes medicines because when you fast and you’re not eating, your blood pressure can go too low and your sugars can go dangerously low. So a medication adjustment has to come before you start fasting to anticipate that. If you’re on insulin, that dose has to be lowered quickly to account for lack of food and then, also, to account for weight loss.”

Overall, though, Ashta says, “I think intermittent fasting is a good way to lose weight, maintain that weight loss and to improve your general health,” and that the 16-8 technique is “the easiest to follow,” because “you can ease into it. If your fasting window right now is eight hours, you could do 10 hours the next day and then 12 hours the following day and expand it slowly. And maybe do it a couple times a week. Any bit helps more than not doing it all.”

“In addition to enhancing weight loss, 16/8 intermittent fasting is also believed to improve blood sugar control, boost brain function and enhance longevity,” according to healthline.com and other sources.

There are, however, naysayers when it comes to the benefits of fasting.

Not the least of those is Harvard Medical School.

It says: “There’s a ton of incredibly promising intermittent fasting research done on fat rats. They lose weight, their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars improve … but they’re rats.

“Studies in humans, almost across the board, have shown that [under proper supervision] intermittent fasting can be safe, but it’s really no more effective than any other diet,” says the famed Boston school of medicine.

Among the many intermittent fasting diets currently gaining traction, says Medical News Today, is the “Eat Stop Eat” plan which involves eating nothing for 24 hours twice a week. It does not matter what days a person fasts or even when they begin. The only restriction is the fasting must last a full 24 hours and be on non-consecutive days.

Add to that “The Warrior Diet,” which entails eating nothing for 20 hours each day. A person fasting in this way consumes their entire typical food intake in the remaining four hours.

Then there’s the “Leangains” diet, another 16/8 program which was first developed for weightlifters.

Men who choose the Leangains method will fast for 16 hours and then eat what they want for the remaining eight hours. Women fast for 14 hours and eat what they want for the remaining 10 hours of the day. During the fast, a person must avoid eating any food at all but can drink as many no-calorie beverages as they like.

It’s up to you.

If intermittent fasting is something you think you’d like to try, discuss the diet you have in mind with your primary care physician first and see if any adjustments to your current medication might be needed.

Dr. Raman Ashta is with the Steward Health Care’s Sebastian River Medical Center in Vero Beach. Her offices are at 3745 11th Circle in Vero Beach. The phone number is 772-564-2485.

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