If you make any of your decisions about how to approach health and wellness based on what you see online or on social media (and we’re not suggesting that you should), you’re bound to get confusing information. In today’s technology-saturated world, it seems that countless experts and professionals are constantly swapping ideas about what we all should be doing to look and feel our strongest… which makes for information overload. As a result, the wellness space has become largely trend-driven, and it can feel like a challenge to keep up with the health fads that your friends and loved ones are talking about.

There are so many trends out there, in fact, that in a recent survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, the “eating pattern” most commonly cited among participants (10 percent) was intermittent fasting, a system of time-restricted eating.

Woman using digital tablet in kitchen

According to IFIC Foundation Nutrition Communications Coordinator Alyssa Ardolino, people who abide by intermittent fasting follow a schedule in which “there is a window of time you can eat and a window when you can’t.” And while intermittent fasting seems to be a somewhat new phenomenon (as evidenced by its apparent trendiness in the IFIC Foundation survey), it’s actually been around for centuries. According to Ardolino, in early years, humans would fast periodically out of scarcity or as part of their spiritual practices. Today, she tells us it has become more visible for different reasons.

“As a registered dietitian who does not promote fad diets, I would argue fasting has become so popular recently because people are seeking another way to try to manipulate their body size — another quick fix,” Ardolino says. “We’re hearing about it more because it is gaining popularity within certain groups like Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and there is increased research interest about this diet.”

While Ardolino cites research that intermittent fasting can be beneficial for cardiovascular health, she’s skeptical as to whether or not those benefits really outweigh potential dangers, namely a higher risk of eating disorders. Because of this, she is not a big fan of intermittent fasting for the general population.

If you are curious to see what all the hype is about, Ardolino offers some guidelines on how you can take the safest possible approach. Keep scrolling for the do’s and don’ts.

THE DO’S

  • Do make sure that it’s actually your best option. Per Ardolino, intermittent fasting shouldn’t be your go-to approach to so-called “healthy eating” simply because you’re looking to feel better. “I would not advise anyone to willingly adopt an intermittent fasting diet without needing it for a medical procedure or specific condition,” she says. “There’s a better way to eat.” If what you’re really after is a lifestyle shift, consider more straightforward changes like consuming less sugar and more vegetables, or experimenting with eating paleo. Fasting intermittently for any sustained period of time should be a more extreme measure.
  • Do be generally more mindful of your food choices. You may have restricted the period of time during which you’ll eat, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to spend that time indulging in foods with little to no nutritional value. Since you have a shorter window during which to fuel your bod, you better make it count. Focus on proteins, vegetables, healthy grains, and fruits.
  • Do consider the foods that you actually want to eat. Ardolino is a big proponent of intuitive or mindful eating, a philosophy that encourages people to honor their hunger by eating when they need to… but never beyond fullness or discomfort. If you are giving intermittent fasting a try, practice mindful eating during the hours you’re actually consuming food so that you’re truly honoring your body. During that time, you shouldn’t be stressed out about counting calories or following a certain eating protocol. Eat what feels good while you can!

THE DON’TS

  • Don’t focus on time restriction. Here’s where the rubber meets the road with intuitive eating. Obviously, the whole point of intermittent fasting is to abide by a set schedule that allows you to eat only during certain hourly windows — but if your body is consistently telling you that you need to power it up with nutrition during those fasting periods, you need to listen to it. Are you feeling consistently dizzy or sick to your stomach? Are you struggling to get through your days? It might be time to revisit the schedule you’ve set for yourself or to backpedal on the fasting thing entirely.
  • Don’t feel guilty about indulging. We already told you that it’s ill-advised to use your precious eating time to eat nothing but sweets. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to something yummy (just as you would if you weren’t on an intermittent fasting program!), and you certainly shouldn’t punish yourself by fasting for an extra few hours or limiting your food intake during the next eating window.
  • Don’t let intermittent fasting — or any other diet — take over your life. “Dieting, including intermittent fasting, is a risk factor for developing an eating disorder,” Ardolino tells us. “Diets harm our relationship with food, resulting in yo-yo weight cycling that’s not good for our health and often leaves us socially isolated.” If you’re starting to notice these patterns in your own body and behavior, it’s probably a sign that you’ve already taken an unhealthy road with intermittent fasting and that you should reconsider an eating plan that will work better for you.

As always, consult your doctor before making any major changes in your diet or health routine.

Have you tried intermittent fasting? What was the experience like? Tweet us @BritandCo!

(Photo via Getty)