Intermittent fasting has been a popular diet trend over the past few years. If you’re a senior with a health condition like diabetes or heart disease, your doctor has probably recommended weight loss. So, you might be considering intermittent fasting as an easy way to lose a few pounds. But is intermittent fasting safe for seniors? Let’s explore if it’s right for you.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a diet or eating plan that includes times of fasting (not eating or drinking anything with calories) throughout the day. There are many different types of intermittent fasting plans.
For example, in 16/8 fasting, you eat during an 8-hour period, and then fast for the next 16 hours. So, you might fast from 8pm tonight to tomorrow at noon. Then, you eat lunch and dinner as normal. The times that you choose for your “eating window” are up to you, as are how many hours a day you’d like to fast. Some people use 12/12 fasting, where they don’t eat for 12 hours each day, like from 7pm to 7am. 16/8 and 12/12 plans are sustainable for most people.
Some people fast for entire days of the week, instead of hours of the day. In the 5:2 approach, you eat normally for five days in a row; then for two days in a row, you eat just 400 to 500 calories per day.
More extreme intermittent fasting can include 20/4 plans, where someone only eats within a scheduled 4 hours each day. These types of intermittent fasting plans are usually not sustainable for long periods of time, and can be unhealthy. If you’re going to try intermittent fasting, don’t start with an extreme plan. Discuss your plan with your doctor before you begin any diet. Meeting with a registered dietician is also a good idea before you try to change your eating habits.
Does Intermittent Fasting Work for Weight Loss?
Intermittent fasting does work as a short-term weight loss solution for many people. A review of many studies showed that people typically lost 7-11 pounds over a period of 10 weeks. However, in some studies, 65% of participants were not able to continue intermittent fasting for 10 weeks. No diet will work if you don’t follow it, and intermittent fasting did not appear to be easier to follow than other diets.
This review also found that there was no difference in effectiveness between intermittent fasting and a standard calorie reduction diet. There was also no difference in weight loss, weight regain, or the amount of fat on a person’s body. Blood pressure, heart rate, and glucose and insulin levels were also the same between the groups. But, the dropout rate was higher in the group who participated in intermittent fasting. Both groups lost weight.
So, intermittent fasting can be effective for weight loss, but it isn’t more effective than other types of diets, and it might be more difficult to follow. It also might not be very effective in the long term. Most studies only looked at intermittent fasting for 3 months or less. Longer studies found that weight loss stopped after about 6 months. There is also some concern that dieting causes metabolic adaptation, when your metabolism slows down and remains slower, even after your diet has ended. This can make it very hard to maintain weight loss.
In short, intermittent fasting is an effective short-term solution for weight loss for some people. However, it might be hard to maintain. Plus, it is unlikely to work for a long period of time. It also doesn’t appear to work better than other types of diets.
Is Intermittent Fasting Safe for Seniors?
Intermittent fasting could be safe for some seniors, but there are also significant risks, especially if you have health conditions like high or low blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes. Intermittent fasting has not been well-studied in older adults. The few studies that have been done with older adults are inconclusive.
Dr. Suzanne Salamon, associate chief of gerontology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, felt that intermittent fasting might not be a good choice for many seniors. She said, “People who need to take their medications with food — to avoid nausea or stomach irritation — may not do well with fasting. Also, people who take heart or blood pressure medications may be more likely to suffer dangerous imbalances in potassium and sodium when they’re fasting.”
Since many seniors take medications, often with food, and many do have heart and blood pressure conditions, intermittent fasting may not be the best choice. Intermittent fasting can also be a problem for people with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes because it can cause blood sugar highs and lows.
Is Intermittent Fasting Right for Me?
If your doctor has determined that weight loss would be beneficial for you personally, intermittent fasting could be worth trying. However, it’s important that if you have any health conditions, you do not attempt intermittent fasting without the advice of your doctor. Intermittent fasting can be harmful for seniors with some health conditions, or for those who take certain medications.
The best weight loss plan is the one you actually follow. So if you dislike intermittent fasting and can’t maintain it, you would be better off using another means of weight loss. If intermittent fasting feels good to you and isn’t hard for you to follow, and you don’t have any conditions or take any medications that would affect fasting, it could work to help you lose a few pounds, at least in the short term.
However, it is important to remember that each person’s weight is very individual. Just because someone’s BMI is considered overweight or obese does not mean that they are unhealthy or that weight loss would improve their health. BMI and weight are not good individual indicators of overall health. While there is some evidence to suggest that weight loss may help improve some health conditions like Type 2 diabetes, this is an incredibly difficult field to study. All current studies have serious limitations. They can only suggest a correlation between weight loss and improved outcomes, not a causal relationship. Correlation is not causation. No studies can accurately prove that weight loss improves health outcomes because there are too many other factors at play. All long-term diet studies have also found weight regain in the vast majority of people who lose weight.
So, intermittent fasting might be safe for some seniors, but please don’t start any new diet plan without first consulting with your doctor. This is especially important for older people and people who take medications or have health conditions or concerns.