Netflix’s (Un)well made intermittent fasting trend, but does the divisive weight loss regime really work? Before you start the 16/8 or 14/10 diet, these are the side effects



a clock sitting on top of a wooden table: Can you really lose weight with intermittent fasting? Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto


Can you really lose weight with intermittent fasting? Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Fasting is not a new concept. We fast without realising it when we sleep, we fast before medical procedures or diagnostic tests, and of course some people have been fasting for cultural or religious reasons for hundreds of years. However these days, fasting has become a fashionable route to weight loss or improved health. Netflix’s recent (Un)well series also helped to put the trend of intermittent fasting firmly on our radars.

So what is it exactly?

In contrast to traditional calorie-restricted diets, intermittent fasting focuses on when you eat rather than what you eat. So-called time-restricted intermittent fasting – where one eats within a specific period in 24 hours and fasts for the remaining cycle – has become the go-to method for many newbies.

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The most common variations of the time-restricted intermittent fasting plan are 16 hours of fasting with eight hours of eating, and 14 hours of fasting with 10 hours of eating, also known as 16/8 and 14/10.

During the fasting phase, you’re not supposed to eat and drink anything that could provide calories.

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a cup of water on a table: Intermittent fasting's rule is no food, just water. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto


© Provided by South China Morning Post
Intermittent fasting’s rule is no food, just water. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Why it can work for some …

Those who believe in the benefits of time-restricted intermittent fasting claim that by eating only within certain hours of the day, they reduce their tendency for nighttime snacking and allow the body to rest and cleanse. It is true that when you go for periods without eating, your body sometimes begins to use its own fat as a source of energy. In general, and if done properly, time-restricted intermittent fasting can reduce bloating, stabilise blood sugars, and help to shed excess body weight. Some people even report improvements in their mood and physical strength as a result of adopting this eating pattern.

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a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice: Fasting cleanse for health benefits and boosting physical state. Photo: Pexels


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Fasting cleanse for health benefits and boosting physical state. Photo: Pexels

… And why it doesn’t work for others

In reality, science has not categorically concluded that intermittent fasting works effectively or is sustainable in the long-term.

Current evidence suggests that whether one follows a calorie-restricted or a time-restricted diet, weight loss will result to some extent. However, there is no evidence to show that following intermittent fasting is more or less beneficial than calorie-restricted diets to improve one’s blood glucose, insulin and cholesterol levels.

It’s also worth remembering that for some people, unpleasant side effects can rear their ugly heads while fasting, including headaches, fatigue and poor concentration – all resulting from low blood glucose.



a person sitting down talking on a cell phone: Fatigue and tiredness are side effects of fasting. Photo: Shutterstock


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Fatigue and tiredness are side effects of fasting. Photo: Shutterstock

The eat-what-you-like-myth

Another issue is that since time-restricted intermittent fasting focuses on when you eat, many dieters make the mistake of thinking they can consume whatever they like during the “feasting” period, without realising that calories still matter.

Abstaining from eating and ignoring the body’s natural hunger cues for a long time often leads to overeating and bingeing.

During the fasting period, some find themselves consumed by thoughts of food, while others become obsessive clock-watchers, always thinking about whether they will manage to stick to the fast before the time is up.

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a close up of food: Try light and healthy snacking to beat hunger during fasting. Photo: Pexels


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Try light and healthy snacking to beat hunger during fasting. Photo: Pexels

Nor is intermittent fasting suitable for everyone from the get-go, especially those with a history of eating disorders. Such forms of dieting can be detrimental to their physical and mental well-being in this case, since it only adds more stress and can deter them from listening to their body’s natural cues.

Before you assume intermittent fasting is a silver bullet for losing weight, consider the following:

Your overall eating pattern

For instance, are you regularly eating a late-night snack out of hunger? If so, you may need to assess if you are eating enough during the day.

Eating a meal or a snack every three to four hours during your waking hours helps you stay in tune with your hunger and fullness cues, and stabilises your blood glucose to keep you energised.



a bowl of oranges on a table: Healthy snack to keep you going and stay energised. Photo: Pexels


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Healthy snack to keep you going and stay energised. Photo: Pexels

Lifestyle factors and underlying health conditions

Physical activity, stress, and the time of the day you need to take your medications (if any) all play a role in determining whether you’ll be able to adhere to a restrictive eating window.

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Sustainability

Since time-restricted fasting only allows you to eat within a specific time frame each day, can you realistically follow a plan like this long-term without adversely affecting your mood, social life, and possibly your relationship with food? If you answered no to any of these, then this regimen is not likely to be right for you.



a clock that is sitting on a table: Intermittent fasting requires time restricted eating times throughout the day, does this fit with your reality? Photo: Shutterstock


© Provided by South China Morning Post
Intermittent fasting requires time restricted eating times throughout the day, does this fit with your reality? Photo: Shutterstock

In the end, it’s up to you which type of weight loss plan is most likely to benefit you. So if you are still keen on giving the intermittent fasting method a try, speak to a registered dietitian to customise a plan that could potentially work for you.

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