Weight loss plans can be frustrating. What works well for one person may not work for another, and even diets that work initially may be difficult to maintain over time. Two newer approaches — the flexitarian diet and intermittent fasting – focus on making long-term dietary changes that offer benefits beyond weight loss and become lifestyle habits.
In this video, San Diego Health host Susan Taylor talks with Jennifer Chronis, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Jefferson in Oceanside, about how these plans work and why they’re beneficial.
The flexitarian eating plan combines a vegetarian diet with the flexibility to eat other foods. The majority of your meals should be whole plant foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains, along with healthy fats, such as avocado and olive oil.
Ideally, animal-based foods like meat, poultry and dairy are avoided or minimized in the flexitarian plan, as are processed foods, such as packaged chips, crackers and cookies. Foods with added sugar, like sodas and sweetened products, also fall into the processed foods category.
However, as the name suggests, the flexitarian diet allows you to eat these foods occasionally.
“As long as you’re getting most your nutrition from the whole foods and plant-based sources, it’s okay to deviate once in a while,” says Dr. Chronis.
Not only can the flexitarian diet help with weight loss, but Dr. Chronis also says it may decrease your risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, depression and some types of cancer.
Intermittent fasting promotes going without food (fasting) for about 16 hours of every day; you eat all your meals during the remaining eight hours. This fasting period can include your sleeping hours, so you begin the eight-hour eating window at some point after you wake up.
You can adjust your fasting and eating hours to fit your lifestyle. If you like to have breakfast, you can begin eating in the morning and start the fast in the afternoon. If you prefer to eat later or want to have dinner with your family, start eating later in the morning. It’s fine to have coffee or tea in the morning if you don’t add sugar or cream.
One of the tenets of intermittent fasting is to avoid nighttime eating, when your metabolism is slower. Aim to finish your meals and begin fasting by 8 pm.
Dr. Chronis explains that, because intermittent fasting shifts the way your metabolism functions, it offers benefits including better insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugars, improved blood pressure and decreased inflammation. In addition, fasting can help clear out toxins.
“Intermittent fasting can decrease your risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, some cancers, and even improve your mood, boost your cognition, and decrease your risk of dementia or other degenerative diseases,” she says.
In general, people who should avoid intermittent fasting include:
- Elderly people
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- People who are immunocompromised or on certain medications that may put them at risk for malnourishment
- Certain people with diabetes
While intermittent fasting has been shown to help with insulin sensitivity and stabilize blood glucose levels, people with type 2 diabetes should not do it if they are taking insulin or any medications that would cause them to have hypoglycemia or low blood sugars. Nor is it safe for anyone who has type 1 diabetes.
The flexitarian diet, because it’s inherently flexible, can be an option for most people.
“I recommend both eating patterns as lifestyle changes, rather than just something you do once in a while, because you’ll get so many more health benefits if it’s a long-term change,” says Dr. Chronis.
“I think it’s very important to contact your doctor and have them help you develop an eating plan that incorporates some of these ideas and fits your lifestyle and your health goals.”