Fasting has been and continues to be a trending topic in health, fitness and general wellness forums, chiefly because of its holistic application. It is useful in weight loss, and healing, as a preventive measure against ailments, for skin care and anti-aging, detoxification and developing and strengthening neural pathways.
This article compares the fasting mimicking diet vs. intermittent fasting, their effectiveness, health benefits, how they are administered and what sets the two apart from each other.
They are both modern approaches to fasting, so they are often pitted against each other. Keep reading to make an informed decision when choosing a diet plan. We will begin by illustrating how fasting promotes wellness to provide context to our comparison.
How Does Fasting Work?
Numerous fasting methods are inspired by personal preferences, circumstances, religion, financial positions and perceived health benefits. The common idea that cuts across all fasting approaches are the intentional absolute or partial withdrawal of foods and/or drinks for a specified period.
Your typical fast will last between one to three days (24 to 72 hours), but many surpass this duration or fall short of it. The variance can be attributed to specific fasting styles, desired outcomes and the participants’ willpower.
The body lacks its normal access to glucose when you are fasting, so the cells are forced to seek alternatives for energy. It will start to generate its own glucose with help from the liver, which converts non-carbs like fats, lactate and amino acids into energy.
Blood sugar levels are naturally low when fasting because no carbs are being ingested. Fasting also reduces insulin resistance, enhancing the body’s sensitivity to it which facilitates efficient transportation of glucose from the bloodstream to the cells to be used as energy. It has a positive impact on blood glucose management.
As more stored body fat is burned for energy, you can get into a ketosis cycle without resorting to a Keto diet. This is the ideal state to be in if you want to balance your blood sugar levels and your weight loss journey. You will produce sufficient ketones from stored fats to power you through it, so you don’t have to break the fast for nourishment.
The reduction in body fat works in synergy with the calorie deficit imposed by the fast to facilitate healthy weight loss that preserves muscle tissue.
The strain from the fast boosts the body’s neurotransmitters, enhancing your metabolism. It intuitively starts to conserve energy, improving your basal metabolic rate. This can significantly lower your heart rate and, by extension, your blood pressure.
The reliance on fats for energy leads to a significant decrease in total cholesterol, blood triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, further taking the weight off the heart.
The body also goes into autophagy, a cell survival system triggered by extended or intermittent fasting. It balances the body’s energy sources for growth and development and when there is some nutritional deficit. It is a natural process of cell degradation through which dysfunctional or unnecessary cell components are removed. You can’t trigger autophagy while consuming regular meals.
It serves as the body’s quality control system by eliminating pathogens, aggregated or misfolded proteins, damaged organelles, or other non-functional or toxic cell components.
This prevents inflammation and cell necrosis that might result in degenerative diseases like cardiomyopathy (heart disease), neurodegeneration (progressive loss of brain function), cancer, diabetes, liver disease, autoimmune diseases and infections.
As the body enters the fasting state, these malfunctioning or unnecessary cell components are consumed for energy. This creates room for developing more efficient and functional parts using freshly absorbed nutrients. For instance, there is a substantial increase in human growth hormone (HGH) levels. They facilitate muscle strength, growth and metabolism.
When autophagy is activated, old cellular parts, including unnecessary, loose skin cells, are cleared out. The process reveals vibrant and youthful-looking skin and slows down or even reverses aging. It is an effective way to postpone your encounter with youth mimicking magic pills or miracle creams whose effectiveness is never guaranteed.
Autophagy declines with age, like most of the body’s physiological processes. Fasting remains the most effective means of triggering autophagy, so it remains relevant through all stages of life.
Its impact has been associated with boosting brain functions, protecting brain health and increasing the generation of nerve cells, improving cognitive function and preventing neurodegenerative disorders. This helps in the management of conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Different Types of Fasts
Now that you know what to expect, we can look at different approaches. The numerous fasting programs can be broadly categorized into three groups for analysis and comparison based on how the dietary intervention is administered.
- Extended Multi-Day Fasts
- Time Restricted Eating (TRE)
- Intermittent Fasting (IF)
- Fasting Mimicking Diets (FMD)
Our focus will be on the last two, but we will review all because the classifications often overlap.
Extended Multi-Day Fasts
These are prolonged fasting plans that typically extend beyond 24 hours. They can stretch up to five days and beyond. These diets are hard to maintain without some compromise on the daily calorie intake. They are part of the reason fasting mimicking diets have gained popularity over the years, as we will soon find out.
Time Restricted Eating (TRE)
These fasting regimens only allow eating within specific hours of the day on fasting days, and you are supposed to fast the rest of the time. Eating periods are selected to coincide with the time of day when energy is needed to ensure that as many added calories as possible are burned.
They are popular because they don’t limit the type of food or caloric intake, making them easy to follow. You can eat whatever you want when it’s time to eat.
Time restricted fasts can be broken down further based on their specific time restrictions.
A good TRE example is the Circadian rhythm fasting schedule. This time restricted eating plan allows you to eat only while the sun is out (between sunrise and sunset), which provides a window of approximately twelve hours to eat preceding a twelve-hour fast at night.
Fasting at night is easy because the body is at rest and because you will be asleep, you are less likely to be overpowered by the urge to eat.
The intermittent fasting approach switches the body between fasting and feeding states for different intervals. The intervals can be but don’t have to be identical or steady every day, and you can keep adjusting them as you acclimatize to the diet.
Unlike TRE regimens, intermittent fasting has daily caloric restrictions, so you don’t just load up during meals. However, it doesn’t describe the specific foods you should eat, so you get some wiggle room.
The term intermittent fasting is used loosely and can even refer to the Circadian rhythm fasting schedule we mentioned earlier (when the calories are regulated) or even fasting on specific days of the week. It can take multiple forms, depending on the participant’s inclinations.
Alternate Day Fasting (ADF)
This is an example of an intermittent fasting diet with alternating fasting and non-fasting days. You have to restrict your food intake on fasting days, but you can eat whatever you want on non-fasting days. If you fast on Monday, for instance, you will fast again on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Your diet is unrestricted on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for that week.
This pattern continues until you end the fast or achieve your target. ADF is used to lose weight and manage health conditions like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
The fact that calorie restriction is only required half the time doesn’t mean that you overindulge on the non-fasting days. You should only eat what you need; don’t try to make up for the fast.
Alternate day fasting can be intense, so you can modify it by infusing a daily calorie intake of fewer than 500 calories on fasting days instead of a cold turkey fast.
Recent studies have shown that you can maintain a fast while consuming coffee, bulletproof coffee, tea, salt, certain sweeteners, bone broth, apple cider vinegar, lemon water or plain water. They come with little or no calories and zero sugars, so they won’t raise your insulin levels. This means they will not break your fast, which brings us to the fasting mimicking diet.
Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD)
The fasting mimicking diet is a new age approach to fasting brought to light by an Italian researcher and biologist, Dr. Valter Longo. It was based on years of research specializing in the nutrient-sensing pathways in the body that control autophagy. It is a prolonged and periodic diet.
The idea is to get the body into fasting mode and keep it there for a preset period while allowing some food intake. It enables you to eat your cake and have it too (pun intended) because you can reap the benefits associated with fasting without enduring hardships like extreme hunger, headaches, fatigue or psychological distress. It speeds up autophagy while providing a healthy base for cell regeneration.
The diet allows you to eat small, low-calorie meals whose total caloric weight is less than half the average human daily calorie consumption (estimated at 2,000 calories). The sanctioned foods are largely plant-based and typically comprise nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, olives and herbal teas. Additional beverages are allowed in moderation, so you can use your coffee, tea or sparkling water to boost your energy when necessary.
If successfully executed, the fast mimicking diet provides the optimum balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fiber to mitigate the hunger pangs you would otherwise encounter on your fasting days. All this while your body doesn’t come out of its fasting state because the caloric restriction ensures its nutrient-sensing pathways are not triggered, so it doesn’t realize it is being fed.
It’s now easy to maintain your caloric intake within the threshold with offers of whole meal packages like the ProLon fasting mimicking diet. It comes in five small boxes for their recommended five-day plant-based restricted calorie FMD cycle. The packages contain plant-based energy bars, soups, assorted snacks, supplements, and drinks. The ProLon FMD was the pioneer fasting mimicking diet brand in the market.
Fasting Mimicking Diet vs. Intermittent Fasting: What Is the Difference?
The fasting mimicking diet is often listed under the intermittent fasting umbrella but is not entirely the same. The main difference between them is that the fasting mimicking diet employs specific foods for nutrition and overall wellness and is not as focused on timing meals or periods without food, which is the crux of intermittent fasting.
Using the fasting mimicking diet to execute an intermittent fasting plan is possible, especially if specific calorie requirements exist. It allows you to diet for longer periods as the body gets some nutrition in its fasting state and you will be better equipped to fight the hunger pangs.
So, after comparing fasting mimicking diet vs. intermittent fasting, can we say which is better? No. The ideal fast depends on your goals and hunger tolerance capacity. While a crash diet will enable you to squeeze into a tight outfit in time for a particular function, it does not make you healthy in the long run. The body needs time and consistency to develop, rest and repair. The diet with long-term health benefits is the one that you can sustain.
Regardless of your chosen option, you need to watch the foods you include in the diet to balance nutrients and minerals for the body to thrive. Some form of calorie restriction should also be observed during the fasting period; don’t compensate by consuming more than the body requires when the fast is up, as it will erode the health benefits.
Remember to give your body adequate time to rest and rejuvenate from the shock of the fast. It is the only way to grow stronger after the fast. If the fast is too long, the body might cannibalize its own muscle for energy, presenting a whole new set of problems.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Anne Haliday has spent her career in the food industry both as a chef and a food critic. She is passionate about health and nutrition and has spent years studying food and it’s impact on our health. In her free time, Anne can be found kayaking or practicing yoga.