By Reagan Kelly
Diet trends come and go faster than you can say “kale smoothie,” but two methods have emerged as steady front runners: grazing and intermittent fasting. These two popular dietary methods have been hotly debated among nutrition experts and enthusiasts alike. Are you curious about which one is right for you? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about grazing and intermittent fasting, their benefits and drawbacks and how to start incorporating them into your life for a healthier you.
Intermittent fasting is a dieting approach where a person alternates between periods of fasting and eating. There are different ways to practice intermittent fasting, but the most common is the 16/8 method, which involves fasting for 16 hours and eating within an 8-hour window each day. Other methods include alternate- day fasting and the 5:2 diet, where a person eats normally for five days and restricts their calorie intake for two days.
With the substantial break that’s taken between meals during intermittent fasting, it has the potential to allow people to stop and reset, being more mindful of what they will eat next. During the fasting period, the body begins to use stored fat for energy, which can result in a reduction in body fat. Research at UCLA has shown that fasting may also lead to increased longevity, improved sleep and reduced inflammation.
The “grazing” approach is a dietary method where a person eats six smaller meals throughout the day rather than three larger meals. These meals typically consist of smaller portions of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats and may include snacks such as fruits, vegetables and nuts.
The idea behind this approach is that by eating more frequently, a person can keep their metabolism elevated and prevent overeating at meals. While a recent study has debunked the idea that grazing can up your metabolism, the National Library for Medicine points to the thermic effect of food (TEF) and the fact that people’s bodies burn more calories while digesting meals.
Scott D. Isaacs, MD, the medical director of Atlanta Endocrine Associates, emphasizes that with either method, “you must keep in mind the possibility for metabolic adaptation,” a.k.a. your body’s ability to adjust its metabolism based on what it’s eating, leading to a weight loss plateau.
To better understand which method is best for you, it’s essential to understand the differences between the two methods. For diet newbies or busy bees, intermittent fasting can be easier to maintain rather than having to become comfortable with cutting calories at every meal. While many people struggle with the idea of fasting for prolonged lengths, eating periods actually provide much more freedom with the foods you can eat. Whereas, to see results when grazing, those meals must be lower in calories and nutritionally beneficial. Intermittent fasting isn’t without fault, though. The biggest downfall of intermittent fasting is the potential for binge eating. “When individuals fast for long periods of time, it raises the likelihood of their next meal leading to a binge eating episode,” Dr. Issacs notes. In contrast, one of the direct benefits of grazing is the decreased possibility of going into each meal with a heightened sense of hunger.
Choosing The Right Method for You
Ultimately, the best way to lose weight is to find a dieting approach that works for you and that you can stick to over time. “Both diets have the potential to be beneficial, as long as you choose one that is sustainable to you personally,” Dr. Isaacs explains.
If you have trouble overeating at most meals, consider grazing to train your body to be satisfied with less food. Have a busy schedule or trouble finding nutritious meals? Consider intermittent fasting, which can provide more flexibility with what you eat.
“People need to understand that there is really nothing special about these methods besides the ultimate goal of reaching a caloric deficit,” Dr. Issacs emphasizes. Weight loss is only achieved if you burn more calories than you consume. So, don’t be afraid to experiment with different approaches and find the most comfortable and sustainable for you. Remember to check with your doctor before starting any new diet, and don’t be afraid to reach out if you feel something is wrong.
Get Started with Intermittent Fasting or Grazing
Ease into it. Don’t jump into a 16-hour fast or six small meals a day all at once. Start with shorter fasts or smaller meals and gradually increase the duration or size as you get comfortable.
Stay hydrated. Staying hydrated can help you stave off hunger pangs and keep your metabolism running smoothly.
Plan ahead. Whether fasting or grazing, planning your meals and snacks ahead of time can help you stay on track and avoid impulsive, unhealthy choices.
Don’t skimp on nutrients. It’s essential to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs to function properly. Focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats.
Listen to your body. Pay attention to how you feel during fasting periods or after meals. If you feel lightheaded, dizzy or overly hungry, it may be a sign that you need to adjust your approach.