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Intermittent fasting—long-term results?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Intermittent fasting has become a popular way to lose weight. But it is an effective and, more important, safe way to lose weight?

Intermittent fasting has become a popular strategy for weight loss. “Fasting” can mean different things—from fasting as much as 16 hours per day to skipping or restricting caloric intake (for example, to less than 500–600 calories) one or two days a week. Fasting programs may make promises to their followers to lose weight and improve health, but are they safe and effective?

The health benefits claimed for intermittent fasting have mostly come from studies with animals. A few small studies with humans have shown intermittent fasting—eating as usual five days a week and eating 25% less two days per week—may be useful for weight loss. Because these studies were short term, however, the long-term safety and effectiveness of intermittent fasting are unknown.

In addition, it is unclear if intermittent fasting is more effective for weight loss than just eating less on a daily basis. Intermittent fasting could lead to overeating on non-fasting days, and even advocates of intermittent fasting point out that the key to weight-loss success is not to overeat on “normal” eating days.

Eating too few calories over time can result in low levels of vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients, and even the loss of muscle mass. And intermittent fasting can be dangerous for people with medical conditions such as pregnancy, diabetes, or eating disorders.

Common side effects of fasting include lack of energy, headaches, feeling cold, and constipation. Fasting can cause low blood sugar if you aren’t getting enough fuel to your brain, reducing your ability to concentrate and focus and affecting your sleep cycle and mood. These effects can interfere with your body’s ability to perform optimally.

Athletes who fast during Ramadan—a holy month when Muslims are expected to fast daily (no food or water) from pre-dawn prayer to post-sunset—provide some insights into the effects of fasting on performance. The limited intake of carbohydrates, protein, and fluid during fasting days sometimes affects their bodies’ ability to recover from exercise. Some found that their cognitive performance suffered as well due to the effects of even mild dehydration and inadequate carbohydrate intake. Exercise that is both physically and mentally challenging and long-lasting could have even greater negative effects.

Intermittent fasting may be unrealistic for long-term use. Reducing your overall caloric intake and a regular exercise program are the best combination for weight loss. 

Can I take weight-loss prescription medications?

What are the service-specific policies on weight-loss prescription medications? Read more to find out.

Weight-loss (diet) prescription medications are generally not permitted, but it’s important to check your service’s policy for specific conditions that may exist. Read this OPSS FAQ to find out more details, including links to specific policies. Also, be sure to check the OPSS site often, as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance-enhancing and bodybuilding supplements and how to choose supplements safely.

If you have a question about a particular dietary supplement ingredient or product, please use our “Ask the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.

CLA for weight loss?

What is conjugated linoleic acid and why is it being used in weight-loss dietary supplement products?

Dietary supplements with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) are being marketed to help with weight loss. What is CLA and can it really help you lose weight? Read HPRC’s new Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about CLA to find out.

While you’re there, check out our other OPSS FAQs. Still can’t find the answer you’re looking for? You can visit the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database or use our “Ask the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.

What is Garcinia cambogia?

What is Garcinia cambogia and why is it being used in weight-loss dietary supplement products?

Garcinia cambogia is being used as a dietary supplement ingredient in some products marketed for weight loss. What is it? And is it effective? Read this Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about Garcinia cambogia to find out. Be sure to check back often, as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance and weight-loss supplements and how to choose supplements safely.

If you have more questions about a particular dietary supplement ingredient or product, you can visit the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database or use our “Ask the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.

What’s the story with OxyELITE Pro?

Why has OxyELITE Pro been recalled? Read the OPSS FAQ to find out.

Two versions of OxyELITE Pro have been removed from the market in the past year. Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ to find out why, and to get more information from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Also, be sure to check back often, as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance-enhancing and weight-loss supplements and how to choose supplements safely.

If you have more questions about a particular dietary supplement ingredient or product, please use our “Ask the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.

Eat after eight, put on weight?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Does late-night eating really contribute to weight gain? Research suggests it just might.

There’s an old adage you may have heard: “Eat after eight, put on weight.” And maybe you’ve experienced it first-hand: You noticed that eating those late night pizzas and ice cream really packed on the pounds. But was your weight gain due to timing or just the high calorie counts? According to research in the field of circadian rhythms (CRs)—the 24-hour cycle of your body’s biological, hormonal, and behavioral patterns—it seems that when you eat could be just as important to weight gain as what you eat.

Deep within your brain sits a small cluster of nerve cells—a “master clock” of sorts—that’s responsible for orchestrating your CRs. Each biological system in your body works on a different CR schedule, and the master clock keeps all the schedules in sync. For example, CRs influence your body’s production of the hormones that regulate hunger, as well as how your body uses and stores fats and sugar, ultimately influencing your body weight, performance, and overall health. Other hormones, such as the ones that tell you when you’re full, are switched on or off according to a variety of inputs.

The two greatest influences on how well your master clock is able to keep things in sync are light and food. Light tells your brain how much sleep you get (think: eyes closed, less light). Food (smell, taste, and consumption) tells your body to produce a myriad of chemicals. As a result, staying up late at night, working shifts, and eating at all hours of the day and night—whether voluntarily or due to the demands of overseas deployments, training demands, shift-work schedules, and even parenthood—can play havoc with your circadian rhythms.

In an interesting twist, not only do CRs influence hunger and body weight, but excess body fat and/or a high-fat diet may disrupt CRs. This can lead to further weight gain, culminating in a collection of health problems known as “metabolic syndrome.” In the U.S., regular loss of sleep closely parallels the occurrence of metabolic syndrome. In addition, researchers have found that people who sleep less or have poor-quality sleep are more likely to become obese.

What to do? Make a conscious effort to “normalize” your daily routines as much as possible to maintain regular mealtimes. Whether you choose to eat three regular-sized meals or four to six smaller meals a day, space them out through the daylight hours to take advantage of your body’s natural rhythms. Here are some suggestions to avoid eating late at night:

  • Try to eat a balanced dinner at least two hours before you go to bed, and take a walk afterwards when possible.
  • Sip on soothing herbal tea or flavored water (without sugar).
  • Be aware that watching TV (especially food-related ads) can trigger your desire to eat.
  • Sometimes it can help to create new nighttime rituals that don’t involve eating, such as light stretching or yoga, taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music, or reading (or listening to) a book.

But if you find yourself up late at night—whether it’s due to a hard day at work, regular shiftwork, or temporary shifts due to jet lag or an infant’s night feedings—resist the urge to snack out of boredom or to “keep your energy up.” Shift workers should pack or purchase a healthy meal to eat during their work hours—one that includes lean protein and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Eat early in the shift if possible, so you’ll have the energy you need to think and move efficiently. Travelers and parents should look for healthy snacks that follow a similar pattern. And try to limit coffee, tea, and other sources of caffeine to just two to four servings a day.

Of course, eating is just one half of the CR equation. Getting enough sleep is important too, so read HPRC’s overview for great tips on how Warfighters can improve their sleep.

Take some weight off your knees—or pay the price

A 2012 study demonstrated that an increase in body mass index (BMI) increased a person’s chance of sustaining a non-contact ACL injury.

Being overweight puts you at risk for a whole host of health issues, but most people don’t think about the risk posed to their knees. The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is one of the major ligaments of the knee and one of the most susceptible to injury. Injury information on more than 1,600 men and women at the U.S. Naval Academy showed that those with a higher body mass index (BMI) had a greater incidence of ACL tears. A difference in BMI of only 1.2 (25.6 versus 24.4) made the difference between having and not having this kind of injury. (To learn more about BMI, read HPRC's explanation.)

Like the adage “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” knees are something we generally take for granted. To stay on top of your game, you need your knees. An easy way to protect them is to drop the extra weight you’re asking them to carry around.

Raspberry ketone—the latest weight-loss craze

Raspberry ketone is a food additive and aromatic compound now being sold as a dietary supplement/ingredient touted to reduce fat and weight. Find out the facts and the science behind it all.

Raspberry ketone, touted to be an effective fat-loss and weight-loss supplement, occurs naturally in various red raspberries. The raspberry ketone in supplements is probably produced in the laboratory, as it would be too expensive to extract it from real raspberries. FDA recognizes that raspberry ketone as a food additive is “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) to consume in small amounts. However, the long-term effects in humans who consume it as a supplement are unknown. For more information, read HPRC’s InfoReveal on “Raspberry ketone.”

Crazy for coconut oil

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Count on coconut oil for flavor and quick energy, not performance. And consume it in moderation.

Coconut oil has a sweet taste that lends distinct flavor to foods, and it contains several saturated fats—something the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest we eat less of. That is because eating saturated fats has been linked to atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”) and increased risk of heart disease.

Although coconut oil is highly saturated, it has different types of saturated fats. One of these—lauric acid—is regularly touted as having performance benefits. Lauric acid is referred to as a “medium chain fatty acid” (MCFA), and the body processes MCFAs differently than it does “long chain” fatty acids (LCFAs). Importantly, MCFAs are digested more rapidly than long chain fatty acids, so they are quickly absorbed and available as an energy source. Some research suggests MCFAs might help to optimize and maintain glycogen stores, thus extending endurance performance. Not only that, MCFAs are less likely than other fats to be stored as fat—a plus if you’re concerned about weight control. The performance claims surrounding MCFAs and coconut oil have not held up, and claims about their weight loss benefits need more research.

The American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics joint guidelines for Nutrition and Athletic Performance indicate that MCFAs do not provide any performance benefit. To date, only two studies have shown improvements in performance. On the other hand, MCFAs have been shown to increase the body’s use of “fats” as fuels, reducing food intake, so such products may promote weight loss. There just isn’t enough information available to make any scientific conclusions.

If you choose to eat coconut oil, do so in moderation for its unique flavor and texture, because its health and performance benefits are still open for consideration.

Small changes can pay off in a big way

HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
Resolutions don't have to daunting—making small, not big, changes that fit easily into your lifestyle are good options for family health and weight loss over time.

It’s the New Year! If you’re already despairing about resolutions, keep in mind that making small changes in behavior that fit easily into your lifestyle are good options for family health and weight loss over time. For one month, try choosing three small habits to focus on changing that you can apply to any situation, whether you’re at home, overseas, or travelling. Try setting up email or calendar reminders if that helps you, or put up tangible reminders such as sticky notes around your house. To get you started, here are some ideas:

  • Keep unhealthy foods such as potato chips, cookies, etc. out of sight so they are less tempting.
  • Put down your fork and knife between bites.
  • Portion out “snackable” foods that come in large bags/containers into smaller one-serving containers, so you don’t keep dipping in.
  • Choose water over soda.
  • Keep fresh fruit on hand to replace fatty, high-calorie snacks.

For more help, Military OneSource has a Health and Wellness Coaching Program that can help you lose weight and improve your overall fitness. Finally, for more information on making healthy food choices for you and your family, visit HPRC’s Family Nutrition section.

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