Intermittent fasting (IF) is one of the most popular health trends in the fitness world. Many people prefer doing it to lose weight, improve their health and simplify their lifestyles. Numerous studies show that intermittent fasting can have powerful effects on your body and brain. It may even help you live longer.
The term ‘intermittent’ itself means stopping for a short time and then starting again several times, which clearly means it is different from the regular fasting method which most people try but fail at doing. Intermittent fasting is more like an eating pattern where you switch between fasting and eating on a regular schedule. There are various methods of intermittent fasting suited to all kinds of people, which include the 16/8, Eat-stop-eat, and 5:2 methods.
Research shows that intermittent fasting is a way to manage your weight and prevent — or even reverse — some forms of the disease. But how do you do it? And is it safe? To start things off let’s quickly understand what is intermittent fasting & how it works.
- What is intermittent fasting?
- How does intermittent fasting work for weight loss?
- Ways to plan your Intermittent Fasting
- Major Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
- FAQs on Intermittent Fasting
What is intermittent fasting?
Where most dieticians focus on ‘what to eat’, intermittent fasting is all about ‘when you eat’.
Intermittent fasting refers to eating plans that alternate between fasting and eating periods. The goal is to systematically starve the body long enough to trigger fat burning. With intermittent fasting, you only eat during a specific time. Fasting for a certain number of hours each day or eating just one meal a couple of days a week can help your body burn fat.
Nowadays, TV, the internet, and other sources of entertainment are available 24/7. Staying awake for long hours to catch our favorite shows, playing games, and chatting online, is what most of us do on a frequent basis. This poor lifestyle leads to health issues especially when we’re simply sitting and snacking all day.
While research is still underway and the method may not be suitable for everyone, there is evidence that, when done correctly, intermittent fasting can help lose weight, lower blood pressure, control diabetes and cholesterol. Scientific studies are showing that intermittent fasting may even help reverse these trends.
How does intermittent fasting work for weight loss?
During a meal, carbohydrates in food are broken down into glucose. Glucose gets absorbed into the bloodstream and is transported to our organs, to serves as the major energy source. Excess glucose is stored for later use in the liver, in the form of glycogen and fats. In between meals, when the body is in the fasted state, the liver converts glycogen back to glucose to keep supplying the body with energy.
Typically, an inactive person takes about 10 to 12 hours to use up the glycogen stores. This means if someone is eating three meals a day, plus snacks, and they’re not exercising, then every time they eat, they’re running on those calories and not burning their fat stores.
Once the reserve of glycogen in the liver is depleted, the body taps into the fat storage for additional energy. Intermittent fasting works by prolonging the period when your body has burned through the calories taken during your last meal and begins burning fat.
Thus, if the fasted state lasts long enough, the body exhausts its sugar stores and starts burning fat to fuel our body. Hence, we shed that fat and start losing weight.
Ways to plan your Intermittent Fasting
There are several ways of doing intermittent fasting — all of which involve splitting the day or week into eating and fasting periods. During the fasting periods, you either drink fluids like fruit juices & water or have nothing at all.
Follow any one of these popular methods to start your intermittent fasting plan:
1. The 16/8 method: Many people find the 16/8 method to be the simplest, most sustainable, and easiest to stick to. It’s the most common way of intermittent fasting as this pattern suits most people.
Also called the Leangains protocol, this method involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours. Say you pick your timing as 1–9 p.m., then you fast for 16 hours straight for the rest of the day.
2. Eat-Stop-Eat: This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week. For example, you skip breakfast for a day and then have it on the next day after one complete day of fasting. Take a gap of 1-2 days before your second fasting day and don’t do it twice in a row.
3. The 5:2 diet: With this method, you consume lesser calories than on normal days, say only 500–600 calories on 2 non-consecutive days of the week, but eat normally the other 5 days.
By reducing your calorie intake, all of these methods should cause weight loss as long as you don’t compensate by eating more during the eating periods. Note that staying for longer periods without food, like 24, 36, 48, and 72-hour fasting periods, might do more harm than good. Since going too long without eating might actually encourage your body to start storing more fat in response to starvation.
Major Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Research shows that intermittent fasting periods do more than just fat burn. When changes occur due to this metabolic switch, it affects overall brain & body health. Many things happen during intermittent fasting that can protect you against chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, age-related neurodegenerative disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, and even cancers.
Studies reveal astonishing effects of intermittent fasting for both animals and humans. Here are some of its amazing benefits which have been revealed so far:
> Weight loss: As mentioned above, intermittent fasting can help you lose weight and belly fat, without having to consciously restrict calories. In animal studies, intermittent fasting prevented obesity. In 6 brief studies, obese adult humans lost weight through intermittent fasting in less than a month.
> Insulin resistance & Diabetes: Intermittent fasting can reduce insulin resistance, lowering blood sugar by 3–6%. Practicing it along with required medication can protect you against type 2 diabetes
> Memory & Brain health: Studies discovered that intermittent fasting boosts working memory in animals and verbal memory in adult humans. Intermittent fasting increases the brain hormone BDNF and may aid the growth of new nerve cells. It may also protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
> Heart health: Intermittent fasting improved blood pressure, reduced “bad” LDL cholesterol, and resting heart rates as well as other heart-related measurements – all possible risk factors for heart disease.
> Physical performance: Young men who fasted for 16 hours showed fat loss while maintaining muscle mass. Mice who were fed on alternate days showed better endurance in running.
> Cancer: Animal studies suggest that intermittent fasting may prevent cancer. However, there is inadequate data on how it is effective to prevent cancer in humans.
> Anti-aging: Intermittent fasting can extend lifespan in rats. Studies showed that fasted rats lived 36–83% longer.
Keep in mind that research is still in its early stages. Many of the studies were short-term or conducted on animals. Higher-quality studies can only answer questions regarding its benefits in humans.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Intermittent Fasting
Q. Why do I feel anxious during my intermittent fasting?
Some people try intermittent fasting for weight management, and others use the method to address chronic conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, high cholesterol, or arthritis. But intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone.
Dieticians suggest that you should check in with your primary care practitioner first. People who should steer clear of trying intermittent fasting could be:
- Children and teens under age 18.
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- People with diabetes or blood sugar problems.
- Those with a history of eating disorders.
Remember: Intermittent fasting may have different effects on different people. Talk to your doctor if you start experiencing unusual anxiety, headaches, nausea, or other symptoms after you start intermittent fasting.
Q. Is intermittent fasting safe for people with diabetes?
No. Intermittent fasting may present some risks for people with diabetes.
Some research has shown that intermittent fasting may provide benefits for people with diabetes. However, major adjustments in eating patterns could lead to swings in blood sugar levels, which can be dangerous.
If you use insulin or medications and suddenly eat much less than normal, blood sugar can drop too low. This condition is called hypoglycemia.
Note: Before starting any diet or weight loss plan, consider meeting with a member of your diabetes care team, such as a physician or dietitian, to make sure it’s safe for you.
Q. Can you eat something during the fasting hours?
During the times when you’re not eating, water and zero-calorie beverages such as black coffee and tea are permitted. Also, don’t go crazy during your eating hours. You’re not likely to lose weight or get healthier if you pack your feeding times with high-calorie junk food, super-sized fried items, and treats.
Q. Then what to eat during the eating hours?
During eating hours it is recommended to pick complex, unrefined carbohydrates such as whole grains, leafy greens, healthy fats, and lean proteins.
One thing most people like about intermittent fasting is that it allows for a range of different foods to be eaten and enjoyed. When you eat something after a long gap, you naturally become more mindful and take pleasure in eating good, nutritious food.