Right now intermittent fasting is one of the most popular health trends.
People use it to lose weight, simplify their lifestyle, and improve their health.
Research shows that it has powerful effects on the body and brain and can also help us live longer.
This article is the ultimate introductory guide to intermittent fasting.
WHAT IS INTERMITTENT FASTING?
Intermittent fasting is a kind of eating pattern that involves going through cycles of fasting and eating.
It doesn’t give specific foods you have to eat but it does tell you when to eat them.
In this respect, it’s not technically a diet in the conventional sense but can be described more as an eating pattern.
Common intermittent fasting methods are daily 16-hour fasts or 24 hour fasts twice a week.
Fasting is a practice done all throughout human evolution. Hunter-gatherers of the past didn’t have refrigerators, supermarkets, or food available for the whole year. Sometimes they can’t find anything to eat.
Because of this, humans have evolved to function without food for long periods of time.
In fact, fasting every now and then has become more natural than always eating 3-4 meals a day.
Fasting is also done for spiritual and religious reasons like in Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity.
Intermittent fasting involves cycles of fasting and eating. Right now, it’s very popular in the health and fitness world.
METHODS OF INTERMITTENT FASTING
There are many ways to do intermittent fasting - all involve dividing the day or week into periods of eating and fasting.
During the fasting time, you either eat very little or none at all.
These are the best methods:
- The 16/8 method - This is also called the Leangains method. It entails skipping breakfast and restricting your eating period to 8 hours every day like 1 PM - 9 PM. In between, you fast for 16 hours.
- Eat Stop Eat - This requires you to fast for 24 hours once or twice in a week. Example, skipping dinner and not eating anything until the next day.
- The 5/2 Diet - This method requires you to eat only 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days in a week, but eat regularly the rest of the 5 days.
When you reduce your caloric intake, these methods result in weight-loss as long as you don’t binge more than usual in your eating periods.
Many people discover the 16/8 method as the simplest and most sustainable fasting method to stick to. It’s also considered to be the most popular.
There are many more ways to do intermittent fasting. All of them divide the day or week in eating and fasting periods.
HOW IT INFLUENCES YOUR CELLS AND HORMONES
When you fast, many things happen to your body on the cellular level.
For example, your body adjusts your hormone levels to have stored fat more accessible.
Your cells also start a repair process and change how your genes are expressed.
Here are the changes that happen when you undergo fasting:
- Human Growth Hormone - The levels of your growth hormones skyrocket and multiply 5 times as much. This results in fat loss and muscle gain.
- Insulin - Your insulin sensitivity will improve and your insulin levels drop drastically. Lower insulin levels make your stored body fat more accessible.
- Cell repair - When in fasting, your cells start a cell repair process. Your cells undergo autophagy where cells remove and digest old dysfunctional proteins built up inside your cells.
- Gene expression - Changes will be observed in your gene functions related to protection against disease and longevity.
These hormone level, cell function, and gene expression changes are what give you the health benefits from intermittent fasting.
When fasting, human growth hormone levels increase and insulin levels decrease. The expression of your genes are also changed by your body’s cells and they also begin cell repair processes.
AN EFFECTIVE WEIGHT LOSS TOOL
Weight loss is the main reason why people do intermittent fasting.
By making you eat less meals, intermittent fasting leads to reduction in calorie intake.
What’s more, intermittent fasting changes your hormone levels to start weight loss.
In addition, lowering your insulin and increasing your growth hormone levels promotes the release of norepinephrine, a fat burning hormone.
Because of these hormone changes, short-term fasting can improve your metabolic rate by 3.6-14%.
When you eat less and burn more, intermittent fasting results in weight loss by altering factors on both sides of the weight-loss equation.
Research shows that intermittent fasting is also a really powerful weight loss tool.
A 2014 review discovered that this eating pattern causes 3-8% weight loss in 3-24 weeks - a significantly higher amount compared to other weight loss studies.
According to this study, people lost 4-7% of their waistline, identifying a significant decrease of harmful belly fat that surrounds your organs and causes numerous diseases.
Another study discovered that intermittent fasting results in less muscle loss than the standard method of continuous caloric restriction.
However, remember that the primary reason for the success of intermittent fasting is helping you eat less calories overall. If you binge on food in your eating periods, you’re not going to lose any weight.
Intermittent fasting boosts your metabolism while making you eat less calories. It’s a great way to lose belly fat and weight.
There have been many studies on intermittent fasting in both humans and animals.
All these studies show that it has powerful benefits for the health of your brain and body as well as weight control. It also helps you live longer.
Here are the primary benefits of intermittent fasting:
Weight loss - Mentioned above, intermittent fasting helps you lose belly fat and weight, without you having to restrict your calorie intake.
Insulin resistance - Intermittent fasting reduces insulin resistance, lowers blood sugar by 3-6%, and fasting your insulin levels by 20-31%. It also protects you against type 2 diabetes.
Inflammation - Some research shows reductions in inflammation markers which is a key reason for many chronic diseases.
Heart health - Intermittent fasting also reduces bad cholesterol, inflammatory markers, blood triglycerides, and insulin resistance - all of these are heart disease risk factors.
Cancer - Animal studies show that intermittent fasting can prevent cancer.
Brain health - Intermittent fasting also increases the brain hormone BDNF that aids the growth of nerve cells.
Anti-aging - Intermittent fasting extends the lifespan of rats. Research shows that rats that fast lived up to 36-83% longer.
Keep in mind that these studies are still in their early stages. Many of them are small, short-term and/or done only in animals. Many questions are still to be answered in more quality human studies.
MAKES YOUR HEALTHY LIFESTYLE BETTER
Eating healthy is easy, but it’s really hard to maintain.
One of the primary obstacles is the work you have to do for planning and cooking healthy meals.
Intermittent fasting makes things easier. You don’t need to clean up after, cook, and plan as many meals as before.
For this reason, intermittent fasting has become really popular among the life-hacking people of the world as it betters your health and simplifies your life too.
One of the main benefits of intermittent fasting is it makes eating healthier simple. There are less meals to prepare and clean up after.
WHO HAS TO BE CAREFUL OR AVOID IT?
Intermittent fasting is not for everyone.
If you’re underweight or prone to eating disorders, you shouldn’t fast without consulting a physician or health professional first.
In these cases, it can be quite harmful.
SHOULD WOMEN GO FASTING?
There’s some evidence that intermittent fasting may not have as many benefits for women as it does for men.
For example, one research showed that it improved men’s insulin sensitivity, but worsened women’s blood sugar control.
Though human research on this topic isn't available, research done in rats have discovered that intermittent fasting makes female rats masculinized, emaciated, infertile, and causes them to miss their cycles.
There are many reports of women whose menstruation stopped when they did intermittent fasting and went back to normal when they continued their previous eating pattern.
Because of this, women should be wary about intermittent fasting.
They have to follow separate guidelines like easing in the practice and stopping right away if they encounter problems like absence of menstruation.
If you encounter issues with fertility or trying to conceive, hold off on intermittent fasting at the moment. This kind of eating pattern is likely a bad idea if you’re breastfeeding or pregnant.
Underweight people or people who are prone to eating disorders shouldn’t fast. There’s also evidence that intermittent fasting is harmful to some women.
SIDE EFFECTS AND SAFETY
The primary side effect of intermittent fasting is hunger.
You can also feel weak and your brain isn’t going to perform as well as normal.
This can be just temporary as it takes time for your body to adapt to your new meal schedule.
If you have a medical condition, you have to consult your physician before doing any intermittent fasting.
This is especially important if you:
- Are pregnant
- Are breastfeeding
- Have a history of amenorrhea
- Trying to conceive
- Have eating disorders
- Are underweight
- Are taking medications
- Have low blood pressure
- Have problems with blood sugar
- Have diabetes
The main side effect of intermittent fasting is hunger. People with medical conditions shouldn’t fast without consulting a physician first.
Here are answers to some of the most common questions on intermittent fasting.
1. Can I drink water or any liquid when I fast?
Yes, water, tea, coffee, and other non-caloric beverages are okay. Don’t add sugar to your coffee. A small amount of milk or cream is okay.
Coffee is also beneficial in a fast as it can stop hunger.
2. Isn’t skipping breakfast bad for your health?
No. The problem is that some people who skip breakfast live unhealthy lifestyles. If you make sure you eat healthy food the rest of the day then intermittent fasting is perfectly okay.
3. Can I take supplements while I’m fasting?
Yes, but keep in mind that some supplements may work better when taken with your meals, like fat-soluble vitamins.
4. Can I work out while I fast?
Yes workouts while fasting is fine. Some people recommend BCAAs or branded-chain amino acids before a workout while fasting.
5. Will fasting make me lose muscle?
All weight loss methods make you lose muscle, which is why it’s best to lift weights and maintain a high protein intake. One research showed that intermittent fasting makes you lose less muscle than regular calorie restriction.
6. Will fasting derail my metabolism?
No. Research shows that short-term fasts boost metabolism. However, long fasts of 3-4 days or more can suppress your metabolism.
7. Should kids practice fasting?
Getting your child to fast is probably not a good idea.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Chances are you’ve already done a lot of intermittent fasts in your life without being aware.
If you’ve ever slept late and didn’t eat anything until lunch the next day, you’ve probably fasted for a good 16 hours.
Some people eat this way instinctively. They simply aren’t hungry in the morning.
Many people would identify this as the 16/8 method and the easiest and most sustainable way to intermittent fasting - you might want to practice first.
If you find it simple and feel good when fasting, then maybe move to more advanced fasts like the Eat-Stop-Eat method or the 5/2 diet.
Another method is simply fasting when it’s convenient - simply skipping meals time to time when not hungry or when you’re too tired to cook.
There’s no need to follow a strict intermittent fasting plan to get some of the benefits.
Experiment with many types of approaches and find something you enjoy and dovetails neatly to your schedule.
It’s best to start with the 16/8 method, then move to longer fasts. It’s also good to experiment on the method that works best for you.
SHOULD YOU TRY INTERMITTENT FASTING?
It’s not something that anyone really needs to do.
It’s just one of the many lifestyle strategies that can make your health better. Exercising, eating real food, and ensuring good sleep are still the main factors to focus on.
If fasting doesn’t suit you, then you can simply ignore this article and do what works for you.
At the end of the day, there’s no one solution to optimum nutrition. The best diet for you is one you can commit to for the long haul.
Intermittent fasting is perfect for some people, but not for others. The only way to know which works best for you is to try it yourself.
If you feel good about fasting and discover it’s a sustainable way to eat, it can be a powerful tool to improve your health and lose weight.