Intermittent fasting has, in the recent years, caused a buzz in the health circles thanks to its immense benefits. Needless to say, it is currently one of the most popular fitness trends. Many people are switching to this form of fasting because it has been shown to help with weight loss, improve one’s health and most importantly, lead you on to live a healthy lifestyle. With such profound effects on the body, it helps to understand what this phenomenon is all about and how to go about it. This is the complete beginner’s guide to intermittent fasting.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a term that is used to describe an eating pattern that involves scheduled eating periods and fasting. It is important to mention that this is not a type of diet; rather, it is a lifestyle adjustment that dictates when you should eat as opposed to what you should eat.
It is remarkably different from different types of diet that often work by eliminating certain types of food. Instead, intermittent fasting focuses on when you eat and when your body goes through fasting. The most common methods involve 16 hour fasts (on a daily basis) and 24 hour fasts (that are carried out twice weekly). But why would you fast for such lengthy periods? Turns out there is a scientific explanation behind this.
The process of evolution clearly indicates that humans have been fasting all through, just in ways which may not be so obvious. In early years, the fasting may have been attributed to the lack of food. Additionally, the aspect of religious fasting has also come into play in years gone by. With the former, it is important to realize that the hunters and gatherers during those times did not have easy and convenient access to food as is the case in today’s world.
There were no fast food outlets, no drive-through, no supermarkets and definitely no fridges. The ancestors of the human race learned to survive without food for sporadic periods of time. As a matter of fact, fasting is a more natural phenomenon than constantly stuffing one’s face with food. Yes, these include the often-mentioned three meals per day.
What are some of the ways to go About Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting has, over the years, grown into a popular trend. Various methods have been devised, but all of them revolve around dividing the day/week into two periods, namely the eating period and the fasting period. As expected, the fasting period is characterized by very little eating or none at all.
Below are the most common methods of intermittent fasting:
- The 5:2 diet: With this method, participants eat ‘normally’ for five days and switch to reduced eating on two non-consecutive days of their choice. These two days make up the fasting period during which one is required to reduce their calorie intake to between 500 and 600 calories. This is based on the fact that for men, daily caloric intake is pegged at 2400 calories, while for women it is pegged at 2000 calories. In light of this, the reduced intake represents about 25% of one’s daily caloric needs.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: This form of fasting typically involves fasting for a period of 24 hours at least once a week. One may opt to stop eating lunch from one day until lunch the next day, provided the span between the meals is 24 hours.
- The 16/8 method: This form of fasting is also known as the Lean gains protocol and it includes skipping breakfast each day and restricting the eating period to 8 hours only. For instance, one may choose to have their first meal (ideally lunch) at 12 pm and a second meal between then and 8pm. This way, the fasting period extends for 16 hours, hence the 16/8 method.
It is evident that the methods of intermittent fasting vary in form, but it must not escape the mind that all of these methods allow you to eat far less fewer calories than you normally would, on one condition – that this is not compensated for with excessive eating during the eating periods prescribed above. The choice of what method to use is largely dependent on one’s personal preferences and what works as the most sustainable method.
How does Intermittent Fasting Work?
To understand the basis of intermittent fasting and how it works, it is important to understand the difference in body function between the fasting state and the eating state. The eating state, or the fed state as it is also referred to, is the state the body is in during digestion and food absorption.
Ideally, this begins when you start eating and lasts for up to five hours after that. The five hours account for the time period during which absorption takes place. During this state, it is extremely difficult for the body to go into fat-burning as insulin levels are at peak levels – thanks to the surge in blood glucose.
After the five hours have elapsed, the body enters a different state known as the post-absorptive stage. This state simply refers to the state in which the body is when there is no digestion or absorption taking place. This usually lasts for between 8 and 12 hours after the last meal, which is when it enters into the fasting period.
During this period, it is easier for the body to use fats for energy production since blood glucose and insulin levels are significantly low. That is where the magic happens as the body burns fat that was previously unused in the feeding state.
With this understanding, it is easy to see that our bodies rarely burn fat as this does not happen until 12 hours after a meal. It also explains in part why, people who take up the intermittent fasting eating pattern lose weight without necessarily changing what they indulge in, how much of it and how frequently they exercise. Simply put, the fasting period allows for fat burning that rarely happens during the feeding period.
What are some of the Health Benefits Associated with Intermittent Fasting?
1. Intermittent Fasting is a Powerful Weight Loss Tool.
By reducing the amount of food you eat, you are automatically able to manage your calorie levels which in turn make it easier to lose the pounds. In addition to this, this form of fasting has an impact on the hormonal system. It helps to lower insulin, increase the amount of growth hormone as well as increase the production of nor-adrenaline.
Nor-adrenaline, also known as nor-epinephrine, is a hormone that enhances fat burning during the fasting state. For this reason, it contributes significantly to the weight loss journey. Collectively, these changes improve the body’s metabolism and help in losing the pounds. In summary, intermittent fasting reduces the number of meals (calories in) and aids in burning more fat stored (calories out).
This tips the calorie equation on both sides and makes the eating pattern one of the most potent ways to manage weight loss. In addition to this, several studies carried out revealed that participants experienced a significant reduction in the waist sizes, an indication that the fasting had an impact on belly fat.
NOTE: Remember that the reason why this works is because it overall reduces caloric intake. If you overeat during the eating periods, you may in fact, not be losing any weight at all.
2. Intermittent Fasting has a Great Impact at the Cellular and Hormonal Level.
Fasting triggers a number of changes at the cellular and hormonal level. This happens because the cells are stimulated to carry out repair and improve gene expression.
Below are some of the ways in which this is possible:
- Intermittent fasting improves insulin sensitivity and lowers the levels of insulin in blood circulation. This reduces insulin resistance and makes it possible for the body to burn fat.
- HGH – The Human Growth Hormone levels increase by up to 500%, and this aids in fat loss while at the same time increasing muscle mass.
- Intermittent fasting allows for cell repair by eliminating old cells through digestion and getting rid of old disused protein molecules.
- Improved gene expression is also another health benefit associated with intermittent fasting and which is known to guard the body against diseases.
3. Intermittent Fasting Trumps Fad Diets:
Away with all the fad diets and weight loss pills and enter intermittent fasting. This eating pattern not only tackles the mindset, it also creates a change in behavioral patterns which is extremely powerful. It gets rid of restrictive diets that are often easy to talk about but really difficult to implement.
What’s more, many of these diets rarely work because they are strict and would require one to have some tenacious to stick it through. The flip side of it is when one thinks of eliminating certain foods from their diet, they often get tired pretty fast and slump back to their previous lifestyle.
Intermittent fasting takes care of this by simply dividing your days in two states: the feeding and the fasting. There’s minimal restriction, which definitely allows you to indulge a little while enjoying the health benefits of the same.
4. Intermittent fasting improves the health of the heart by reducing the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the body.
5. While researching is still ongoing in this, studies show that intermittent fasting is also beneficial in reducing the risk of cancer.
6. This form of fasting increases the concentration of a brain compound known as the Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF allows for the synthesis of nerve cells which help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
7. Intermittent fasting simplifies your lifestyle as it allows you to plan for fewer meals with the ease of mind. Best of all, you get to enjoy health benefits while making your life simpler!
What do you need to keep in mind when taking up Intermittent Fasting?
As expected, hunger is the most obvious side effect of this eating pattern. There are also chances that you will feel weak and fatigued as the body is not accustomed to these changes. The good news is that this is a transient phase, one that should be easy to manage as the body adapts to the changes.
The most important thing to remember is to consult your doctor if you have a pre-existing medical condition. Some of the conditions to look out for include diabetes, hypertension/hypotension, eating disorders, or are pregnant/breastfeeding.
This is also important for those on medication as it may interfere with drug availability and efficiency. Let your doctor know if you have any of these conditions in order to get proper guidance before attempting intermittent fasting as a way of life.