One of the world’s most popular health and fitness trends is currently intermittent fasting (IF).
People are using it in losing weight, improving health and simplifying lifestyles.
Many studies have shown that it can have powerful effects on the body and brain and may even help in living longer
What Is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is an pattern of eating that revolves between periods of fasting and eating.
Which foods should be eaten is not specified but rather when it should be eaten.
In this respect, it’s not a diet in the traditional sense but is more accurately described as an eating pattern.
Common intermittent is a fasting method where daily 16-hour fasts or fasting for 24 hours is involved, twice per week.
Throughout human evolution fasting has been a practice. Ancient hunter-gatherers didn’t have supermarkets, refrigerators or food available year-round and sometimes nothing was found to eat.
Humans have gradually evolved to be able to function without food for extended periods of time as an outcome
Fasting from time to time is more natural than always eating 3–4 (or more) meals per day.
Fasting is also often done for religious or spiritual reasons, which includes Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism.
Intermittent Fasting Methods
There are many different ways of doing intermittent fasting all of which are involving splitting the day or week into eating and fasting periods.
During the periods of fasting, eating is either little or not at all
Below are the most popular methods:
- The 16/8 method:Also known as the Leangains protocol involves skipping breakfast and restricting the daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 1–9 p.m. Then fasting is done for 16 hours in between.
- Eat-Stop-Eat:This involves fasting once or twice a week for 24 hours, for example by not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day.
- The 5:2 diet:With this methods, only 500–600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week are consumed, but eating normally the other 5 days.
By decreasing the calorie intake, all of these methods should cause weight loss as long as compensation by eating is not too much during the eating periods.
The 16/8 method is found to be the simplest, most sustainable and easiest to stick to by most people. It’s also the most popular.
How It Affects the Cells and Hormones
Several things happen in the body on the cellular and molecular level when fasting
For example, the body is adjusting hormone levels to make stored body fat more accessible.
The cells also initiate necessary repair processes and change the expression of genes.
Below are some changes that occur in the body when fasting:
- Human Growth Hormone (HGH):The levels of growth hormone skyrocket, increasing as much as 5-fold. This will have benefits for fat loss and muscle gain etc
- Insulin: sensitivity of insulin improves and levels of insulin drop dramatically. Stored body fat are made more accessible with lower insulin levels
- Cellular repair:When fasting, the cells initiate cellular repair processes which includes autophagy, where cells digest and remove old and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells
- Gene expression:There are changes in the function of genes which are related to longevity and protection against disease
Cell function and gene expression are responsible for the health benefits of intermittent fasting due to the changes in these hormone levels
Powerful Weight Loss Tool
People who try intermittent fasting is due to the most common reason which is weight loss
By making you eat fewer meals, intermittent fasting can lead to an automatic reduction in calorie intake by eating fewer meals.
In addition, intermittent fasting changes hormone levels to facilitate in weight loss.
Additionally to lowering insulin and increasing growth hormone levels, the release of the fat burning hormone norepinephrine (noradrenaline) is also increased.
Short-term fasting may increase your metabolic rate by 3.6–14% due to these changes in hormones
By helping in eating fewer and burning more calories, intermittent fasting causes weight loss by the calorie equation which is changing both sides .
Studies have shown that intermittent fasting can be used as a very powerful weight loss tool.
A review study had found that this eating pattern can cause 3–8% weight loss over a period of 3–24 weeks, which is a huge amount, compared to most weight loss researches
According to the same study, people also have lost 4–7% of the circumference of the waist, indicating a significant loss of belly fat which may be harmful as that builds up around the organs and causes disease
Another study showed that the intermittent fasting causes muscle loss to be less than the more standard method of continuous calorie restriction.
However, it is to be kept in mind that the main reason for the success of intermittent fasting is that intermittent fasting helps in eating fewer calories overall. If binging and eating massive amounts during the eating periods, weight may not lost at all
In animals and humans both many studies have been done on intermittent fasting.
These researches have shown for weight control it can have powerful benefits and the health of the body and brain. It may even help to live longer.
Below are the main health benefits of intermittent fasting:
- As mentioned previously, intermittent fasting can help in losing weight and belly fat, without having to consciously restrict calories
- Intermittent fasting can decrease insulin resistance, lowering blood sugar by 3–6% and fasting insulin levels by 20–31%, which should protect against type 2 diabetes
- Some studies show decrease in markers of inflammation, a key driver of many chronic diseases
- Intermittent fasting may decreasw LDL cholesterol which is bad, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers, blood sugar and insulin resistance are all risk factors for heart disease
- Studies on animals suggests that intermittent fasting may prevent cancer
- Intermittent fasting increases the brain hormone BDNF and may help in aiding the growth of new nerve cells. It may also protect against Alzheimer’s disease
- Intermittent fasting can expand lifespan in rats. Studies showed that rats that have fasted lived 36–83% longer.
It is to be kept in mind that research is still in its early stages. Many of the researches were small, short-term or conducted in animals. Many answers have yet to be given to questions in higher quality human studies
Makes Healthy Lifestyle Simpler
Eating healthy is simple, but to maintaining can be incredibly hard
One of the main hurdles is all the work required to planning for and cooking healthy meals.
Intermittent fasting can help in making things easier, as a plan is bot needed to cook or clean up after as many meals as before.
For this reason, intermittent fasting is famous among the life-hacking crowd, as it improves the health while simplifying the life at the same time.
Be Careful Or Avoid It?
Intermittent fasting is certainly not suitable for everyone.
Fasting should be done with the consultation of a health professional first if underweighted or having a history of eating disorders
In these cases, fasting can be downright harmful.
Intermittent Fasting – Women
Intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial for women as it is for men with some evidence present
For example, a study showed that intermittent fasting improved insulin sensitivity in men, but it worsened blood sugar control in women
Though human studies are unavailable on this topic, a study conducted in rats have found that intermittent fasting can make female rats emaciated, masculinized, infertile and cause them to miss cycles
There are a number of anecdotal reports of women who started intermittent fasting whose menstrual period stopped and went back to normal when they continued their previous eating pattern.
For these reasons, while doing intermittent fasting women should be careful
Separate guidelines should be followed, like easing into the practice and stopping immediately if they have any problems like amenorrhea (absence of menstruation).
If there are issues with fertility and/or are trying to conceive, consider holding off on intermittent fasting for now. If pregnant or breastfeeding, this eating pattern is likely to be a bad idea
Safety and Side Effects
The main side effect of intermittent fasting is hunger
Weakness will be felt and the brain may not perform as well it used to.
This may not be permanent, as it can take some time for the body to adapt to the new meal schedule.
Doctor should be consulted before trying intermittent fasting if having any sort of medical condition.
This is particularly important if:
- Having diabetes.
- Having problems with blood sugar regulation.
- Having low blood pressure.
- Taking medications.
- Having a history of eating disorders.
- Woman who is trying to conceive.
- Woman with a history of amenorrhea.
- Pregnant or breastfeeding.
Besides what is said, intermittent fasting has an outstanding safety profile. If healthy and well-nourished overall, there is nothing to worry as it is not dangerous about not eating for a while
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are the answers to the most common questions about intermittent fasting.
- Drinking Liquids During the Fast?
Yes. Beverages such as Water, coffee, tea and other non-caloric are fine. Do not add sugar to the coffee. Small amounts of milk or cream may be okay.
As coffee can blunt hunger it can be particularly beneficial during a fast
- Isn’t It Unhealthy to Skip Breakfast?
No. The issue is that most stereotypical breakfast skippers have unhealthy lifestyles. The practice is perfectly healthy if healthy food is eaten for the rest of the day.
- Supplements While Fasting?
Yes. However, it should be kept in mind that some supplements like fat-soluble vitamins may work better when taken with meals.
- Working out While Fasted?
Yes, workouts during fast are fine. Some people suggest taking branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) before a fasted workout.
- Fast Causing Muscle Loss?
Muscle loss can be caused by all weight loss methods, which is why it’s important to lift weights and keep the protein intake high. A study showed that in comparison intermittent fasting causes less muscle loss than regular calorie restriction
- Fasting Slowing Down Metabolism?
No. Studies show that metabolism is actually boosted with short-term fasts. However, metabolism can be suppressed if longer fasts of 3 or more days are taken
- Should Kids Fast?
It is probably a bad idea to allowing the child fast
Intermittent Fasting – Getting Started
Chances are that many intermittent fasts in the life are already done.
If dinner is eaten, then slept late and not eaten until lunch the next day, then probably 16+ hours has already been fasted.
Some people instinctively eat this way. They simply are not feeling hungry in the morning.
The 16/8 method the simplest and most sustainable way of intermittent fasting have been considered by many people. This practice might be tried first
If during the fast it is found easy and felt good, then maybe try moving on to more advanced fasts like 24-hour fasts 1–2 times per week (Eat-Stop-Eat) or only eating 500–600 calories 1–2 days per week (5:2 diet).
Simply fasting whenever it’s convenient is another approach which can be tried in which simply skipping meals from time to time when not hungry or don’t have time to cook.
To derive at least some of the benefits there is no need to follow a structured intermittent fasting.
Experiment between different approaches and try to find something that is enjoyed and fits the schedule.
Should You Try It?
Intermittent fasting is not something that everyone needs to do.
It’s simply one of various lifestyle strategies that can help in improving health. But still the most important factors to focus on are eating real food, exercising and taking care of sleep
When it comes to nutrition there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The best diet would be the one which can be followed in the long run
Intermittent fasting can be great for some people, not others. The only way to find out is to try it and identify which group it is falling in
It can be a very powerful tool to lose weight and improve your health if it is found to be a sustainable way of eating and felt good