If you keep up with the latest diet and weight loss trends, you have probably heard about intermittent fasting. While fasting for any length of time may sound horrible, it’s actually not. And there are some surprising health benefits associated with intermittent fasting.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting, referred to as IF, is an eating plan that alternates between periods of eating and periods of fasting. Almost all of us fast overnight already. The period between dinner and breakfast is usually spent sleeping and not eating. The word breakfast itself indicates the we are breaking the overnight fast. In most cases, this means that we are fasting at least 8 hours. Intermittent fasters take their fasts a little (or a lot) longer than overnight. Fasts can range from 12 hours, 16 hours, 18 hours, or extended fasts that last for several days.
For our purposes here, we will only consider fasts of up to 24 hours. Anything longer than that would be considered extended fasting. Many people combine IF with specific diets such as Keto, Paleo, or Weight Watchers. Others combine IF with their regular foods in which they can eat whatever foods they like. Depending on your goals, IF can be customized to help you reach your desired goal.
How to Intermittently Fast
In its simplest terms, fasting is abstaining from food. The period of fasting is known as the fasting window. The alternating time is called the feeding or eating window. If one fasts for 16 hours and has an 8 hour feeding window, that will be expressed as 16:8. A 20 hour fast followed by a 4 hour eating window would be 20:4.
For a 16 hour fast, skipping dinner or breakfast is the most common option. Since we’re already sleeping for around 8 hours, fasting during one of the adjacent meals works best for most people. Water is allowed and some types of fasting allow for black coffee or green tea with nothing added. Purists allow only water during fasting times but coffee is a deal breaker for many people. Because coffee and tea do not spike insulin levels in the body, they are generally accepted among most fasters. Adding any type of sweetener (sugar, honey, Stevia, etc), creamer, or anything else will end the fast.
The end of the fasting period signifies the beginning of the feeding window. During this time, you can eat according to your specific dietary plan. For weight loss, a caloric deficit is necessary so it is important that this time not become a feeding frenzy. At the end this time period, it’s back to fasting.
The convenient thing about IF is that it is highly customizable. Fasting times can be varied from day to day. And it is not required to fast every day to see results. Some people opt to follow 16:8 most days and have one 24 hour fast per week. While there are not an extensive number of studies at this point, it is believed that even periodic fasting can have positive effects.
Health benefits of Fasting
So what are all these health benefits?
- Weight loss – by reducing the number of meals per day, many people will experience weight loss. Having a restricted time to eat each day eliminates mindless snacking or eating that can lead to weight gain. With the absence of food, the body reverts to burning fat which can result in the reduction of belly fat.
- Reduction on insulin resistance – With the rise in obesity over recent years, we have also seen an increase in the number of the instances of Type 2 diabetes. IF can help reduce blood sugar levels that can protect insulin levels. When insulin levels drop, fat burning increases.
- Can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation – Oxidative stress is what damages cells and leads to many chronic diseases as well as the aging process. For many that suffer with joint paid, reducing inflammation in the body can provide significant relief.
- May help with heart health – Many of the risk factors associated with heart health can be helped with periodic fasting. Blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar can all be reduced with IF.
- Increase in energy levels – The exact source of increased energy is uncertain but believed to be the result of the digestion process. Because the body is not digesting food around the clock, that energy can be diverted.
- May help you live longer – When the incidences of cancer and chronic health issues is lessened, lifespans are increased. Additionally, with the improvement of critical health markers such as cholesterol and blood pressure, makes a quality life possible.
Who should fast (and who shouldn’t)
With so many health benefits, it’s easy to see why so many people are trying IF. However, IF is NOT for everyone. Certain people should avoid IF altogether while other people should consider the benefits. You should always talk to your doctor before trying IF or any other type of program.
If you have disordered eating or have ever suffered from an eating disorder, IF is definitely not for you. This is not zero or super low calorie method of eating; it is a way to gradually take charge of your eating. For those looking to lose weight gradually, this may be a good option. For those looking to improve your vital health numbers, IF may be a good solution for you. IF can help you better understand your body’s nutritional needs by determining the difference between true hunger and just wanting to eat. If you are prone to binges, avoid IF. If you have any other concerns with trying intermittent fasting, please remember to consult a professional.
Having a healthy relationship with food is important and is a significant factor in your overall health.