Nowadays, intermittent fasting (IF) is a popular health trend. It’s a new way to lose weight, improve performance, and prevent health issues. Studies have shown that IF is a safe and effective diet plan, much like all others. And its effectiveness varies with timing. First, let’s start with what it is.
What is IF? Why would you do it?
The word intermittent means not continuous. So in correspondence, intermittent fasting implies a type of fasting routine that cycles between fasting and eating. In simpler words, intermittent fasting is an eating plan for when to eat and when not to. There are various ways to implement this plan, for example, eating on alternative days, having a daily fasting routine, or a 5:2 method, etc. [will be explained later on]
Doing proper exercise and losing weight helps reduce the risk of obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, some types of cancer, etc. And IF seems to help in this case just as much as any other calorie-reducing diet. Some research shows that IF can be more beneficial than other diets for reducing inflammation. And also more helpful for improving conditions associated with inflammation, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Arthritis, Asthma, and others.
How it works
In a basic sense, the food we eat gets broken down by enzymes and used as fuel for our system. Particularly, foods such as sugar, carbohydrates, and refined grains (e.g. white rice, flour), are quickly broken down into sugar (glucose). Which, in turn, is used as energy by our cells.
Glucose can only enter our cells with insulin (a hormone secreted from the pancreas). Insulin brings glucose into our fat cells and keeps it there. And if our cells don’t use it all up, the glucose stays stored as fat.
If we don’t snack in between our meals, our insulin levels go down. And when that happens, our fat cells start to use the stored glucose as energy.
In simple terms, if our insulin levels go down, we lose weight.
The concept of intermittent fasting is to let our insulin levels go down far and long enough so our cells can start burning off the fat.
Before starting or continuing any extreme form of diet plan, it is best to be cautious and consult with a trusted professional. Redistricting calorie intake for an extended time could be dangerous for:
- Those who have diabetes
- Women who are trying to conceive, pregnant, or breastfeeding
- Those taking certain medications
- Children and adolescents
- People with a history of eating disorders
- Those who are underweight
- Those who have problems with blood sugar regulation
- People with low blood pressure.
Methods to do IF
As stated before, there are different ways to intermittent fasting. It’s all a matter of what method suits you best.
Note that there is no rule that you have to stick to only one method. Start with a plan that you think will suit you, and if it becomes hard or too easy, you can always change the difficulty level.
All that matters is if you feel good. Here are some methods by which IF can be executed:
This method is where fasting is done for certain hours of the day every day. Research shows that fasting for 10-16 hours a day encourages weight loss.
The easiest way to get through daily fasts is to include the fasting period with sleep time.
A few approaches for this method are:
- 12-hour fast: In this approach, the fasting period is 12 hours. This approach is beginner-friendly as the fasting hours are small, and much of the fasting would happen during sleep.
- 16-hour fast: while fasting for 16 hours, the eating hours are reduced to 8 hours a day. This is called the 16:8 diet. During a 16:8 diet, men fast for 16 hours while women fast for 14 hours. This approach may be helpful for those who have tried a 12-hour fast yet did not see any benefits.
5:2 essentially means to eat like usual for five days a week and fast for the remaining two days. There should be one resting day between the two fasting days.
During the fasting days, men consume 600 calories, and women consume 500.
A study involving 107 overweight or obese women found that the 5:2 plan and daily fasting led to similar weight loss.
Alternate day fasting:
This method involves fasting every other day.
There are different variations to this fasting. Some people entirely avoid eating solid foods during this method. Some restrict calorie intake to 500 calories on fasting days.
However, typically people tend to eat as much as they want during non-fasting days.
This method is quite extreme and may be unsuitable for beginners and those with certain medical conditions. It may also be hard to maintain long term.
Weekly 24-hour fast:
Known as the eat-stop-eat diet, this method involves fasting wholly for 1 or 2 days a week. That includes not eating for 24 hours on fasting day(s).
People on this diet can consume zero-calorie drinks such as water or herbal tea during the fasting days and return to their usual diet during non-fasting days.
This approach may be better for beginners as it includes skipping meals occasionally. This method allows people to skip meals according to their level of tolerance and time restraints. However, it is crucial to eat healthful foods during meals.
It will be more effective for those who monitor their hunger signals. Because generally, people tend to eat when they are hungry and fast when they are not.
The warrior diet:
The warrior diet requires eating very little. There is a 20-hour fasting period spent eating only a few servings of raw fruits and vegetables. The remaining 4-hour eating period is for eating a large meal before heading to bed.
*The large meal should be packed with vegetables, proteins, healthful fats, and some carbs. This point is important as people in this diet tend to not eat enough nutrients. It can increase the risk of cancer and also harm the digestive and immune systems.*
This fasting method may be more suitable for people who have tried other forms of IF before, as this method is rather intense for intermittent fasting. Also, some people find it hard to eat a large meal before bed.
Benefits of IF
The obvious benefit of intermittent fasting is weight loss. But there are other benefits to this too!
IF improves metabolic health along with allowing you a simple, stress-free lifestyle. It reduces the chances of cancer and heart diseases and essentially helps you live a longer life. There is also the fact that it works well with a nutritious diet. Although the thought of fasting can be intimidating, ultimately it is all about choosing a suitable method and timing.
Once you start, you realize it’s much easier than dieting.
Every diet plan has its own set of cons. Naturally, intermittent fasting does too. Although most side-effects usually last for a month at most.
During IF, you might feel unnatural at first. It might cause hunger spikes for the first week or two. But eventually, your body adjusts itself.
Other side effects may include insomnia, nausea, fatigue, and even headaches. And any of these could dampen someone’s mood. So crankiness can also be included on that list.
Intermittent fasting isn’t a need. It’s a lifestyle choice, and a healthy lifestyle is always a great choice. Following a proper fasting routine can help you achieve your ideal weight and also help improve your overall health.
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Mithila Rahman is an avid reader and a fitness enthusiast.