Intermittent fasting sounds pretty daunting, but it has been all the rage for the past few years now. Fasting has been practiced during many religious ceremonies for centuries, so it is nothing new. Today, intermittent fasting, otherwise known as IF, trends within the health and wellness world, specifically among some weight loss gurus. Intermittent fasting is practiced by many for a wide range of health benefits. It involves cycles of not eating food, or a limited amount of food, for several hours, sometimes days.
Fasting Varies For Everyone
Many people sail through a fasting period, while others struggle. Some people can continue with their exercise program, and others have to rest. It is often best to schedule your fasting period for the weekend, so if you need to relax, you can. Weekends provide time to keep your mind occupied, instead of thinking of food. As with most things in life, the more you practice, the easier it gets. Most people love the renewed energy, clear mind, sharper thoughts, clearer skin and other health benefits intermittent fasting provides.
Before you sail into intermittent fasting, let’s take a look at all the incredible benefits. Knowing about the health benefits of fasting makes it easier to try, and stick to.
To learn how to prep for fasting and best practices on how to phase it (not necessarily use it for life) check out the 131 Method.
Intermittent Fasting Benefits
Intermittent fasting lowers the cost of your grocery bill. Most intermittent fasting programs suggest only drinking water and herbal tea during your fast. Other intermittent fasting plans limit the amount of food you eat during a fast. Either way, you eat less and save more.
Experts say intermittent fasting helps us with a host of health conditions such as improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, insulin sensitivity (1) and brain health, including mental clarity and protection against Alzheimer’s. These suggestions come from studies only done on rats, but these studies look good for us humans too (2). Even if you don’t suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, IF helps many people with a sharper thinking process and a clearer mind.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to lower insulin resistance, which may protect you from type 2 Diabetes (3) as well as extend life, thanks to caloric restriction (4). According to one study, intermittent fasting made the pancreas start producing insulin again, which is a huge discovery for the well being of a diabetic. The fasting days seemed to give the pancreas enough of a rest, which allowed it to recharge many of its cells (5). When food was reintroduced, the new cells were capable of producing insulin again. Although this trial was done on mice, another trail on humans has been done with success (6).
Pre-diabetes, also known as glucose intolerance, is a term for metabolic health conditions which result in higher than normal blood glucose levels, otherwise known as Hyperglycemia. Studies suggest that alternate day fasting for three weeks improves glucose tolerance (7).
Anything associated with benefiting cancer can be a tricky subject. So far, we only have studies on animals that have shown promising results suggesting intermittent fasting may help with cancer (8). However, extended fasts have additional benefits on cancerous cells and are very promising due to increases in autophagy.
Many experts believe that an unhealthy gut is the cause of all diseases. Healthy gut conditions directly influence the functioning of your immune system, digestion, hormonal balance and nutrient absorption.
An unhealthy gut may lead to many bowel disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, bad breath, flatulence, burping, poor skin health, imbalanced hormones, obesity, autoimmune diseases and diabetes. For optimal health, it is advised to improve and balance your gut microbiota, otherwise known as your gut flora. Food, lack of exercise and stress, has a direct influence on your gut flora.
Along with prebiotics and probiotics, fasting has also been shown to improve the integrity of your gut flora by cleansing cells of accumulated toxins, strengthening the gastrointestinal mucosal lining, reducing inflammation, enhancing metabolism and balancing your gut flora.
Intermittent fasting may indirectly help heart disease. Findings suggest that IF lowers LDL cholesterol, blood triglyceride, inflammation levels and improves blood sugar and insulin resistance which all directly relate to heart disease (9).
Along with gut health, many experts suggest state that inflammation contributes or causes the health conditions and diseases pervading our society today. Studies show that intermittent fasting helps with reducing inflammatory markers (10). It also helps with weight loss, a key contributor to inflammation (11).
Scientific studies are showing that the process of intermittent fasting and the strain this puts your cells under may help your cells’ become more resistant to stress (12).
How Intermittent Fasting Helps With Weight Loss
The verdict out there is, yes, intermittent fasting can be an effective method of weight loss (13). If intermittent fasting seems like some form of torture, it’s probably because not eating without any prep seems impossible. However, like anything, it can be eased into, strengthened and mastered.
Weight loss is not as simple as eating less food, cutting calories and exercising more. If it were, we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic. The disappointing thing is that with prolonged restriction of calories your body adapts to the calorie restriction and prevents further weight loss. You will most likely lose weight initially, then after a while hit a weight loss plateau. Hitting a weight loss plateau is where intermittent fasting may suddenly become your new best friend. Evidence-based research does indicate that intermittent fasting may also help with body composition and energy metabolism (14).
How Intermittent Fasting Improves Your Metabolism
Metabolism is when your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. Metabolism is linked to weight loss because theoretically, the faster your metabolism works, the more calories your body burns and the more weight you’ll lose. A slow metabolic rate may cause weight gain and many other symptoms.
Intermittent fasting indirectly boosts your metabolism by improving a host of conditions including lowering your levels of insulin which facilitates fat burning (15). Interestingly, your levels of human growth hormone (HGH) increase during a fast (16). HGH aids fat loss and muscle gain. Also, your nervous system sends norepinephrine to your fat cells making them break down your body fat into free fatty acids. These free fatty acids are used for energy (17). These studies lead us to believe that short-term fasting increases fat burning. Short-term fasting refers to fasting for a length of time less than two days.
How Intermittent Fasting Changes Your Belly Fat
Adipose tissue is the term given to your body fat. There are two different types of adipose tissue, white adipose tissue and brown adipose tissue. Brown adipose tissue, or brown fat, is sometimes called the ‘good’ fat as its main function is to burn calories to generate heat. White adipose cells or white fat is considered ‘bad’ fat. White fat is often the result of overeating. Excess calories are converted into an energy reserve in the form of white fat. White fat around the abdominal area, otherwise known as ‘belly fat’ is associated with various metabolic diseases including; obesity and diabetes. Studies show that ‘every other day’ type of fasting program may stimulate brown ‘good’ fat development within the white ‘bad’ adipose tissue (18).
Intermittent Fasting Weight Loss Meal Plans
There is always a new diet that seems to hit the headlines of the health and wellness world. There are various new and trending diets which are versions of intermittent fasting. These diets seem to base themselves on either alternate day fasting, whole day fasting or time restricted fasting.
Alternate Day Fasting
Alternate day fasting is just as the name implies. You alternate between days of no food, or limited amounts of certain foods, with days of eating what you like.
Whole Day Fasting
Whole day fasting involves one or two days per week of fasting or eating only a limited amount of calories with days of eating what you like on the other days.
The other type of fasting is the time restricted fasting. Time restricted fasting involves following a meal plan every day with a scheduled time frame for starvation. You eat your meals from 8 am – 3 pm and fast for the remaining hours (of which you’ll sleep for many of those hours).
Let’s take a look at some of the trending intermittent fasting diets out there at the moment…
5:2 Fast Diet
The 5:2 Fast Diet has helped thousands of people with weight loss and a host of health conditions including lowering inflammation. Dr. Michael Mosley created the diet which suggests you eat what you like for five days and on the other two days you restrict your calorie intake to 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men. Luckily, if the whole fasting process daunts you, you can separate your two fasting days.
This diet is also known as Leangains. Nutritional consultant and personal trainer, Martin Berkhan, created the name, though this style of eating in a shortened window has been around for years. He suggests fasting for 16 hours overnight and into the morning, eating eight hours from afternoon and evening. There is a calorie restriction involved during your eating window, depending on how severe your weight loss goals are. During the fasting window, you can eat some food and drink, but only with a small number of calories such as a coffee with a splash of milk. This diet plan is popular if you are not a fan of eating breakfast. Effectively, you are eating between the hours of 12 pm – 8 pm.
Ori Hofmekler created this type of intermittent fasting diet plan. This diet is a more radical, but simple lifestyle overhaul. The diet is based on primal habits of earlier cultures. He draws on historical and scientific studies suggesting that healthy and lean bodies are achieved by living how our ancestors did, eating sparingly during the day and filling up at night. You fast for 20 hours every day and then enjoy one large meal every night. During this fasting period, you can eat raw fruit and vegetables, fresh juice and small amounts of protein. There are also restrictions on what you can eat for your evening meal.
Eat Stop Eat
Brad Pilon devised this fasting diet which is similar to the 5:2 diet. This diet suggests doing one or two 24 hours fasts every week. For weight loss, this plan advises you to continue working out.
Fat Loss Forever
This intermittent fasting diet plan allows you to have one cheat day each week. This cheat day is to be followed by a 36 hour fast. For the remainder of the week, you follow different fasting protocols. The fasting and eating schedule vary each day.
The 131 Method teaches you how to use various methods of fasting that fit the individual’s needs best. The goal is to address underlying hormonal imbalances, inflammation, insulin resistance, etc. that can be supported by various types of fasting.
Concerns With Intermittent Fasting
Fasting for longer than 24 hours, particularly for three or more days should be done under the supervision of your healthcare professional or after education on proper prepping and refueling. Fasting is not recommended for children, if you are underweight or if you are on any certain medication.
While you are sleeping, your body is naturally fasting. Fasting during your sleep allows your body to rebuild and detoxify. However, fasting can be stressful for your body if you continue to fast during the day as you are conscious of being hungry, possibly feel starved and sometimes feel exhausted because you have not eaten for hours. This lack of food triggers your sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ nervous system to kick into gear.
Working out during your fast is sometimes encouraged, individualized. Generally, it’s not recommended during your first few fasts, but once you’re experienced, it’s easier to exercise while fasting. Exercising during fasting often causes cortisol levels to increase to a staggering 105% by the end of the workout. This study was conducted in comparison to a group who had eaten a protein and carbohydrates before their workout. This group showed no increase in cortisol levels. However, another study suggests that alternate day fasting may improve your stress resistance (19).
Intermittent fasting has been shown to impact fertility both positively and negatively. In the case of amenorrhea which is a health condition when you have a loss of menstrual cycle fasting may not be ideal. Additionally, if you are under your recommended body weight due to lack of nutrients and food, fasting is not for you. However, fasting can reduce inflammation and have hormonal impacts due to the ketones produced, which can positively impact hormones and fertility. It’s best to know what potential underlying factors are leading to infertility and make decisions from there.
Sports Dietitians Australia suggests that intermittent fasting has the potential to positively impact recovery (20). The Sports Dietitians Australia also indicate that intermittent fasting may help with weight loss, fat burning, reduced inflammation, increased growth hormone secretion and a host of metabolic and performance benefits.
How To Start Intermittent Fasting
We suggest starting slowly and gradually increasing your intermittent fasting hours. Begin by eating your evening meal at 7 pm and don’t eat anything until 7 am the next morning, giving you a good 12 hours of fasting. Continue to do this 12 hour fast once a week for a couple of weeks before stretching out your fast to 16 hours.
For a 16 hour fast, eat your evening meal at 7 pm and don’t eat your breakfast until 11 am the next morning. Continue doing your 16 hour fast for one day every week for the next couple of weeks.
During these 12 to 16 hours of fasting, you are not eating anything. You need to be drinking as much water, herbal teas and other healthy decaffeinated liquids as possible. Once you feel you can master 16 hours of fasting you may like to try some of the other intermittent fasting programs.
Add some deliciously nutritious flavors to your filtered water. Try adding fresh slices of lemon or oranges, or a few blueberries with sprigs of mint. The juice of a freshly squeezed lemon in water may help boost your metabolism, give you some strong antioxidants and help protect your cells from damage. Many weight loss programs suggest drinking a glass of lemon juice in warm water first thing in the morning. This assists with overall weight loss, is fantastic for your digestion and also excellent for cleansing your body. Check out all these lemon benefits.
Create A Positive Mindset
Who Should Be Careful Of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting reviews vary enormously. Fasting is not for everyone, but with the overwhelming health benefits, give intermittent fasting a try. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, a child, an adolescent, on medication, have a medical health condition, diabetes, hypothyroidism, underweight, malnourished or have an eating disorder consult your healthcare professional before you start any intermittent fasting program.