In the past decade, intermittent fasting (IF) has emerged as an innovative eating regime that primarily focuses on when you eat instead of what you eat.
Intermittent fasting has long been done for religious reasons, but research shows it has positive effects on weight management. By helping to regulate appetite and blood sugar levels, and increase fat burn, intermittent fasting can contribute to your weight loss journey.
This article explains how intermittent fasting supports weight loss, discusses its other health benefits, and provides several IF plans.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern in which periods of unrestricted eating are followed by periods of fasting when we eat no food or only minimal amounts.
In the modern world, we have become used to eating three meals a day, with frequent snacks in between. This means that our bodies never get enough time to use up all the calories we ingest.
With intermittent fasting, the goal is to extend the period between meals. During this time, the body uses up the calories previously ingested and burns fat more effectively.
Note: Intermittent fasting goes hand in hand with other healthy lifestyle choices. For more weight loss tips read our blog article.
When we go for extended periods without food, we deplete our stores of glucose (sugar), our body’s primary energy source. With no glucose to burn, the body moves on to the secondary source of fuel – fat. This state is called ketosis.
During ketosis, the body starts breaking down fat to produce ketones, which become the body’s main energy source. This fat-burning process begins after around 12 hours of fasting and peaks between 16 and 24 hours.
To stay in a fasting state, it is necessary to refrain from eating solid foods, while beverages such as water, black coffee, and unsweetened tea are allowed. In fact, experts recommend larger amounts of water than usual to avoid dehydration and organ failure.
During the eating cycle of intermittent fasting, experts recommend a balanced diet rich in all the essential nutrients. Besides being better for your health, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods will keep your energy levels up during fasting. Make sure you get enough of the following:
Before you begin intermittent fasting, talk to your health provider so they can recommend a regimen and the exact number of calories you need to ingest.
Current research shows that intermittent fasting can contribute to weight loss.
The primary weight-loss mechanism behind intermittent fasting is calorie restriction. Put simply, not eating during certain periods of the day means we ingest fewer calories overall. In this sense, intermittent fasting shows similar results to weight-loss diet plans which involve reducing caloric intake.
However, intermittent fasting will not work if during the eating periods we make up for the unconsumed calories by taking the “unrestricted” part literally. You should still be mindful of your meals and portions, as you would with any other weight loss meal plan.
Intermittent fasting has many benefits for your overall health, not only in terms of weight loss. Many of these benefits result from the increased production of ketones that occurs during fasting, which has beneficial effects on multiple physical systems.
Metabolic switching is the body’s ability to change energy sources, from glucose stored in the liver to ketones stored in fat. Intermittent fasting improves the speed at which this switch occurs.
Usually, when our glucose stores are depleted, we feel our energy drops and crave food which will increase it. Intermittent fasting trains our body to efficiently switch to burning fat once we’ve used up all our glucose. This means we can go longer without food and don’t experience the sugar crash that can cause binge eating of junk food.
Intermittent fasting contributes to cell growth and tissue reparation and maintains organ health. Studies show that IF promotes autophagy – a process that helps the body recycle old, damaged cell components to optimize the functioning of cells.
This process, which produces younger, healthier cells, has been linked to slower aging and increased longevity. Scientists also believe that autophagy can help prevent and manage diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s, etc.
Researchers believe that there is a connection between inflammation and the modern diet. Intermittent fasting helps to reduce chronic inflammation by lowering the production of pro-inflammatory cells.
Periods of fasting can prevent inflammation-related diseases, such as heart disease, arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis, and others. Some studies also suggest that IF moderately relieves irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Intermittent fasting improves insulin sensitivity. While the body is in the fasting state, insulin levels in the blood drop significantly, lowering the risks for diabetes and pre-diabetes. In addition, improved insulin sensitivity helps relieve the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Intermittent fasting has a positive effect on brain health, promoting brain cell growth and preventing the development of a variety of neurological disorders. Clinical studies show that IF benefits patients suffering from epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis. It can also reduce brain damage after a stroke by decreasing free radicals that kill vulnerable cells.
Studies also show that periods of fasting improve memory. People who practice intermittent fasting also report clearer thinking and an improvement in general mental health, with reduced levels of anxiety and depression.
Studies show that intermittent fasting promotes endurance during exercise and boosts muscle build if combined with a balanced diet and the right activity. By affecting human growth hormone levels, intermittent fasting is effective at preventing muscle loss that accompanies weight loss over a longer period.
Note: Learn about the positive effect of IV therapy for athletic performance.
Aside from the positive effect on your insulin levels, intermittent fasting benefits the levels of norepinephrine (noradrenaline), the hormone that helps convert body fat into energy. By boosting human growth hormone (HGH) levels, intermittent fasting promotes long-lasting weight loss results through increased fat burn.
Intermittent fasting can be a significant lifestyle change and comes with its own set of challenges. People who start a regime of intermittent fasting may experience these mild to severe side effects:
People who start intermittent fasting should carefully plan their eating and fasting regimen to accommodate their health and lifestyle needs. It is also essential to eat a balanced and healthy diet during the eating periods so as not to deprive the body of essential nutrients and avoid serious side effects.
Intermittent fasting is not suitable for everyone, and you should consult your doctor before you begin. Intermittent fasting can be dangerous for certain people:
There are several ways to implement intermittent fasting. Find a plan that suits your lifestyle and needs and remember to consult your doctor. You can always start with a shorter fasting window and increase it as time passes and you get used to more extended periods without food.
There are six common intermittent fasting plans.
Keep in mind that long uninterrupted periods of fasting (over 24 hours) may not be beneficial and can lead to health problems.
Intermittent fasting is a breakthrough eating regime that can significantly benefit your weight loss efforts if done properly. It also contributes to your overall health by regulating blood sugar, improving metabolism, and preventing various serious diseases.
Intermittent fasting is not suitable for everyone, so make sure to consult your medical provider and notify them of any underlying conditions you may have before starting this regime for weight loss.
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