Can you trick your body into losing weight without joining the fad diet club? Yes! With intermittent fasting (IF), you can. This cyclical routine of eating and not eating has become a popular strategy to boost metabolism, revitalize brain function, and protect the body from diseases. If you want to try it, you must know the best way to go about it.
There are three intermittent fasting plans. I recommend you choose the one that suits your eating habits. This article lists the different intermittent fasting plans, benefits, and tips.
Intermittent Fasting At A Glance
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern with alternating phases of eating and fasting.
Humans have been fasting for ages. Our ancestors hunted and searched for food, but some days, they went without food because they could not find any! People also fast for religious reasons.
However, it’s important to remember that fasting or intermittent fasting is not the same as starvation. While fasting has many health benefits, starving can make you weak and also lead to death.
So, don’t starve but fast! Here’s how intermittent fasting works.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Intermittent fasting works by lowering the glucose/insulin levels in your blood, which, in turn, lowers the possibility of fat storage in your body. When you are in a fasted state (not had food for at least 6-8 hours), it becomes easier for your body to burn fat, irrespective of what you have eaten. Instead of drawing fuel from glucose, your body starts converting glycogen and/or protein to glucose. When the protein reserve is fully utilized, fat is used as a source of fuel.
Intermittent fasting increases the number and variety of gut microbes that aid proper digestion. It also helps lower inflammation and inflammation-induced weight gain.
There are various types of intermittent fasting. Choose the IF plan that you are most comfortable with. To know more, check out the next section.
Types Of Intermittent Fasting (IF)
The various types of IF are:
This fasting pattern consists of alternating feed days and fast days. On the feeding days, you can consume anything. But on fast days, you can consume only about 20% of your body’s total energy requirement (1).
Who Can Try This: This type of fasting works best for newbies. Fasting and feasting every alternate day will keep up your interest, and you will not feel too famished.
5:2 fasting involves consuming food without any restrictions for five days in the week and being on a severely calorie-restricted diet for two non-consecutive days (2).
Who Can Try This: Choose this IF method if you have fasted before and are used to it. Space out the fasting days so that you don’t go on a severely restricted diet before you have fully recovered from the previous fast day.
Also known as Time-Restricted Feeding and the 8-hour Diet, the 16/8 diet requires you to fast for 16 hours and space out your meals within a short window of 8 hours. For instance, if you eat your breakfast at 9 in the morning, your last meal of the day will have to be at 5 in the evening. You will then have to fast until the next morning.
Who Can Try This: If you want to fast without feeling like you are fasting, this is a great way to go about it.
The next important question is, what can you eat on the fasting days? And, should you avoid certain foods on your feeding days? Find out the answers to these questions in the next section.
What To Eat On Feeding Days And Avoid On Fasting Days
On feeding days, try to consume foods that satiate your hunger and keep your taste buds alive. But, you must avoid foods that can nullify your effort altogether when consumed in excess. Also, avoid foods that you are allergic to.
On fasting days, stick to 500 calories per day (for women) or 600 calories per day (for men). Consume foods high in dietary fiber that will keep you full. You can also load up on water, coconut water, freshly pressed juice, and a raw vegetable salad with lime juice, a pinch of Himalayan pink salt, a tablespoon of olive oil, and a dash of smoked paprika. Sip on detox water made with watermelon, kiwi, cucumber, and a pinch of salt so that your body does not miss out on essential micronutrients and electrolytes. From my experience, mint leaves tend to increase hunger, so I would suggest avoiding using them.
What are the health benefits that you can reap by intermittent fasting? Fortunately, there are many! Take a look at the list below.
Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
- Intermittent Fasting Is Easier Than “Dieting”
Fasting intermittently is easier than going on a restrictive diet. Intermittent fasting breaks the monotony of consuming the same foods in the same quantities and makes “dieting” fun and interesting.
Intermittent fasting is one of the most effective ways to lose weight and maintain weight loss (3). The alternating low-calorie and high-calorie food intake keeps your cells functioning well, which, in turn, boosts metabolism.
Intermittent fasting is a great way to shed fat and, consequently, help improve your heart health. American scientists found that by practicing alternate-day fasting, obese patients were able to lose weight and reduce the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) (4).
- May Improve Insulin Sensitivity
Intermittent fasting may also help improve insulin sensitivity (5). When your body becomes insulin sensitive, your glucose metabolism improves, and you stop feeling hungry all the time.
- May Promote Cellular Repair And Autophagy
Intermittent fasting may also improve cellular repair and autophagy. Autophagy is your body’s natural process of degrading the dysfunctional components of the cells and recycling them. Upregulation of autophagy may be neuroprotective and act as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease (6).
- May Reduce The Risk Of Cancer
Scientists have found that IF can help ameliorate neurodegeneration in mice with induced Alzheimer’s disease (9). IF can also help increase the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which has been found to protect the brain from degeneration and dysfunction in animal models (10).
- May Reduce Inflammation And Blood Pressure
Intermittent fasting may also help reduce inflammation and pro-inflammatory cytokines. Additionally, if you are hypertensive, fasting intermittently may help reduce your blood pressure (11).
There is no reason you shouldn’t fast intermittently. But, are you wondering if you should be fasting at all? Let’s find out in the next section.
Who Should Avoid Intermittent Fasting?
- Avoid intermittent fasting if you are underweight, suffer from an eating disorder, or have been advised against it by your doctor.
- A few studies have shown that women tend to miss their period, and their blood sugar levels go up when they practice intermittent fasting (12), (13), (14). Therefore, avoid intermittent fasting if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have fertility issues.
- If you do not sleep well and suffer from chronic stress, do not fast intermittently.
- Avoid intermittent fasting if you have low blood pressure and blood sugar regulation problems.
Note: Always consult your doctor before practicing intermittent fasting.
Before we come to a close, take a quick look at the side effects of IF.
Side Effects Of Intermittent Fasting
- You may feel irritated.
- When practiced long-term, it may lead to an eating disorder.
- May hinder athletic performance.
- May cause muscle loss.
- May cause amenorrhea and infertility in women.
To conclude, nothing is set in stone. One method of intermittent fasting may or may not work for you. And ladies, you need to be extra careful. Amenorrhea and infertility also have other physiological and psychological effects that can prevent you from leading a happy and healthy life. You may fast intermittently, but do not make it a habit. You must talk to your doctor and get an expert opinion about any diet instead of blindly following a weight loss trend that everyone is following. Take care!
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
Can you drink coffee or tea during intermittent fasting?
You may drink tea or coffee during intermittent fasting. However, make sure that you do not exceed your calorie limit, which is 500-600 calories on fasting days.
Does apple cider vinegar break intermittent fasting?
No, it does not. You can drink apple cider vinegar while fasting intermittently.
How long should you intermittent fast?
It depends on the IF plan you choose to follow. But, do not extend it beyond 16 hours.
Can you drink water when intermittent fasting?
Yes. You must drink water and keep yourself hydrated.
How much weight can you lose intermittent fasting?
The weight loss will depend on your current weight, height, age, medications, genes, and other factors.
Is it good for women to fast?
Women have been practicing fasting for ages. In general, it is considered good for the body. But you must avoid it if you have fertility issues, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have started skipping periods because of intermittent fasting.
Does intermittent fasting increase cortisol?
If you suffer from chronic stress, it is better to avoid intermittent fasting.
- “Intermittent Fasting: The Choice for a Healthier Lifestyle” Curēus, US National Library of Medicine.
- “INTERMITTENT FASTING AND HUMAN METABOLIC HEALTH” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Fasting for weight loss: an effective strategy or latest dieting trend?” International journal of obesity : journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Short-term modified alternate-day fasting: a novel dietary strategy for weight loss and cardioprotection in obese adults.” The American journal of clinical nutrition, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Early Time-Restricted Feeding Improves Insulin Sensitivity, Blood Pressure, and Oxidative Stress Even without Weight Loss in Men with Prediabetes.” Cell metabolism, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy” Autophagy, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen species and incidence of age-associated lymphoma in OF1 mice: effect of alternate-day fasting.” Mechanisms of ageing and development, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Effects of short-term dietary restriction on survival of mammary ascites tumor-bearing rats.” Cancer investigation, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Intermittent fasting and caloric restriction ameliorate age-related behavioral deficits in the triple-transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.” Neurobiology of disease, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Energy intake, meal frequency, and health: a neurobiological perspective.” Annual review of nutrition, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Usefulness of Routine Periodic Fasting to Lower Risk of Coronary Artery Disease among Patients Undergoing Coronary Angiography” The American journal of cardiology, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Glucose tolerance and skeletal muscle gene expression in response to alternate day fasting.” Obesity research, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Sex-dependent metabolic, neuroendocrine, and cognitive responses to dietary energy restriction and excess.” Endocrinology, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Gonadal transcriptome alterations in response to dietary energy intake: sensing the reproductive environment.” PloS one, US National Library of Medicine.