Everything you need to know about Intermittent Fasting.

Intermittent Fasting.

image via The Globe and Mail

Imagine being able to eat whatever you want most days of the week, limiting your intake for one or two days at a time, and still losing weight. This is what many people feel when they first start practicing intermittent fasting (IF).

Intermittent fasting can do more than just slim your waistline. Fasting has been shown in studies to help stabilize blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and keep your heart healthy. There are several approaches to intermittent fasting, depending on whether you prefer to fast for several hours each day or skip meals two days per week.

Let’s take a look at how intermittent fasting can help you improve your health while also achieving your weight loss goals. Consider this your beginner’s guide to intermittent fasting.

What Exactly Is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting, also known as cyclic fasting, has gained popularity in recent years as more research shows that it is generally safe and effective. Intermittent fasting, on the other hand, is not a novel concept. It has been used for centuries during times of scarcity, and it even plays an important role in many major religions.

In fact, Muslims observe Ramadan, a month of fasting from dawn to sunset, once a year. The authors of a 2016 Cell Metabolism study discuss how fasting allows humans to rely less on glucose (sugar) stores for energy and more on ketone bodies and fat stores (keto intermittent fasting). As a result, “both intermittent and periodic fasting result in benefits ranging from disease prevention to improved treatment.”

Fasting-mimicking diets, which are not true fast, can produce beneficial changes similar to fasting. It is difficult to define intermittent fasting because there is no single correct way to fast. In fact, there are numerous variations used around the world. Each follows a unique eating pattern that is frequently strictly followed in order to achieve physical or even spiritual results.

What Is the Process of Intermittent Fasting?

According to extensive research on the concept of intermittent fasting, it works in two ways to improve various aspects of health:

  • First, intermittent fasting reduces oxidative stress in cells throughout the body.
  • Second, fasting improves your body’s cellular ability to deal with stress. It stimulates your body’s stress response by activating cellular stress response pathways similar to very mild stressors. As this happens on a regular basis, your body is gradually reinforced against cellular stress and becomes less susceptible to cellular aging and disease development.

 Types of Intermittent Fasting

  • Alternate-Day Fasting: Fasting every other day is known as alternate-day fasting. On fasting days, some people eat nothing at all, while others eat very little, usually around 500 calories. Eat normally on non-fasting calorie days (but healthfully).
  • The Warrior Diet: entails eating only fruits and vegetables during the day and one large meal at night.
  • 16/8 Fasting (also known as Time-Restricted Feeding): In this method, you fast for 16 hours per day and eat for eight hours. Skipping breakfast is a common component of 16/8 intermittent fasting. This method entails not eating anything after dinner and skipping breakfast the following morning.
  • Eat-Stop-Eat: Use the “Eat Stop Eat” method by choosing one or two days per week to fast for 24 hours, then eat nothing from dinner one day to dinner the next. You should have normal calorie days on the other days.
  • 5:2 Diet: You eat normally five days a week. You should limit your caloric intake to 500-600 calories per day for the remaining two fast days.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

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Promotes Weight Loss

One significant health benefit of intermittent fasting is its ability to increase fat burning and aid in weight loss. Indeed, many people prefer intermittent fasting to traditional diets because it does not necessitate meticulously measuring your foods and tracking your calories and grams consumed.

Despite the fact that it does not necessitate calorie counting, studies show that intermittent fasting can result in the same amount of weight loss as continuous restrictive diets. Intermittent fasting causes your body to use fat stores as fuel, resulting in increased fat burning and rapid weight loss. When you eat, your body uses glucose (sugar) as its primary energy source and stores any excess as glycogen in your muscles and liver.

When you don’t provide your body with a steady supply of glucose, it starts breaking down glycogen to use as fuel. When glycogen is depleted, your body looks for alternative energy sources, such as fat cells, which it then breaks down to help power your body. This is similar to the ketosis diet (or “keto diet”), which forces your body to use stored fat for energy by depriving it of carbohydrates.

A 2020 review examined the effects of intermittent fasting on body composition in 27 different studies and discovered that it reduced body weight by 1% to 13% in six months on average. Another study discovered that fasting for the entire day produced similar results, with up to a 9% reduction in body weight.

Another study found that the 16/8 method of intermittent fasting significantly reduced fat mass while maintaining muscle mass and strength. This is why I favor this type of intermittent fasting the most. Having said that, one randomized controlled trial discovered that calorie restriction was still required to cause weight loss even when someone was fasting, implying that eating a healthy diet is essential.

Lowers blood sugar levels

Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream when you eat. Insulin is the hormone responsible for transporting glucose from the bloodstream into the cells, where it can be used as energy. When you have diabetes, insulin does not always work properly, resulting in high blood sugar levels and symptoms such as fatigue, thirst, and frequent urination.

According to some studies, intermittent fasting improves insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels by keeping them stable and preventing spikes and crashes. Fasting for at least 16 hours appears to be especially effective for this purpose. Participants in one study fasted for an average of 16 hours per day for two weeks. Intermittent fasting not only resulted in weight loss and a decrease in caloric intake, but it also significantly reduced blood sugar levels.

Another study found that fasting reduced blood sugar levels by 12% and insulin levels by nearly 53%. Preventing insulin buildup allows it to function more efficiently and keeps your body sensitive to its effects.

Maintains Heart Health

According to research, intermittent fasting improves cardiovascular health by lowering certain risk factors for heart disease. Fasting was found to influence several aspects of heart health in one study. It raised good HDL cholesterol while lowering bad LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

One animal study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found that IF increased levels of adiponectin, a protein involved in fat and sugar metabolism that may protect against cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. In one study, rats that fasted every other day were nearly 66 percent more likely to survive a heart attack than those on a normal diet.

It lowers inflammation

Inflammation is the body’s natural immune response to injury. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, has the potential to lead to chronic disease. Some studies have even linked inflammation to diseases such as arteriosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. A study published in Nutrition Research followed 50 people during Ramadan and discovered that they had lower levels of some inflammatory markers while fasting.

Another 2015 study discovered that a longer duration of nighttime fasting was associated with a decrease in inflammation markers. Alternate-day fasting was found to help reduce oxidative stress markers in the journal Rejuvenation Research. There is also evidence that intermittent fasting can help maintain a healthy gut microbiome, which aids in immune defence. While more research is needed, these studies provide promising evidence that IF may aid in the reduction of inflammation and the prevention of chronic disease.

It safeguards your brain

In addition to keeping your heart healthy and preventing disease, some studies have found that intermittent fasting protects your brain’s health. In one animal study, intermittent fasting was found to improve cognitive function and protect against changes in memory and learning function when compared to a control group. Another animal study discovered that it protects mice brains by influencing specific proteins involved in brain aging.

Furthermore, the anti-inflammatory effects of intermittent fasting may aid in slowing of the progression of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Fasting is also said to promote autophagy, or “self-eating,” which is our normal bodily process of cellular renewal, though more research is needed on this topic.

Lowers Leptin Resistance (and Possibly Normalizes Hunger)

Leptin, also known as the satiety hormone, is a hormone produced by fat cells that aid in signaling when to stop eating. When you’re hungry, your leptin levels drop, and when you’re full, they rise. Because leptin is produced in fat cells, people who are overweight or obese have higher levels of leptin in their blood. However, having too much leptin floating around can lead to leptin resistance, making it more difficult to effectively turn off hunger cues.

One study involving 80 people measured leptin levels during intermittent fasting and discovered that levels were lower at night during the fasting period. Lower leptin levels may result in less leptin resistance, less hunger, and possibly even more weight loss.

Safety Tips for Intermittent Fasting

As previously stated, there are numerous types of intermittent fasting with various options to fit any schedule or lifestyle. It is best to experiment and find the one that works best for your specific needs.

The intermittent fasting 16/8 method, a type of time-restricted eating, is the best place to start for beginners. This usually entails foregoing your evening snack after dinner and foregoing breakfast the next morning.

You’ve already fasted for 16 hours if you don’t eat anything between 8 p.m. and 12 p.m. the next day.

If 16 hours of fasting seems too long at first, start with a shorter fast of 13 to 14 hours. Increase the length of your fast as your body becomes accustomed to it.

While the 16/8 method has been shown to be generally safe for the majority of people, longer fasts of 14 to 72 hours may not be safe for everyone. It also takes time for your body to adjust to the effects of fasting, so don’t overdo it at first.

Risks and Adverse Effects

Why could intermittent fasting be harmful to some people? It is not intended for people who have eating disorders, pregnant women, or those who are already underweight.

When taken too far, it can result in side effects such as

  • fatigue
  • weakness, brain fog
  • anxiety
  • cravings
  • increased hunger
  • difficulty sleeping (especially if fasting at night)

If you have low blood sugar, for example, going without eating for the entire day may result in dangerous side effects such as shakiness, heart palpitations, and fatigue. If you have diabetes, consult your doctor to see if intermittent fasting is right for you.

This is also not a good tool if you have a history of eating disorders because it may encourage unhealthy behaviours and trigger symptoms. Intermittent fasting is also not advised if you are a child or teenager who is still growing. Fasting may actually increase the risk of gallbladder problems in people with gallstone disease and should be avoided.

Finally, studies show that fasting may alter thyroid hormone levels. If you have thyroid problems, you should reconsider intermittent fasting to avoid changes in these important hormones. Those who are sick should think twice about fasting because it can deprive your body of the nutrients it requires to heal and recover.

Last Thoughts

Intermittent fasting is one way to boost fat burning and lose weight while also improving metabolic and cognitive health.Other health benefits include blood sugar regulation, brain protection, heart health, and inflammation reduction.

Fasting can be done in a variety of ways, with variations to suit any lifestyle. Skipping breakfast and fasting for about 16 hours per day, including overnight, is a popular method.

This dietary tool is generally safe, but it is not suitable for everyone, particularly those with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, gallstones, an eating disorder, or a thyroid disorder.

To avoid side effects, start slowly and eat a nutrient-rich diet to avoid deficiencies or issues like fatigue.