As dietary health trends go, Intermittent Fasting or IF as it is popularly known is currently one of the foremost being practiced around the world. There are several people who have found solace in eating only during a particular few hours in the day while abstaining from solid foods for the rest of the time and it seems to have helped them tremendously. As claims go, people have not only observed a marked weight loss process, they are also thinking sharper, moving better and in general feeling better about themselves. Additional to this many have noted positive health benefits on markers such as blood sugar and insulin. Intermittent Fasting, like any other dietary plan, is not a one size fits all approach.
Let’s understand what the process is all about and why this phenomenon is affecting so many lives.
Intermittent Fasting explained
For starters it would be difficult to patent intermittent fasting as a diet. This is so because the method does not so much tell you what to eat but when to eat. Intermittent fasting is more like an eating pattern that transitions everyday between periods of fasting and eating. The more common eating patterns built around intermittent fasting involve 16 hour daily fasts (16:8 approach), the calorie restriction method (5:2 approach) or the extended fasting method of 24 hours or more.
This may seem difficult at the outset but the human body is actually more attuned to fasting than we think. Our predecessors hunted and foraged for food and would have no place to store or buy food on a daily basis like we do today. Sometimes they couldn’t find anything to eat. As a result, humans evolved to be able to function without food for extended periods of time.
Experts have noted that fasting from time to time actually helps your system a lot more than eating 3 to 4 smaller meals a day as well. Fasting is also a listed process across many religious customs both in happiness and in mourning and is still widely followed across Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism cultures and practices.
Intermittent Fasting Methods
With such a diverse food pattern being put into place, it is clear that one or even two template methods would not suit such a large populace trying out intermittent fasting. That is why there are several different processes by which one can fast intermittently. All of them however, involve dividing the day‘s hours into periods of eating and fasting. During the fasting periods, you should ideally eat nothing at all. These are the most popular methods:
The 16:8 Method
Also called the Leangains protocol, this method involves skipping breakfast and restricting the daily eating period to an 8 hour span, for eg 1–9 p.m. The eating window can be chosen as per personal preference and is said to be most effective when adhered to at the same hours everyday. The other 16 hours are then dedicated to a complete fasting period with consumption of water and certain permissible liquids. Many people find the 16/8 method to be the simplest, most sustainable and easiest to stick to. It’s also the most popular.
The 5:2 Method
This method is based on calorie restriction. In this, you consume only 500–600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week. You can then eat normally for your body type for the other 5 days in the week.
The Extended Fasting Method
This one is not so popular and also a harder process to follow but has many takers. It involves complete fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week. The fasting winow can be selected as per your personal preference for eg not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day. At an advanced level this window may even be extended to 36 or 48 hours, but is best practised under medical supervision.
As you would have noticed, all of the above are methods that help you reduce your calorie intake, either daily or then weekly. The other thing they achieve is a complete state of digestive rest which allows the body to function more efficiently.
The Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
With intermittent fasting emerging as a new trend there are several studies that have been done on its efficacy both on human beings and even on animals. These studies have conclusively proven that it can have a definite impact positively on weight control and the health of your body and brain. Some in fact believe that practicing it religiously may even help you live longer.
These below are the primary health benefits from fasting intermittently:
1) Insulin resistance
Intermittent fasting has shown to reduce insulin resistance and also lower blood sugar by 3–6% and fasting insulin levels by 20–31%. This approximation is known to protect the body against type 2 diabetes and in some cases reverse the early onset of diabetes related symptoms
2) Reduced Inflammation
Some studies show reductions in markers of inflammation and oxidative stress. As we all know, inflammation is a key cause of many chronic diseases.
3) Weight and Fat loss
Intermittent fasting does infact help weight loss including a reduction in belly fat due to calorie restriction and digestive rest. However, this does not mean that what you eat is not as important as when you eat. A diet rich in high calorie and junk foods eaten during the eating window may lead to unwanted weight gain as well.
4) Protects Heart health
Intermittent fasting has shown to reduce bad LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers, blood sugar, and insulin levels. All of the above are known to be key causes that heighten the risk of heart disease.
5) Improves Brain health
Intermittent fasting increases the brain hormone BDNF and also aids the growth of new nerve cells. This could mean added protection for the body against Alzheimer’s disease.
Intermittent fasting is a food pattern which when taken up with commitment and dedication can help lose excess weight, get stronger, and remain healthier.
While these benefits are documented across many publications and medical journals, we recommend that the best and safest way to start intermittent fasting is under medical supervision especially if you suffer from underlying comorbidities.