The obesity problem has “infected” a staggering number of individuals in recent years and has led many of them in search of a way that will help them lose weight. But, not everyone can stick to a diet. This is where intermittent fasting enters the picture- a revolutionary practice that helps in reducing the body’s fat and the creation of lean and strong muscles. Intermittent fasting can be used by anyone. Of course, as with the start of any new way of eating, you need to consult with a doctor or healthcare professional before starting if you have any serious health problems. This is a way of eating that will change your life habits and help you stay healthy, slim, and beautiful.
Trends come and go in every aspect of life. Currently, the latest buzzword circulating in the health and fitness community is intermittent fasting. Fasting is not altogether a new concept. However, intermittent fasting approaches this practice from a slightly different angle. It’s got many wondering what’s the big deal about this new ideology. Is it just another trendy word for a fad diet, or is it something that truly brings some promising health benefits?
Scientific evidence proves that intermittent fasting offers multiple health benefits. Let’s dig deeper and uncover all it has to offer.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
People have been fasting for thousands of years, either due to health, ceremonial, religious, or ethical purposes. For instance, in prehistoric times, food supplies were scarce. Hunting and gathering was an everyday affair, often resulting in periodic intermittent fasting. But the practice of abstaining from food or drink has religious and spiritual connections as well. Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Buddhists all fast at some time during the year.
But intermittent fasting (IF) is slightly different. The concept focuses on repetitive cycles of fasting and eating (1). Individuals can only eat food during specific times, followed by fasting for a set number of hours. Unlike other diets, the criteria of intermittent fasting are ‘when’ a person eats, not ‘what’ they eat (2).
Types of Intermittent Fasting
Following are the different intermittent fasting methods used around the world:
1. The 16/8 Method
The 16/8 plan is the most popular of them all and is followed by the majority of people interested in fasting. This is a relatively simple option that also makes it easier to track your own progress. You would basically have between 14 and 16 hours per day where you fast, and then between eight and ten hours where you eat. The period of time during which you are allowed to eat is often referred to as the eating window.
All meals that will be consumed on a single day should then be included within this eating window. Most commonly, a person would have an eating window of eight hours and a fasting window of 16 hours. Multiple meals can be consumed within these eight (or ten) hours. This may include two or three meals. Once the eight hours have passed, however, you would go back into a fasting window and not be allowed to eat anything for the next 16 hours.
This is the simplest option to adapt for newcomers. To get started, most people would just skip eating breakfast in the morning and have their first meal later in the day. After dinner, they would then stop eating. Meals can be divided into an eight-hour window, for example, you could have your first meal of the day at 1 PM, the second meal at 5 PM and the third meal at 8 PM. After the final meal, which you eat at 8 PM, you would then fast until 1 PM the next day.
2. The 5:2 Diet
Individuals who would like to adopt the 5/2 plan, often referred to as the “Fast Diet,” would need to dedicate two days each week during which they will significantly restrict their caloric intake for the entire day. It is usually recommended to choose two days that do not fall right after each other. For example, you may choose to Fast on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or perhaps Fridays instead of Thursdays if you wish to get a good start to your weekend.
During the five days that count as the eating window, you can eat like you normally do and you do not have to place restrictions on your caloric intake (Although, a healthy diet would be good for you). On the two days that have been dedicated to fasting, you would restrict your intake of calories to either 500 or 600 for the entire day (3). Women should restrict their caloric intake to 500 calories, while men are allowed to go up to 600 calories. Most people decide to include two meals these days that do not contain a lot of calories. For example, women may consume two meals that have 250 calories each. Men can follow a similar plan, but with each meal containing 300 calories instead of 250.
3. Eat Stop Eat
This method has become very popular recently but is often not recommended for individuals who are very new to intermittent fasting. It can be difficult to adopt the Eat-Stop-Eat method, which is why it is usually advised to start out with the 16/8 plan and then to gradually move up until you can reach the fast window for this option. This option does not, however, include a fasting period every day.
You need to choose one or two days every week, which will be your fast days. During these days, you will abstain from eating any solid foods for a period of 24 hours in total. It is usually advised to pick a meal of the day such as dinner. Once you eat dinner, you fast for 24 hours until you have dinner again the next day. This should ideally be done two times every week, but some people prefer only to do it once every week. It is definitely a tough option, so it is usually not recommended for individuals who are still new.
What Does One Eat When Fasting Intermittently?
While fasting, it’s important to drink plenty of water (4). However, zero-calorie beverages are also acceptable, such as black coffee, black tea, and green tea (5) Some even encourage the intake of nutritious fluids like vegetable and chicken soup.
What Are the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
Life is not what it used to be 50 years ago. Technological advancements have drastically improved the quality of life. But it simultaneously made human beings more sedentary. What’s more, people have become habitual nibblers, grazing for nearly 16 hours throughout the day. Even if it’s on healthy foods, results show a gradual gain in weight over time.
Intermittent fasting can provide those much-needed breaks between meals. But can it actually do any good for one’s health? According to research, the following is a list of some of the health benefits (6, 7, 8, 9, 10):
- Helps in reducing weight and belly fat
- Increases physical endurance
- Improves metabolism
- Helps lower cholesterol
- Reduces liver fat
- Improves blood glucose control
- Boosts memory
- Betters motor coordination
- Enhances longevity
- Induces cellular repair processes
- Improves the sleep cycle by promoting deep sleep
- Influences overall heart health by improving blood pressure and resting heart rates
- Reduces the chance of developing diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease
Why Do People Consider Fasting Intermittently?
Most people who consider intermittent fasting want to lose weight. Research has proven that it’s a powerful tool for weight loss (11, 12, 13).
A person who fasts intermittently is eating fewer meals. And as they cut out in-between and before-bed snacks from the equation, calorie intake drops.
When the body goes without food for prolonged periods, the internal processes change as well. For instance, insulin and blood sugar levels drop while the human growth hormone increases. This is the body’s natural defense mechanism to protect itself until it receives the next meal.
Moreover, when a person stops eating for an extended period of time, the body begins to burn fat after about 12 hours. The amount soars between 16 and 24 hours. Additionally, fasting helps increase the metabolic rate by 3.6 – 14% (14, 15).
With such results, IF is getting raving reviews. In fact, after exercise, it’s considered to be one of the best ways to improve overall health. However, to acquire the full range of benefits, one should monitor the overall calorie consumption at all times. It goes without saying that health benefits won’t surface if calorie consumption during the eating periods skyrocket. Binge eating or consuming high-calorie foods during the eating period will not help generate the desired results.
Getting Started With Intermittent Fasting: Taking Things Step-By-Step
Most people who are used to their daily routine of having three meals and never skipping out will find it intimidating to get started with implementing intermittent fasting into their lives. This especially goes for those individuals who eat multiple times a day and who have a particularly hard time controlling their cravings. With intermittent fasting, it is vital that you stick to your schedule for maximum benefits. That said, there is no need to act like you are in a military camp.
With some simple steps, you can make the entire process of adopting intermittent fasting a fun journey for yourself; an experimental procedure that will take some time to perfect, but once you get there, you will be able to master this technique and gain many health benefits. Keep this in mind when you feel like quitting. You will only be able to reach that goal if you keep yourself motivated at all times.
Before you jump into intermittent fasting, you might want to take some things into consideration first. In particular, if you have been diagnosed with any type of chronic disease and if you are taking medications, then you should first talk with your physician to determine if this is a safe option for you.
Furthermore, don’t overcomplicate things. Start small. Break the process up into small steps. Reach for smaller goals and ultimately aim for that big goal of fully implementing fasting techniques into your life. If you cave or something goes wrong, do not let it get you down. Instead, just keep on going.
Here is a step-by-step guide to help you out.
- The first step is to determine what type of technique you want to adopt. The 16/8 is highly recommended for beginners. What you may not know is that you are already halfway there. You are fasting while you are sleeping. We bet you haven’t thought of this before. Now, to get to the 16/8, you will simply have to start skipping breakfast, for example.
- Decide on the time slots. Dedicate eating windows and fasting windows. If you follow the 16/8 plan, for example, you can decide to have your first meal of the day at lunchtime, instead of early in the morning, and finish off at 8 PM, for example. Give yourself a good 16 hours without food. This would include your seven to nine hours of sleep, which you should be getting to keep your body healthy.
- Start small and simple. Try this for one day and see if you can make it. If you feel like you run out of energy too quickly, then stretch your eating window a little and make your fasting window narrower. As the days go by, start to shorten your eating window and make your fasting window longer; that is until you can go without food for 16 hours at a time. If you make a mistake by giving in to the temptation of having a snack when the hunger becomes extreme, don’t beat yourself up over it. Simply start over.
In addition to deciding on the perfect option for you, it is also a good idea to consider why you want to include intermittent fasting in your life. When you are doing this for a specific purpose, then you will have something to keep you motivated. Perhaps you want to lose weight. This is a great reason to fast. Remember we looked at scientific evidence before that supported the weight-loss advantages of intermittent fasting.
If you simply want to help prolong your lifespan and reduce your risk of certain diseases, then these are also important reasons. Write them down if you have to, on your schedule. This will keep you motivated to ensure you can reach your goal.
Apps And Tools That Will Make Your Journey Easier
Things can become confusing, especially at first, when you start with intermittent fasting. This is why using some essential tools to help you keep track of everything would be a good idea. You can always go old school and decide to plot down your schedule on a piece of paper. Perhaps buy a new notebook that is dedicated to this journey you are about to go on. Write down your schedule and mark down your progress. This will also help you go back and track your performance, as well as see where you have slipped up, giving you the ability to identify opportunities for improvement in the future.
If you rather prefer to keep things digital, then try out a couple of intermittent fasting apps. You would be surprised at how many there are. Take a look at some; they are available on both Google Play Store and Apple Store. Consider the user reviews. Then decide on an app that you like and try to use it every day to help you keep track of your journey.
LIFE is currently one of the top-rated apps used for this purpose. It gives you the ability to record data for any type of intermittent fasting method that you would like to follow. You can easily adjust your schedule, and the app will even tell you when your body is expected to be in the ketosis phase. To keep you inspired and motivated, the app also allows you to join groups of other people who are on the same journey as you are.
Lately, intermittent fasting has gained a great deal of traction in the health and fitness community. As a person cycles between periods of fasting and eating, they can experience several health benefits.
But this popular trend is more than just a way to improve overall health and lose weight. It comes with powerful psychological wins as well. Common ones include learning to exert self-control, adapting disciplining routines, and simplifying lifestyles.
Having said this, intermittent fasting isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all solution. It would be wiser for individuals with underlying health issues to consult a professional before going this route.