What it is and why you should do it
Intermittent fasting is a way people schedule meal times. Kris Gunnars, BSc, describes it as an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. People do it for numerous reasons. People might participate in intermittent fasting to lose weight, eat better, or improve their health and overall quality of life.
Gunnars says fasting affects your body’s hormone levels, insulin levels, cellular repair processes, and gene expression. Some of intermittent fasting’s benefits include:
- Weight loss
- Improved metabolic health
- Reduced insulin resistance
- Less risk of inflammation
- Reduced cholesterol and blood sugar
- May prevent cancer
- Improved brain health
- May extend lifespan
- Can counteract disease processes
All these things can lead to improvements in other health aspects as well. For example, a reduction in cholesterol and blood sugar can cause overall better heart health.
We can lose weight through intermittent fasting because, when you don’t eat, insulin levels can go down and fat cells can release stored sugar to be used as energy.
In addition, intermittent fasting can be more convenient than other eating methods or diets. According to Dr. Jason Fung, MD, it can save you time and money. Fasting doesn’t cost anything. It may even have you buying less at the grocery store and you might also spend less time preparing meals.
Fasting versus calorie counting
Intermittent fasting is different from calorie counting because it focuses on limiting the amount of time you spend eating. Calorie counting doesn’t restrict the times you can eat, just how many calories you eat.
People often change what they eat when calorie counting, opting for healthier foods that are less in calories so they can eat more of it. For instance, a carrot might have 41.35 calories while a hamburger might have around 250 calories. You’d be able to eat around six carrots before reaching 250 calories as opposed to one single-patty burger.
In one study, people who practiced intermittent fasting lost the same amount of weight as those who restricted caloric intake. However, the study did suggest that fasting may not be as effective for women. Therefore, it may not be best for everyone. The important thing is you find what works for you and your lifestyle after all.
Moreover, intermittent fasting is considered to be more successful than calorie counting by some because it allows for beneficial hormonal changes more than calorie reduction. Constant intake of food prevents these beneficial changes from occurring, according to Fung. Not to mention the failure rate of calorie deficit diets is a whopping 98 percent!
Calorie counting does hold many benefits, like prolonging the nervous systems’ life-span and type 2 diabetes prevention. It may also may be a better option for certain individuals, but isn’t as flexible as intermittent fasting.
Usually managing what you eat when participating in intermittent fasting isn’t required but there are different intermittent fasting methods and types where it could be beneficial.
Though it isn’t required, there are better ways to break a fast than others. Your first meal after a fasting period can either amplify or hinder your results, according to Stephanie Eckelkamp.
Megan Ramos, director at the Intensive Dietary Management Program, says it is not a good idea to “binge on highly-processed, sugary, or high-carb foods” when breaking your fast because it can undo the effects of the previous fasting period. She suggests breaking a fast with a wholesome, low-carb, high-fat meal.
She also says that ending longer fasts are a little different and should be given more thought than you might give breaking a shorter fast. Short-term fasts (fasts under 24 hours) don’t make the same kind of changes in digestive functions that long-term fasts (fasts longer than 36 hours) achieve.
With long-term fasts, there is more possibility to experience symptoms of gastrointestinal distress such as diarrhea, gas, and bloating. This can occur due to decreased production of digestive enzymes. Eating better food when you break a fast can reduce such symptoms. Try to avoid eating any potentially problematic foods like nuts, seeds, raw vegetables, eggs, dairy, and alcohol.
Ways to fast
Wikipedia claims there are three methods of intermittent fasting. These include alternate-day fasting, periodic fasting, and daily time-restricted feeding. I am currently participating in daily time-restricted feeding myself. There are various versions of each.
Some popular ways are 16:8, 20:4, 24-hour fasts, 5:2 fast, 36-hour fasts, and extended fasting.
The 16:8 regiment is a plan where you fast for 16 hours a day and eat during the remaining 8 hours. It is a type of time-restricted feeding. It is relatively easy to follow if you start abstaining in the evening before you sleep for the night. Possible times you could then eat could be between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. or noon to 8 p.m. It may take some experimenting to find out which time is the best fit for you.
The 5:2 method involves eating regularly for five days and fasting for two days. On the two fasting days, you are allowed to eat up to 500 calories though.
Alternate-day fasting is having fasting days with a calorie intake of 500 calories every other day.
Thirty-six-hour fasts are where you’d fast an entire day, starting after dinner of the previous day and ending the fast at breakfast the next.
There are also variations to these such as the OMAD diet, a 23-hour fast with an hour to eat one meal.
In general, it may be a good idea to try and eat a balanced diet that will keep you feeling fuller longer. Medical News Today advises eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains because they are rich in fiber, which contributes to satiety. Also, keep in mind that water and plain tea are usually allowed to consume during fasting periods, too.
Any diet can be hard but like any goal, there are things you can do to increase your chances of success. Be sure to set realistic goals. If you are a newcomer to intermittent fasting, don’t try a 20-hour fast to start — 12 hours would be more manageable.
Having a buddy can also help you achieve your fasting goals. Tell someone you are trying it out to stay accountable. And take it one step at a time. What are some smaller markers you can accomplish while practicing intermittent fasting? You could drink more water, go to sleep earlier, or avoid media and exposure to food.
All this can help your chances of success. Just remember to stay committed and remain consistent. Every worthwhile thing takes work to achieve so stick with it.
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Author: Erin Day
Erin Day is a professional writer who covers numerous health topics. She is a contributor to Medium, Hubpages, Natural Succulent, and more. You can view more of her work on erinday.net.