We have all heard about the latest diet trends- the no fat, vegetable soup, gluten free meals, all fat, and more such eating plans that have supposedly proven to help you meet your health and fitness goals.
But what if we tell you that the real answer to losing weight, building muscle, and improving your overall health is not really dieting, but instead simply skipping meals at irregular intervals?
Yes, we call it Intermittent Fasting (IF). Although, this method of eating has been around for long, it has started to gain some traction in health and weight loss circles recently.
So, what exactly is this fasting method? Let’s find out.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is actually an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of fasting and eating. It’s not about which foods you should eat, but when you should eat them.
That’s why in the conventional sense it’s not termed as a “diet,” but rather termed as an “eating pattern.” Usually it involves fasting for 16, 18, 24, or even 36 hours with few to no calories. If you carefully think about it, we all “fast” daily- we just call it sleeping.
I.F. simply means extending that fasting period, and being a little more conscious of your eating schedule. Here are the popular ways to do intermittent fasting.
How to get started
There are a few different ways to take the advantage of intermittent fasting. Here is the rundown of the most popular ones:
The 16/8 Method
This one requires you to fast every day for approximately 16 hours, and restricting your “eating window” to 8 hours. Within this period you can fit 2-3 meals or more. This method, popularly known as the Leangains protocol was popularized by fitness expert Martin Berkhan.
In simpler terms, it requires not eating anything after dinner, and skipping breakfast. For instance, if you take your last meal at 8 pm and then don’t eat until 12 noon the next day, you are technically fasting for 16 hours between the meals.
However, it’s important to note that you must eat mostly healthy foods during the eating window. This method won’t work if you consume a lot of junk food or the ones that are high on calorie.
The 5:2 Diet
British journalist and doctor Michael Mosley popularized this method. Also known as the Fast diet, it involves eating normal meals for 5 days of the week, while limiting calories to 500-600 on the other two days of the week.
For example, you eat normally on all days expect Tuesdays and Fridays, where you take two small meals each of 250-300 calories.
Popularized by the fitness expert Brad Pilon, this method involves a 24-hour fast, once or twice a week. By fasting from breakfast to breakfast, lunch to lunch, or dinner to dinner amounts to a 24-hour fast. Generally, coffee, water, and other non-caloric beverages are permitted during the fast, but no solid meals.
The only problem with this method is that it can be fairly difficult for many people. So, we recommend, starting with 16 hours and gradually moving upwards.
Alternate Day Fasting
Just as the name suggests it means fasting every other day. Depending upon your body, you can either opt for not eating anything or only eating a few hundred calories.
The Warrior Diet
Popularized by the fitness expert Ori Hofmekler, it involves underfeeding during the day, and then eating one huge meal at night.
Basically, you fast the entire day and feast at night within a 4 hour eating window. During the day, eat small amounts of raw vegetables and fruits, and have a large, dense, cooked meal at night.
Overall, the idea is that by consuming fewer calories, all of the above methods should help you lose weight as long as you don’t end up eating a lot during the eating windows.
But is losing weight the only benefit of intermittent fasting? Let’s take a look.
The Many Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Let’s start with the obvious, IF can help you lose weight and belly fat. Basically, eating throughout the day makes it much harder for the body to burn fat. So, when you extend the time between eating, you body is forced to the tap into the fat reserves. And what does that mean? It’s time to shop for smaller clothes!
Intermittent fasting has shown positive effect on insulin sensitivity. It helps you tolerate carbohydrates (sugar) better than if you don’t fast. This should help you protect against type 2 diabetes.
It helps to improve brain function by boosting the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This protein also protects your brain cells from changes that occur due to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
This fasting method gives your digestive system a rest which in turn energizes the metabolism to burn through calories more effectively. It regulates the digestion and promotes healthy bowel function, thus improving the metabolic function.
Believe us or not, studies show that the lesser you eat the longer you live. The theory is simple; one of the primary reasons of ageing is slower metabolism. The younger you are the faster and more efficient your metabolism is. So, the lesser you eat, the lesser stress is puts on your digestive system.
Apart from the above benefits, one reason that we love intermittent fasting is that it simplifies your daily life.
As there are fewer meals that you need to prepare, cook, and clean up after, it makes your lifestyle much simpler. Ok, so enough about the positives are there any negative side effects of IF?
The only main side effect of intermittent fasting is hunger which leads to lower energy levels and focus issues. However, this is all temporary as it takes some time for the body to adapt to the new eating pattern.
Once you get through the transition, it will learn to function well only eating few times a day. So, does that mean IF is good for everyone?
Well, the short answer is no. There is some evidence that intermittent fasting affect men and women differently. Although there are no human studies on this dieting pattern, studies on rats have proved that
IF can make female rats infertile, masculinized, emaciated, and can cause them to miss menstrual cycles. In fact, there are certain reports from women who missed their periods when they started with IF, and went back to regular when they stopped doing it.
For such reasons, women should definitely be very careful with intermittent fasting. You must take it easy and if you face problems like missing periods then stop doing it immediately.
Moreover, if you have fertility issues or a medical condition, then consult your doctor before taking the plunge.
And of course, doing it when breastfeeding or pregnant is certainly a bad idea.
Quick About Intermittent Fasting
Drink plenty of water
An empty stomach will make you feel hungry, so fill it water, or even black coffee or tea. Staying well hydrated will help to make fasting periods much easier to get through.
Take it easy
If you decide you would like to try IF, there is no rush. Pick one thing to try first, even if it’s simply adjusting regular mealtimes by an hour. If you choose to try out a method, begin by fasting through the night, so that you are sleeping during at least 8 hours of that period. Remember; don’t freak out- keep things simple!
One of the main reasons it’s easy to fast overnight is because you are sleeping. If you are sitting on the couch thinking how hungry you are, you will be more likely to struggle. So, if you are awake make sure to keep yourself as busy as you can. This will ensure maximum efficiency and minimal discomfort.
Food choice matter
We can’t stress enough on this one, but trust us, what you eat is as important as what you don’t. Intermittent fasting is a great way to improve your overall health, but none of it will matter if you do not eat properly during the eating window. We recommend a low-carbohydrate diet that is rich in protein. As a thumb rule, eat quality food, in the right amounts, at the right times.
Hit the gym
Pairing IF with regular exercise will help you achieve better results. It does not have to be high intensity or crazy, instead something as simple as a full body strength training workout two to three times per week is good enough.
Pay attention to your body cues
Everybody reacts to intermittent fasting differently. So, listen to your body carefully and see how making adjustments changes your body. This includes drastic changes in appetite, sleep quality, energy levels, immunity, hormonal health, and your overall appearance.
Remember that intermittent fasting is not a miracle. It is a great way to lose weight, increase insulin resistance, and growth hormone secretion, but it is only one of the various factors that will determine your overall health and body composition. Don’t expect it to drop the body fat to the minimum just by skipping breakfast. You need to pay attention on eating better foods, building healthy habits, and getting stronger. It is just one of the lifestyle strategies that can better your health. Exercising regularly, eating real food, and taking good care of your sleep are still the most important aspects to focus on.
As we have previously mentioned, that intermittent fasting is not for everyone, the only way to find out is to be open-minded and give it a shot.
Ok, enough from our side, it’s your turn now. Have you ever tried this eating pattern? Or would you be giving it a try? Leave us a comment, we promise to keep the conversation going!