Let’s face it: nobody likes the idea of dieting. So, most people prefer spending big bucks on expensive, useless products and supplements to abstaining from their favorite foods. This is where intermittent fasting (IF) comes in as an attractive alternative.
The basic purpose of IF is to accelerate weight loss by cutting down on overall calorie intake. There is a variety of intermittent fasting regimens, but typically you try to undergo a period of severe calorie restriction – between 0 to 25% of normal daily intake – for a period of 14-24 hours. Then, you return to normal calorie intake for 8-24 hours. Since it’s a sensitive debate, you’ll find a lot more references in this article.
Intermittent fasting – definition
Intermittent fasting is an umbrella term coined for certain diet regimens that cycle between periods of “fasting” and “feasting”. It can also be used along with other diet plans for faster weight loss.
Does intermittent fasting work at all?
Several fitness gurus and coaches claim to have achieved amazing results with IF. However, every human being is different and IF can yield different results for different people, I personally think a lot more research needs to be done in this area. Women and men usually have different experiences. To find out if intermittent fasting will work for you or not, you can try it for a short period of time, while closely monitoring your body and your progress. However, if you’re diabetic, have blood sugar regulation issues, suffer from hypoglycemia or have any other chronic disorder, make sure you consult your doctor or dietitian before embarking on an IF journey.
The best thing about IF is that it needs minimal behavioral changes and can considerably lower your calorie intake, which can help with your weight loss venture.
How intermittent fasting works
To understand how IF works, we need to look closely at the two states that we called, in a fancy way, “fasting” and “feasting”.
Let’s suppose, you’re in feasting cycle, eating whatever you normally eat. This state starts from the time you eat and can last for up to five hours. Your body will have high insulin levels, and will digest and absorb the food to get the required energy. High insulin levels and ample food to extract energy from mean that there will be little to no fat burning going on.
As your body transitions from the feasting state into fasting state, insulin levels come down gradually and fat now starts to burn, so that your body keeps getting a constant supply of energy for its routine functions. Since you’re eating intermittently, the adaptive thermogenesis, commonly known as the “starvation mode”, will also not kick in. The result is usually a gradual but constant fat loss.
Debunking the 6-meals-a-day myth
No matter you want to lose weight or gain mass, there are people that will tell you that you should eat six smaller meals instead of three large meals. The idea behind this routine is to spread your calorie consumption over the day to stimulate your metabolism and ensure it keeps going at a faster rate, and your body gets very little fat to store. That’s pretty much the opposite of intermittent fasting.
Several studies have shown that eating six small meals or three large meals has pretty much the same effect, nullifying the claim of most so-called gurus who preach spreading your calories throughout the day, in small quantities. One particular study published in 2009 in The British Journal of Nutrition, which was also highlighted by New York Times, pretty much busted the six-meal myth.
The study was carried on two groups of overweight men and women, who were observed while living on a low-calorie diet for eight weeks. Every subject was given the same number of calories to consume, however, one group was given three meals while the other was give six meals a day. What came as a surprise to many, both groups lost considerable and equivalent amount of weight. Also, there was no difference between the two groups in terms of appetite control hormonal activity.
Scientifically proven benefits of Intermittent Fasting
While losing fat and getting into shape alone is a good enough reason to try IF, it’s not the only reason:
Simple Life: IF allows you not to worry about cooking as much as you’d normally do, because you’ll be staying hungry for most part of the day or the whole day depending on your style of fasting, plus you’ll be skipping at least one meal a day.
Prolonged lifespan: Scientists have been preaching since long that restricting your calorie intake can help you live longer. In fact, a study published in 1945 on mice found that IF led to longer lifespans. A more recent study also backs up this claim, “restricting caloric intake to 60–70% of normal adult weight maintenance requirement prolongs lifespan 30–50%.”
Cancer prevention and cure: This is still up for debate as a lot of research needs to be done to establish a correlation between fasting and cancer prevention, several studies show that the link might exist. A study on 10 cancer patients revealed that fasting before the treatment greatly reduced the side effects of chemo. Another study found that alternate day fasting right before chemo resulted in better and faster cure, and fewer deaths. On top of that, we’ve enough evidence from studies conducted on animals that intermittent fasting can also help prevent cancer.
Improved overall health: As mentioned earlier, your insulin levels lower when you’re fasting, which reduces chances of Type 2 Diabetes. But, researches also show that during the fast, your growth hormone goes up, your cells start to repair themselves and beneficial changes occur in your genes and molecules that can help your body fight against several diseases. What’s more studies show that intermittent fasting is good for your brain as well as your heart because certain risk factors including blood pressure, cholesterol, blood triglycerides, and blood sugar levels are improved when you stay hungry.
Reduced stress and inflammation: Oxidative stress is considered to be the major culprit for aging as well as many chronic diseases. Scientific studies show that IF can help your body combat oxidative stress and inflammation.
Drawbacks of intermittent fasting
There are certain drawbacks of IF that you should be aware of, though nothing too serious or life-threatening.
Eating disorders: Probably the biggest issue that IF can trigger is bulimia and other eating disorders, especially if you have psychological or emotional eating issues.
Food obsession: Unlike our ancestors, we don’t encounter hunger, and thus our bodies don’t know how to deal with it. This can cause you to keep planning your next meal, and the only thing you might be thinking about could be food. So, it’s best to keep yourself occupied instead of sitting idle and brooding about hunger.
Added caffeine consumption: Most fasting routines allow you to drink tea or coffee. This is where you can fall a prey to caffeine addiction, as it makes you feel satiated, and you might end up gravitating to Starbucks more often to get your fix. Consuming too much caffeine can actually be counterproductive. Ideally, you should replace it with fresh juices and water.
Meal plans of intermittent fasting
There is a wide range of IF protocols, let’s take a quick look at some of them so you can choose the one that best suits your lifestyle.
Daily intermittent fasting: You fast during some part of the day and eat during the rest, every single day. Usually people fast for 16 hours, beginning right before going to bed, and eat normally for the next eight hours. Another rather uncommon approach allows people to eat during the night and fast during the day – starting early morning to evening.
Alternate day intermittent fasting: Simply put, you have to follow a 24-hour rotation of reduced calorie intake and normal calorie intake. For example, you eat dinner on Monday evening and not eat again until Tuesday evening, and then eat normally for the next 24 hours. Then, you can just repeat this for the rest of the week. This allows you to fast for long periods consistently, and eat at least one meal every day.
Weekly Intermittent Fasting: Just as the name suggests, fast every day for one week (which can be daily IF) and then eat normally during the next week. This is an ideal approach for beginners who don’t have too much control over their eating habits. Another good thing about weekly IF is that you can try out many of its variations e.g. a combination of alternate day IF and weekly IF.
Quick tips for successful intermittent fasting
So, you’ve decided to give IF a try, but it can be nerve-wracking for beginners. Here are a few tips to make sure you don’t lose your way.
- Relax. Don’t freak out. Your body will, slowly but surely, adapt to your fasting routine.
- Keep yourself busy, or you’ll start worrying about how hungry you’re.
- Be ready for sarcastic, mean comments. People will say all sorts of things when you tell them you’re fasting, just take every comment with a pinch of salt.
- Fresh juices, zero calorie beverages, coffee and tea are okay even during your fast period.
- Don’t expect miracles. Intermittent fasting will help you lose weight, but not overnight. Depending on your body and your goals, you’ll have to adjust your diet as well as exercise.
- Donate to end world hunger! Well, this might come as a surprise because it’s not related to our topic, but staying hungry should remind you of many unfortunate souls (including kids) who have to go to bed with an empty stomach.