Intermittent fasting [7] is a practice as old as time. From religious monks to today’s celebrities, fasting has captivated attention all around. For some, it sounds too drastic and dangerous. But the truth behind intermittent fasting makes it worth incorporating into your nutrition plan for a wealth of health benefits.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting involves choosing from several methods that determine when you can eat. For instance, the most popular method is the 16:8 (or Leangains) method. If you choose this method, you have 8 hours per day to eat. For the other 16 hours, you remain in a fasting state.

The schedule is adjustable to any time of day that works for you. Many people choose hours in which they might eat socially, such as noon to 8 PM. Other schedules involve alternating fasting for a full day followed by a day of normal eating.

Intermittent fasting is increasing in popularity because of how flexible it is. You don’t have to eat certain foods or follow outrageous restrictions. Fasting is also connected to multiple health and fitness benefits.

This method isn’t as hard to follow as it may sound. Most people simply end up skipping breakfast or cutting out their late-night snacks.

How Does Intermittent Fasting Work? 

About 12 hours after your last meal, your body enters the fasting state. Your insulin levels start to tank and you have no leftover fuel from your meal. To compensate, your body begins burning the excess glucose stored in fat cells to keep you going.

Some experts also suggest that this process forces your body to boost the immune response. For someone new to fasting, it can be stressful to your body. The immune system responds by trying to maintain balance and fight the stress.

For those trying to lose weight, intermittent fasting may also lead to reduced calorie intake [6]. Rather than intense calorie restrictions, you may naturally eat less on a fasting schedule.

Health, Fitness, and Wellness

Both ancient and modern evidence suggests that fasting has several wellness benefits. From cell health to weight loss, fasting seems to have a positive impact on every part of the body.

Many people find that intermittent fasting enhances their weight loss efforts. It targets stubborn fat cells and it can cause a natural decrease in calories. This can help push people past a weight loss plateau and maintain progress. Since fat is the primary target, it is easier to maintain lean muscle mass while losing weight.

Intermittent fasting can reduce blood sugar, A1C levels [3],  inflammation [1], triglycerides, and cholesterol levels [4]. This combination offers a powerful boost to heart health and reduces your risk of heart disease.

Fasting also kicks your body’s cell waste-removal process into gear [2]. Dead cells and waste are quickly eliminated, then replaced with healthy new cells. Improving this process can have anti-aging benefits, and may assist with cancer prevention [5]. It also promotes our antioxidant defenses against free radicals, which declines as we age.

Risks and Safety

Always consult a doctor before beginning any method of fasting. If you have medical conditions or take medications, fasting could be risky. Your doctor can tell you if fasting should be avoided. They may also have suggestions for how to fast safely.

 Fasting isn’t suitable for everyone. If you are underweight or have a history of anemia, fasting isn’t a safe option. This also applies to anyone with a history of eating disorders, as fasting can lead back to unhealthy eating habits.

If you are pregnant, trying to conceive, or breastfeeding, check with your doctor before fasting. Pregnancy and breastfeeding demand plentiful calorie intake.

If you are diabetic or have a history of low blood sugar, be careful with fasting. Fasting can cause dangerously low blood sugar in anyone prone to hypoglycemia.

Listen to your body. If you experience new or uncomfortable symptoms, your body is telling you that something is wrong. Keep in mind that you will likely experience hunger pangs, fatigue, and mental fog for the first month. If symptoms persist after giving yourself a month to adjust, stop fasting until you talk to your doctor.

References 

[1] Al-Kurd, R., Bustanji, Y., Fararjeh, M., Faris, M., Kacimi, S., Mohammad, M., & Salem, M. (2012). Intermittent fasting during Ramadan attenuates proinflammatory cytokines and immune cells in healthy subjects. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 22 April 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23244540.

[2] Alirezaei, M., Flynn, C., Kemball, C., Kiosses, W., Whitton, J., & Wood, M. (2010). Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 22 April 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3106288/.

[3] Barnosky, A., Hoddy, K., Unterman, T., & Varady, K. (2014). Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. ScienceDirect. Retrieved 22 April 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S193152441400200X.

[4] Bhutani, S., Church, E., Klempel, M., & Varady, K. (2009). Short-term modified alternate-day fasting: a novel dietary strategy for weight loss and cardioprotection in obese adults. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 22 April 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19793855.

[5] Descamps, O., Ducros, V., Riondel, J., & Roussel, A. (2005). Mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen species and incidence of age-associated lymphoma in OF1 mice: effect of alternate-day fasting. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 22 April 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16126250.

[6] Martinez, K. (2019). Macro Calculations: Easy Way to Lose Weight – Supps Advisor. Supps Advisor. Retrieved 28 April 2020, from https://suppsadvisor.com/calories/.

[7] Martinez, K. (2020). Intermittent Fasting: How to start and what are the benefits?. Supps Advisor. Retrieved 28 April 2020, from https://suppsadvisor.com/intermittent-fasting/.