We can often hear advice by nutritionists like “eat frequent but small meals”, “don’t starve” or “don’t skip breakfast“, but it turns out that fasting offers a number of health benefits. It not only reduces risk of cancer and improves cardiovascular health, but it also promotes longevity and gene repair. It is quite true that when a person is in “feast mode,” the body forgoes much of the natural rejuvenation and repair programming. It is also true that most of the disease processes that are initiated in the body are a result of eating too frequently.
When the body is subjected to severe calorie restriction, a person is able to achieve weight loss, but for most people a starvation diet is not an appealing approach for weight loss. But, a number of studies have suggested that a method called “intermittent fasting” can offer the same benefits without causing any health problems. In the olden days, our ancestors did not have access to food all the time. There were no grocery stores and they would eat only at particular times. According to research, this kind of eating habit offers biochemical benefits to the body.
So, is intermittent fasting for you? Does intermittent fasting really work? What kind of health benefits are there when you use this approach? Let’s a take a look at what intermittent fasting really is and whether it offers real benefits.
An introduction to intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting is a dieting pattern and not a diet. In simple terms, it is a decision to skip certain meals of the day for example breakfast or lunch. It is a method of fasting and then feasting, but it is also essential to make the right choice of foods. When a person takes up intermittent fasting, he/she eats during a specific time period and chooses to fast during the rest of the time. Intermittent fasting can be done in few different ways. Firstly, you can eat during a certain time period which can be a 4 hour, 6 hour or an 8 hour window. For example, an 8 hour window can include eating between 12pm to 8pm. This means that you will be skipping breakfast.
Another way is to skip two meals in one day. The best approach is to eat dinner at 8 or 9 pm and not eat until 8 or 9 the other day. When you skip meals, you naturally consume fewer calories which is important for losing weight. But, all calories are not created equal and the time at which you choose to eat can also have an impact on how your body reacts.
So how does intermittent fasting work?
In order to understand how intermittent fasting works, it is essential to understand how the body reacts during the fed state and during the stage in which your body is in fasting mode. After you have eaten, your body digests and absorbs food. This usually takes between 3 to 5 hours. At this stage, the insulin levels in the body are high and it is quite hard to burn fat. However, after this timespan, the body goes into a post-absorptive state which means there is nothing left in the body to process. This state lasts 8-12 hours and this is also when the insulin levels are low making it easier for the body to burn fat. Not eating during this period puts your body in a fasted state so your body can burn excess fat that it couldn’t during the fed state. This makes losing fat easier.
A look at the benefits
Burning fat and losing weight is great, but this is not the only reason for trying intermittent fasting. There are many more benefits you can achieve through intermittent fasting and these include the following:
• Reduce insulin levels and blood glucose levels
• Maintain healthy and strong metabolism that can promote weight loss and a healthy lifestyle
• Preserve muscle tissue that promotes lean mass
• Increase oxidation of fatty acid through increase in lipolysis, glucagon, adrenaline and other hormones.
• Increase a number of health factors such as reduction in blood pressure, reduced inflammation, reduced oxidative stress and so on
• Reduce risk of cancer
• Promotes longevity
Methods of intermittent fasting
If you are considering giving this a shot, then there are a number of methods you can choose from.
Daily intermittent fasting – this model uses an 8 hour eating period followed by a 16 hour fast period. You are free to choose your timings as when you start don’t really matter as long as you maintain a fast period of 16 hours following an 8 hour of feasting period. This method is easier to work into your lifestyle because since it is done everyday, it becomes a habit to follow the routine.
Weekly intermittent fasting – you can also choose to do a 24 hour fast once or twice per week. Occasional fasting offers numerous health benefits whether or not you are able to cut out on your caloric intake.
Alternate day intermittent fasting – if it is not possible for you to carry out daily intermittent fasting, you can still reap the benefits by doing it on alternate days. Alternate day intermittent fasting involves longer fasting periods. For example, if you eat your dinner on Monday night at about 8pm, you will eat your next meal on Tuesday night at about the same time. On Wednesday, you can feast all day and at 8pm start the fast again.
So is intermittent fasting for you?
Science suggests that intermittent fasting offers numerous health benefits. Consuming three meals a day can lead to a range of modern day diseases as well as obesity and intermittent fasting can help fight these problems. Whether you are looking to lose weight or not, intermittent fasting offers much more than just weight loss. It helps the body repair and rejuvenates which promotes overall health. Making new choices and making adjustments based on the results is one of the best ways to make changes to your life and health. So why not run your own experiments with the different methods that are available and find out which one works for you better. With all the health benefits that it offers, intermittent fasting is worth giving a try.