Intermittent fasting is more than just a way to lose weight. By reducing the time frame you eat in, you can slow aging, lower cardiovascular risk and improve sleep quality. Read on for more information.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting - periods of voluntary abstinence from eating and drinking - is a broad term that can be applied to many different practices. This type of diet has spurred many books and has received a lot of attention in recent years as studies (mostly in animals) have shown that it can reduce the risk of various diseases and also promote weight loss. Further additional research, including a small study of four people who fasted intermittently suggests that intermittent fasting may also help boost metabolism.
The most popular approach to intermittent fasting is the 16: 8 approach, which requires fasting for 16 hours a day; for example, you eat between 11:30 am and 7:30 pm. Another version, alternate-day fasting (ADF), alternates 24-hour fasting periods (which are actually very limited diets with only 500 calories) with days of free eating. The 5: 2 approach limits the fast to just two days a week, while the Warrior diet follows a 20-hour fast with one large meal consumed at night.
Intermittent fasting may be easier to sustain than traditional diets
Research suggests that counting calories and limiting your food options can cause stress and increase cortisol production, which in turn can lead to diet abandonment, feelings of deprivation, uncontrolled cravings and weight gain. Adjusting to intermittent fasting, a method of planned eating and fasting, is strictly time dependent. Some people want more flexibility when it comes to losing weight.
Intermittent fasting helps maintain weight over the long term
Following a periodic fasting diet can make it easier to maintain the lost weight over the long term. A two-part study of 40 obese adults, published in Frontiers in Physiology in 2016, compared the combined effects of a high-protein, low-calorie, intermittent fasting diet with a traditional heart-healthy diet. The results showed that, although both diets were found to be equally successful in lowering body mass index (BMI) and blood lipids (fatty acids and cholesterol), those on the intermittent-fasting diet showed an advantage in minimizing weight gain after a year.
Intermittent fasting can help people at risk for diabetes
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 84.1 million people in the United States have pre-diabetes, a condition that, if not treated, often leads to type 2 diabetes within five years. Losing weight, getting more exercise, and being healthy food can help fight type 2 diabetes.
When we eat, our body releases insulin into the bloodstream to provide the cells with energy, but those who are pre-diabetic are insulin resistant, meaning their blood sugar remains high. Intermittent fasting can help people with pre-diabetes, as it reduces the need for the body to produce insulin.
Research has shown promising results in supporting these claims: A study published in the journal Cell in 2017 found that a diet that mimics fasting cycles could restore insulin secretion and the production of new insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells in mice with could promote types 1 and 2 diabetes. While further research remains to be done, early studies on human cell samples suggest similar potential.
Intermittent fasting helps to synchronize your biorhythm and to fight against metabolic diseases
Your circadian rhythm, also called biorhythm or sleep-wake rhythm, is your internal clock and a natural system that regulates feelings of drowsiness and wakefulness over a 24-hour period. Research published in the Annual Review of Nutrition in 2017 suggests that intermittent fasting can help us maintain our body's circadian rhythm, and that can aid in our metabolism. Eating certain foods before bed has also been linked to weight gain and sleep disturbances, especially if they cause acid reflux.
We know that insulin sensitivity increases during the day and that we are less sensitive to insulin at night - the same goes for digestion. You wonder whether eating in the evening works against our biological clock. If you want to honor your biorhythm, you need to go to bed and sleep earlier so that the body can repair itself.
Intermittent fasting can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease
In the United States alone, about 610,000 people die from heart disease - that's one in four deaths, according to the CDC. You can reduce your risk of heart disease by following a healthy lifestyle: eating well, exercising, not smoking and limiting alcohol consumption. Research also shows that intermittent fasting can help.
In a small study of 32 adults, published in the Nutrition Journal in 2013, an every other day fasting regimen resulted in weight loss and cardiovascular benefits, including improved LDL cholesterol and triacylglycerol concentration.
The studies use the every other day fast, but keep in mind that fasting doesn't mean you don't eat, just eat less during the day. This type of diet represents a different way of doing things, and it may appeal to some as they can limit a few days of the week instead of every day.
Intermittent fasting can slow the aging process
Research shows that the benefits of intermittent fasting can mimic the effects of very low-calorie diets, which are good for fighting aging. A study published in the journal Cell Metabolism in 2014 found that fasting can slow aging and help prevent and treat disease. It revealed that fasting triggers adaptive cellular stress responses, resulting in a better ability to cope with more stress and fight disease.
Low-calorie diets increase mitochondrial stress, and the benefit is anti-aging. The better your mitochondria (the powerhouse of our cells) work, the better your body works.
Intermittent fasting works for different types of goals
Intermittent fasting may provide the greatest benefits for overweight people, but people who have plateaued with their weight-loss efforts may find that intermittent fasting can jump-start their metabolism and aid in their progress. It can also be beneficial for those with digestive problems. If you find that your digestion is sluggish in the evening or if you have digestive issues at night, eating earlier and fasting overnight can help.
Sometimes trying something different, like intermittent fasting, is enough for some people to get back on track with their weight loss goals.
Intermittent fasting is not for everyone
If you are an all round healthy person, there is no risk of trying intermittent fasting. But anyone with an eating disorder, a history of eating disorders, or body dysmorphism should not attempt to fast this form of diet intermittently. People with type 1 diabetes, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and those taking prescription medications that must be taken with food at a specific time are also not eligible for intermittent fasting. One of the biggest drawbacks of intermittent fasting is that it can be difficult on your social life, especially if you enjoy eating out (and having a drink).
Intermittent fasting can affect your exercise regimen
It is not always safe to exercise heavily on fasting days. If you eat only 25 percent of your daily calories and still exercise, you may experience problems on those days. Your body needs energy from glycogen stores to exercise, and when these levels are low you feel weak. Even if you have low glycogen levels, your body will break down proteins (the building blocks of muscle) for fuel, resulting in muscle loss.
While it is not that difficult to exercise on the day of your fast, it is difficult the day after you fast because your energy stores are depleted by the fast. Another problem with intermittent fasting is that many people get hungry after exercise, which can lead to the fast being broken as a result. Planning your meals can help you lose weight and control your weight, but it's still important to keep your body fueled when you are more physically active. If intermittent fasting seems too ambitious, learn to make the small changes in your diet that can help you lose weight.