If you’re serious about your health and overall fitness, it is very likely that you have heard of something called intermittent fasting. Trainers and health enthusiasts swear by it, claiming that it not only helps with losing weight but that it also has many other health benefactors. Let’s take a deeper look into intermittent fasting and its effects on the body.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a type of dieting pattern where you either greatly reduce caloric intake or stop eating completely for a set period of time before returning to your normal eating habits. So, it is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. This dieting pattern of intermittent fasting means that you take in calories only during a certain period of time, while not consuming any calories for a larger period of time.
You may be asking yourself, but how can skipping meals be considered healthy? Well, that is a very valid question. You may be surprised to learn that intermittent fasting can not only help you decrease body fat, but it can also help increase muscle mass and even assist in more efficient workouts. There are many benefits to intermittent fasting, but we’ll touch more on that later. For now, let’s discuss the various types of intermittent fasting.
What Methods are There for Intermittent Fasting?
There is more to using intermittent fasting as an effective nutrition routine than simply skipping meals every once in a while. In fact, there are several methods out there that are widely used among athletes and trainers alike. The one thing they all have in common, however, is that they are typically split into either an eating period or a fasting period.
There are several methods for intermittent fasting. Here are some of the most popular ones:
- The 5:2 Method. This is arguably the most common method for intermittent fasting. As the name suggests, five days are allotted as eating periods, while two days are fasting periods. The two fasting days should be non-consecutive, and you should consume no more than 500-600 calories for the entire day. If there is a certain day of the week that you know that fasting would not be ideal, say a family dinner or important meeting over lunch, you should plan your fasting days around that.
For Example: Tuesday and Friday are fasting days. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday are all regular eating days.
- The 16/8 Method. This is another commonly used method for intermittent fasting where you fast every 16 hours and reduce your daily eating window to the remaining 8 hours. It is important to note that this time range is fairly flexible and it is suggested that women reduce the fasting period to around 14 hours. Typically, the fasting period starts in the evening after dinner and lasts until the following afternoon. For that reason, this method is considered the easiest and most natural.
For Example: An eating period between 10 AM and 6 PM on Monday, and a fasting period between 6 PM Monday and 10 AM Tuesday.
- The Eat-Stop-Eat Method. This technique requires you to eat as you normally would, fast for 24-hours, and then return to normal eating, fasting for up to two days per week. During that 24-hour fasting period, you should avoid all solids and only consume non-caloric drinks. Similar to the 16/8 method, you may also want to start the fast after dinner one evening, and begin eating the following evening again. Those just starting out with intermittent fasting, however, may find it difficult to go the entire 24-hours without eating.
- The Alternate-Day Method. There are different ways to utilize this particular method, which involves fasting every other day. Most will agree that simply reducing caloric intake to around 500 calories during the fasting periods is the most beneficial way to do the alternate-day method.
For Example: For one week of fasting, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday are eating days, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday are fasting days.
- The Spontaneous Method. This technique is for those who are less inclined to follow a carefully structured fasting plan. For some of us, sticking to a planned fasting schedule just doesn’t seem feasible. For this method, you simply just skip meals when you’re not feeling hungry or are running short on time.
For Example: You work late one evening and get home too tired to cook, so you don’t.
- The Warrior Diet. This method was initially introduced as a diet and is actually one of the first commonly used diets that involved intermittent fasting. For this technique, you limit your consumption to small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables during the day and then eat a large meal at night.
For Example: For breakfast, you have a banana. For a snack, you grab a handful of carrots. Then for lunch, you have an orange and some celery sticks. Then for dinner, a large chicken breast, potatoes, and grilled veggies.
Now the next step is determining which method is right for you. There are a few questions that you can ask yourself in order to do this. For starters, is there a time of day that you often find yourself feeling less hungry? Or, do you usually skip breakfast every morning? If so, the 16/8 method might be the best choice. Do you find that some days are just harder to find the time to cook? Well, the spontaneous method might be the perfect option for you. Once you know your specific needs, choosing the best method for you should be easy.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Intermittent fasting has several effects on the body, many of which go a long way toward helping a person to lose fat while also gaining muscle. There are numerous ways that this particular dieting pattern helps you do this. For starters, you’re taking in fewer calories for the week than you usually would and consuming less equates to losing more weight. Additionally, your body acts differently during fasting periods than during eating periods. When you’re eating regularly, your body has something to digest and turn into usable energy. When you’re fasting, on the other hand, your body needs to get its fuel from another source, mainly from fat stores within the body.
The combination of all of those things leads to consistent and substantial weight loss. However, there are a few other things that you can do to boost the effects. Most of which have to do with what and how you consume during eating periods, rather than what you do during fasting periods.
Here are a few tips to getting the most out of intermittent fasting:
- Remember that there are two parts to intermittent fasting. Most people get caught up in the fasting part of the equation but seem to forget that the eating periods are just as important. The fact is that you should always eat nutritious foods, especially during your eating period.
- Monitor weight and fat loss to ensure that you’re on the right track. If you start to notice that your body fat is creeping back to where it used to be before you started intermittent fasting, try making small changes to your diet. Cutting back on the carbs is a great place to start, and it will further aid in your future weight loss.
- Understand that this dietary pattern has different results for everyone. There have been limited studies which suggest that intermittent fasting can affect women differently than men. Unfortunately, it usually isn’t for the better. The two hormones that drive weight loss, insulin and glucose, begin to work negatively for women after the first few weeks. Additionally, it may worsen some conditions such as chronic stress and insomnia. You should also stay away from intermittent fasting if you are pregnant, new to dieting and exercise, or have a history of an eating disorder.
If you want to make sure that intermittent fasting works for you, it is important that you not only focus on the entire dietary pattern but that you also know your body. Pay attention to any subtle changes and adjust your regime when necessary.
Benefits Associated with Intermittent Fasting
There have been many studies which outline the vast benefits associated with this type of dietary pattern. Research shows that intermittent fasting helps numerous systems throughout the body, resulting in better overall health.
- Improved insulin sensitivity. It has been shown that the bodies sensitivity to insulin actually increases after a fasting period. Furthermore, glycogen stores are depleted, which increases insulin sensitivity even more. Not only does this lead to more efficient digestion, meaning that you’re making the most out of your next meal, but it also encourages muscle growth.
- Increased Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH levels increase exponentially during periods of fasting. HGH increases up to five times its regular amount for men, and for women, it increases an average of three times. Fortunately, this certain hormone further increases fat loss while encouraging muscle gain and retention.
- Improved heart health. It has been shown that intermittent fasting reduces blood triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, blood sugar, inflammatory markers, and other various hormones that have been associated with heart disease.
- Enhanced brain functioning. There is a hormone within the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which helps to regulate certain growth factors. It helps aid in nerve repair and growth, and may even reduce the occurrence of cognition issues such as dementia.
- Save time and money. When you skip meals, you not only save the time you would have taken to prepare and cook the food, but you also save valuable dish cleaning time. And let’s not forget the money you end up saving as well.
While there are many benefits to intermittent fasting, those with dietary issues such as diabetes, hypoglycemia, and blood sugar disorders may experience some negative side effects. Please, always check with a physician before making drastic changes to your eating habits.
There are a few misconceptions regarding intermittent fasting. Let’s take a look at a few of them and discuss how they are misleading.
- Eating several small meals a day is more beneficial than skipping whole meals. The idea behind this stems from the belief that when you reduce portion size while adding more eating times throughout your day, your body will continuously burn extra calories. However, this is not really true. In fact, consuming a total of 1,500 calories in one day will burn off at the same rate, no matter how much time is between meals.
- Focus loss and lower energy levels are a common occurrence. This is a very common misconception and an argument that is frequently made when considering skipping breakfast. After all, that’s the most important meal of the day, right? Wrong. If you are used to constantly eating throughout the day, and then start intermittent fasting, your body may need some time getting used to the change. However, your body will adjust very quickly, and cognition and energy levels will stable out and return to normal within a few days.
- Intermittent fasting is unhealthy and can have the same effects as starvation. Not only is this misleading, but it’s also just not true. With modern technology surrounding us, we seem to forget that getting food hasn’t always been as easy as going to the grocery store.
Intermittent fasting is an excellent technique for those trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. That is because following this dietary pattern reduces how many calories are consumed during a set period of time before the user returns to their regular eating habits. This means that throughout the week, you are taking in far less than you typically would, leading to significant improvements in overall health. There are a few methods that you can use, depending on what works best for your personal circumstances. The 16/8 method is a great technique if you have some time on your hands where you can prepare beforehand. If you don’t have a lot of time, however, the spontaneous method would be the best option for you.
Intermittent fasting also does a lot more for your health than simply assisting in losing weight and gaining muscle. It also helps to improve insulin sensitivity, heart health, brain functioning, and increased HGH. These factors work together to move the user toward a better overall healthy lifestyle.