Intermittent Fasting: What Is It, What Are Its Benefits, and How to Start
Intermittent fasting (IF) continues to be a widely popular way of eating in recent years. In fact, a survey conducted showed that about 75% of participants had already tried IF. It is an eating pattern that involves cycling between eating and fasting periods, with the latter usually lasting between 12 to 40 hours. The time frame of the fast in IF varies on the approach taken and the needs of each individual.
Where did fasting originate? Many cultures have been fasting for religious reasons in the early centuries. Hippocrates, often called the father of medicine, started making recommendations for fasting to alleviate certain conditions as early as the 5th century. Much later during the 1800s, more physicians claimed that chronic health issues were dietary in nature and promoted fasting periods. This continued on into the early 1900s until lab experiments in the 1940s found that calorie restriction through IF extended the life span of animals.
The popularity of IF boomed in the early 2000s thanks to findings that showed how effective it was for weight loss. There is also evidence that points to IF as helpful for losing body fat. Here, we’ll discuss intermittent fasting in more detail, including its benefits and how you can start.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
When it comes to IF, there is no diet to follow, but rather, several different regimens. Some of the most well-known IF regimens are detailed below.
Time-restricted eating involves fasting daily for 12 hours or longer. One popular example is the 16/8 method, in which individuals go on a 16-hour fast with an 8-hour eating window where you can eat two to three meals.
The goal for alternate fasting, on the other hand, is to fast every other day.
The 5:2 Diet
The 5:2 diet works by eating normally during five days of the week and lowering food intake to about 500 to 600 calories during the remaining two days.
In the eat-stop-eat variation of IF, individuals do a 24-hour fast only once or twice a week.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
There are many benefits that one can gain from intermittent fasting. Here are some of the most significant ones that you can expect.
Improved insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control
Intermittent fasting can improve insulin sensitivity, which means that less insulin is needed to control blood glucose levels. This can then reduce and better control blood sugar levels. Some studies on intermittent fasting have shown reductions in fasting blood sugar by as much as three to six percent.
Intermittent fasting will generally lead to eating fewer meals. Unless you consume more food per meal than usual during this time, you will typically eat fewer calories and lose more weight on an IF diet. Intermittent fasting also promotes hormones that increase the breakdown of body fat to use for energy, such as lower insulin levels, higher human growth hormones, and more norepinephrine.
Improved brain function
Some research has found intermittent fasting to promote the growth of new brain cells in the part of the brain that is associated with learning and memory (the hippocampus). This may lead to better cognitive function and a reduced risk of developing neurodegenerative conditions.
Intermittent fasting can also reduce inflammation, which is characterized by redness, swelling, and pain. If left unaddressed, this can damage healthy cells and lead to tissue death. This can prevent or improve conditions such as arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
How to Start Intermittent Fasting
As with any type of diet, it is important to take precautions when starting. Here are some ways that you can start intermittent fasting and continue it successfully.
Consultation with a healthcare professional
Consulting a healthcare professional is one of the most important steps in starting IF. They will help you decide whether it is a good fit for you by considering your health history, medications, and current health. Certain types of health problems may benefit from eating patterns like intermittent fasting, while conditions may not.
Choose the type of intermittent fasting that is right for you
As discussed earlier, there isn’t just one way to do IF, which can be advantageous. You can choose the fasting approach that best fits your lifestyle to increase your chances of success.
Plan your meals and fasting periods
Intermittent fasting takes a bit of planning to be effective and easy to follow. One way to plan your fasting periods is to figure out what time of the day you’re most likely to get hungry. If you are doing IF methods like the 5:2 diet or eat-stop-eat, determine when in the week you can eat less. You can then plan your meals accordingly.
Monitor your progress and make adjustments
Pay close attention to how you feel during your first few months of IF. Are you seeing some weight loss, and have you gotten used to your new eating schedule? If not, try using a different IF approach or changing your fasting and eating times.
Whether or not you adhere to any specific diet, staying hydrated is extremely important. Be sure to drink at least two to three liters of water per day. A licensed healthcare professional can advise whether you need to add electrolytes to your water.
Don’t overdo it
It can get tempting to extend your fasts, eat too few calories, or overexercise when you are doing IF. Remember that seeing results such as weight loss can take time. Overdoing it may lead to negative consequences, such as bingeing or overeating.
Tips for Success with Intermittent Fasting
There are several ways you can achieve intermittent fasting. Here are some of our top tips.
Have a support system
Having a support system of trusted family members, friends, and even colleagues who can provide emotional support can be extremely helpful. For instance, they can help you by keeping tempting food away and reminding you that it is important to stick to your diet.
Keep busy during fasting periods
It is easy to reach for food when you are bored or doing nothing. To combat this and avoid breaking your fasting period, keep yourself busy with healthy distractions. Try going on a walk, doing your hobbies, or playing with your pet, among other things.
Stay focused on your goals
Remembering why you started IF in the first place can make it easier to adhere to in the long run. Keep your intermittent fasting goals somewhere you can always be reminded of them, such as your phone or a note on your desk. This can help you stay on track.
Be patient and persistent
Results don’t happen overnight! Remember that consistency is key and be patient. The more persistent you are with following IF, the greater the results will be.
Listen to your body
Everybody’s needs are different. If you start to feel stressed out with the diet, then it may be time to change some aspects of it. Always listen to what your body needs and make sure that any change you do is gradual.
Potential Risks and Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting
There are some risks and side effects that anybody should be aware of before doing intermittent fasting. Keep track of these symptoms to know if the diet is working for you or not.
Dehydration is a common side effect of intermittent fasting because it is easy to forget to drink when you are not eating. Try setting reminders for drinking water to help you stay hydrated.
Headaches are commonly experienced by those going on IF, due partly because of low blood sugar and, for some people, caffeine withdrawal. Headaches typically occur during the first few days of fasting and can subside quickly.
IF helps lower your blood sugar, which is a good thing. However, it can also lead to some fatigue initially. This eventually goes away as your body gets used to regular fasting periods.
Changes in mood such as irritability are common when starting intermittent fasting due to reduced blood sugar levels.
Intermittent fasting is a well-known and increasingly popular diet for weight loss, but there are other benefits too. It can help improve your brain function, reduce inflammation and chronic conditions, and control blood sugar levels. Intermittent fasting can also help you live an overall healthier life.
As with any change in diet, it is best to consult with a healthcare professional before starting to ensure your safety and reach the best outcome. It is also important to remember to take your time to adjust to fasting and be patient when expecting results. Each individual is different, so taking the right approach is of utmost importance if you wish to succeed with IF.