What is intermittent fasting?
Lifestyle and health affect our lives more than anything. Sedentary routines and stressful work-habits make up a big part of our lives. Achieving health and maintaining fitter bodies can be tough and challenging. Intermittent fasting is one of the popular and trending practices for health and fitness. It helps lose weight, gain vigor and simplify lifestyles. It is advocated to show powerful effects on the body and to help live healthier and longer.
Intermittent fasting is a cyclical pattern with periods of eating and voluntary fasting.
The fasting is either complete avoidance of food or reduced intake of calories, thus also termed intermittent energy restriction.
Intermittent fasting defines an eating pattern of when to eat and when to fast, in contrast to a diet.
Fasting in history:
Fasting has been a part of human civilization for centuries, in the form of culture, religion and at times, a demand. In the times of cavemen, unsuccessful hunting sessions resulted in famine and fasting. Yet, when they hunted well, it was a feast for all. Similarly, most of the world’s religions and cultures also practice fasting following different patterns as a way to repent from sins, as a treatment for diseases, and as part of their traditions.
Intermittent Fasting Patterns to follow:
Quite a few types of patterns of intermittent fasting have been developed ever since its advent as a lifestyle in the early 1900s. Some of the popular ones are described here.
- 16/8 method or Leangains protocol:
This is the most common and sustainable trend. This is a daily pattern including 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating phase. The eating phase accommodates 2 to 3 meals, while breakfast is usually skipped. The pattern is similar to having a meal/dinner at 8 pm, then skipping the breakfast to the next meal in the afternoon.
- 5:2 diet or the Fast diet:
This pattern involves distributing the eating and fasting phases over a week. A normal diet is taken 5 days a week, but on 2 non-consecutive days, the calorie intake is reduced to a maximum of 600 calories per day.
- Eat-stop-eat pattern:
The eat-stop-eat pattern includes fasting for a whole 24 hours once or twice a week. The fasting phase starts from a certain time on day 1 and ends at the same time on day 2. A regular diet is taken on the other days of the week. This pattern can be difficult for some people because of its long fasting duration and it is not the choice for beginners.
- Alternate day fasting:
The pattern here is continuous and follows as Day 1 normal eating phase, Day 2 fasting phase, repeat. In a modified form, the fasting is replaced by reduced caloric intake to less than 500 calories per day or 25% of normal caloric intake. This is similar to the eat-stop-eat pattern, but a step forward as continuous and should suitable for beginners.
- The warrior diet:
This was one of the introductory methods of intermittent fasting. It involves eating raw fruits and vegetables during the day with only one large meal in 24 hours. This is also an extreme pattern and not advised for beginners.
- Meal skipping:
Random and intermittent meal skipping is also an accepted method. From time to time a meal is skipped, especially when there are time constraints for cooking or eating. The next meal taken should be healthy and complete.
What actually happens?
Intermittent fasting affects the body on all levels; molecular, cellular, and hormonal.
During the fast, when the meal has been all utilized, the body starts breaking down the stored glucose for fuel; fat and proteins come second and third in line to be used for fuel. But by the time it comes down to proteins, it’s usually time for the next meal.
During the fast, certain genes are expressed in cells that lead to autophagy-the process of cellular cleanup and repair. Autophagy gets rid of flawed and defective cells and cellular components that can cause diseases, for instance, defective protein buildup in Alzheimer’s disease.
The hormonal balance of the body also shifts to start using the stored fat as fuel. Raised growth hormone and norepinephrine levels increase fat burning and maintain muscle mass. Lowered but sensitized Insulin levels help utilize the fats and reduce the sugar levels and prevent worsening of diabetes.
When a routine is followed with intermittent fasting, it leads to reduced calorie intake with sustained caloric burning and, thus, weight loss. Studies suggest that 3-8% weight loss is possible if this method is taken up for 3-24 weeks.
The muscle mass is rather maintained compared to other forms of weight loss and diets.
Intermittent fasting boosts metabolism, reduces inflammation, protects the heart and brain, may even protect from cancer, and reduces the effects of ageing on the body.
Even with so many benefits, intermittent fasting is not safe for everyone. Women, especially those with hormonal disturbances, pregnant, breast-feeding, and those trying to conceive are advised against intermittent fasting.
Research shows that it may worsen diabetes and hormonal imbalances in women.
It is also not recommended for children, adolescents, people who are underweight, who suffer from eating disorders, or who have medical conditions like diabetes, low blood pressure.
Some answered FAQs about Intermittent Fasting
- Water, sugar- and cream-free coffee and tea, zero-calorie drinks are allowed in the fasting phase.
- Isn’t skipping breakfast unhealthy? Skipping it as part of a proper health routine is not as unhealthy.
- Supplements are allowed but it is better to take them with meals for increased absorption.
- Some people eat early and sleep till late, or skip breakfast; they might even be in the state of fasting for a few hours without realizing.
- The suggested ways to start are the 16/8 or the skipping meals method.
The end or The beginning?
Out of the many healthy lifestyles, intermittent fasting is a sustainable method for achieving ideal health and weight. It is considered a hack for a healthier and simplified lifestyle. The main focus should remain on a wholesome and quality diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep.
At the end of the day what fits you and your routine that can bring about a healthier change in your lifestyle is all that matters.