If you’ve tuned into social media lately, you may have heard about an exciting “new diet” known as intermittent fasting. The fact of the matter is that intermittent fasting is not new by any means, nor is it a diet.
Intermittent fasting has been practiced by people from all over the world for thousands of years (think hunter and gatherer cultures). It is defined as a way of eating that restricts calories, and/or prolongs the time between meals.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
So, why would intermittent fasting be good for you? Well, there are many reasons, in addition to fat burning, why intermittent fasting is becoming popular in both conventional and natural medicine.
I first heard about fasting in medical school, where we were taught to encourage fasts for certain conditions like acute rheumatological flairs, hypertension (high blood pressure), or hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol). Now it’s being used for many other reasons, including health optimization.
During fasting, glucose levels decrease, leading your body to burn fat stores for fuel instead, which is one of the reasons why intermittent fasting produces so many benefits, such as the ones below.
Some health benefits of intermittent fasting include:
- Improved metabolism
- Improved blood sugar control
- Weight loss
- Anti-aging (via caloric restriction)
- Promotion of autophagy (breakdown and removal of cellular debris)
- Reduction in cancer risk
- Reduction of cardiovascular risk (via cholesterol reduction)
- Reduction of inflammation
Another appealing benefit of intermittent fasting is more about practicality than health. Think about how much MONEY you will save during the week if you do intermittent fasting for 5 out of 7 days (a 15% reduction in weekly food bills). Plus, think about the TIME you will save preparing and cleaning up after a typical breakfast. For me, it’s a huge relief to occasionally take a break from time spent in the kitchen.
Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss
As someone who is lean with a low body fat percentage, I will admit that I was a bit nervous about losing weight while intermittent fasting. Surprisingly, I haven’t lost any weight, and I find that fasting actually helps in the long term with muscle gain. But, for people who want to lose some body fat, intermittent fasting can help improve metabolism and produce weight loss, particularly if your total weekly calorie intake is reduced.
If you fast intermittently (e.g., skip breakfast) and eat the same amount of food you typically do during lunch and dinner, then your weekly calorie count will decline, and you may lose some weight. Conversely, if you skip breakfast but consume larger meals than usual for lunch and dinner, you may not lose the desired weight.
4 Ways to Do Intermittent Fasting
There are many ways to do intermittent fasting. Here are some typical intermittent fasts that I would recommend:
1. Time-Restricted Eating (16:8 Method)
This method divides the day into a period of fasting (16 hours) and a period of eating/feeding (8 hours). You can follow this every day.
2. 24-Hour Fast
With this method, there is no calorie consumption for 24 hours. This is typically done once a week.
3. Alternate-Day Fasting
You consume roughly 500 calories during fasting days and have a normal calorie intake on eating days.
4. Twice a Week Restricted-Calorie Fast
This means consuming roughly 500 calories per day twice a week, with normal eating the remaining 5 days.
Let me give you an example of a typical time-restricted eating intermittent fast, which is the most popular. If you eat dinner by 8 pm, go to sleep without eating any other food, wake up, and then eat your first meal of the day at 12:00 pm, you have completed an intermittent fast of 16 hours.
I bet that at some point in your life, you have inadvertently participated in a time-restricted eating fast by skipping breakfast. So, guess what? You are already a pro!
By the time you have eaten your last bite of dinner at 8 pm, your body is already digesting the food in your stomach. For the next 4+ hours, food will continue to be digested in your stomach and then passed along through your intestines so that nutrients can be absorbed and assimilated.
After approximately 12 hours, your body is technically entering a fasting state, which is when your body shifts from burning glucose to burning fat for energy production (a highly desired effect that most people are looking for when trying intermittent fasting).
My usual routine is to complete an intermittent fast about once a week where I skip breakfast and eat around 1 pm. I also like to fast for an entire day (24 hours) every month. I do this primarily because of the many health benefits of intermittent fasting.
To keep yourself full longer, avoid sugar and refined grains during meal times. Instead, eat nutritious, whole foods high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats. I recommend foods like soups, broths, free range chicken, fish, grass-fed beef, vegetables, fruits, eggs, nuts and seeds.
Is Intermittent Fasting Right for You?
Intermittent fasting is not for everyone. For example, if you are pregnant, it is not recommended. Talk to your doctor if you have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, kidney or renal disease, or any endocrine disease (e.g. thyrotoxicosis). In general, though, intermittent fasting is very safe, and beneficial for most people.