If you are looking to lose weight, you probably would have come across the term “intermittent fasting.” Research suggests that intermittent fasting is an effective weight-loss method and even has a role to play in disease prevention. So, what exactly is intermittent fasting, and is it for everyone? Here’s what you need to know.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that rotates between periods of fasting and eating. Unlike most diets, intermittent fasting focuses on when you should eat instead of what.
What are the different intermittent fasting methods?
There are various popular intermittent fasting methods, such as:
- 5:2 fasting. Eat as you typically would for five days and restrict your caloric intake to 500 to 600 calories per day for the other two days.
- Time-restricted fasting. Fast for 14 to 16 hours and only consume food within the stipulated eating window. One example of time-restricted fasting is the 16/8 method, which involves fasting for 16 hours and eating within an 8-hour window.
- Overnight fasting. Featuring a 12-hour fasting period, this is one of the easiest ways of implementing intermittent fasting. For example, you stop eating after dinner at 8 pm and only resume eating at 8 am the next morning.
- Eat Stop Eat. Fast for 24 hours once or twice a week and eat as you usually would on the other five or six days.
- Alternate-day fasting. Fast every other day.
How and why does intermittent fasting work?
During intermittent fasting, cellular and hormonal changes occur in your body. For example, research shows that intermittent fasting boosts growth hormone levels, which in turn promotes fat loss. Intermittent fasting is also effective in decreasing insulin levels, which has direct effects on fat synthesis and burning. Insulin is secreted when you eat. When insulin levels rise, enzymes are activated to transform glucose into fat; conversely, when insulin levels drop, your body turns to its fat stores for energy, promoting fat burn.
Another reason why intermittent fasting can be effective for weight loss is that it reduces your overall calorie intake. By abiding by a strict eating window, you effectively limit the number of meals you eat in a day, leading to an automatic reduction in calorie intake. That said, keep in mind that if you consume excessive calories during your eating periods, you may not achieve weight loss at all.
What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?
On top of weight loss, studies suggest that intermittent fasting provides a myriad of other benefits, including lowering blood pressure, regulating blood sugar levels, promoting cell regeneration and protecting brain health.
What should I eat during intermittent fasting?
While there are no strict rules for what you should eat during intermittent fasting, your diet still matters. Generally, a balanced, nutritious diet comprising whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and lean protein will complement intermittent fasting and help you achieve the desired benefits.
During fasting periods, you may consume calorie-free beverages like water, coffee and tea. As much as possible, avoid adding sugar or dairy to your drinks.
Is intermittent fasting for everyone?
No, intermittent fasting is not for everyone. Before starting on intermittent fasting or any form of diet, please speak to your doctor. This is especially crucial if you:
- Are under age 18.
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Have a history of eating disorders.
- Are underweight.
- Have existing health conditions such as diabetes and low blood pressure.
- Are on medications.
- Have a physically demanding job.
Intermittent fasting may produce varying side effects on individuals. If you find that you’re experiencing unusual side effects like headaches, fatigue, constipation and sleep disturbances after you start on intermittent fasting, please see a doctor immediately.
If you are thinking about intermittent fasting please seek guidance from a doctor.