There has been much debate about the benefits and downfalls of fasting over the years. While it’s generally agreed that extreme fasting is detrimental to your health, intermittent fasting has recently piqued the interest of some health professionals as a way to lose weight and potentially gain other health-related perks. Here’s a breakdown of what intermittent fasting means, the pluses and minuses of the diet and how you can get started.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Let’s start with the basics. To fast intermittently means that you’re restricting the amount of calories you intake during a specific period of time while eating a normal diet at other times. One of the most common methods of doing so is to follow the 5:2 diet, which limits your food consumption to 25 percent the normal amount on two non-consecutive days during the week, while allowing you to eat as usual the other five days. Another popular fasting method recommends eating only during a short window of time each day and fasting the remainder of the day.
Unlike most diets, fasting isn’t concerned with what you eat but rather when you eat. There are no set rules about how to handle nutrition during fasting periods. Some people may only drink water or green juice on fasting days while others may limit themselves to a certain small number of calories.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Help You Lose Weight?
When your body isn’t being consistently replenished with calories throughout the day, it begins to seek alternative sources of energy. About eight hours after the last meal is eaten, the body starts to break down glucose that is stored in the liver and muscles. Once it processes all the glucose, the body then starts to convert fat into energy. Fasting also allows insulin blood levels to drop and growth hormone levels to rise, both of which aid in fat burning. Of course, the more fat that is burned, the more weight that is lost.
What Are Other Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
Aside from weight loss, scientists have discovered that there are many additional benefits to intermittent fasting. For example, fasting has also been found to lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer as well as slow down signs of aging and extending lifespan. Studies have also found that fasting can lower blood pressure and cholesterol and may prevent Alzheimer’s. However, many of these studies have been done on animals and more research needs to be done on the effects of fasting on humans before we can make drastic claims but the results on animals look promising.
These health improvements are a result of the work the body is able to do when it’s not working on constant digestion. While fasting causes some cells to die, it then stimulates stem cells to begin regenerating new cells while also repairing damaged cells.
What Are The Pitfalls of Fasting?
Be careful not to allow yourself to overindulge on non-fasting days or times. Limiting your calories during the fasting periods will do no good if you simply make up for all the lost calories as soon as you lift the restrictions. Eat a balanced diet as normal to see the best results.
Fasting can also lead to unexpected complications, such as low blood sugar, that may cause other problems. If you’ve never fasted before, you may be unaware how your body will react.
Dehydration is a common health risk for people who try fasting as they fail to take into account the amount of water that is consumed as a part of food intake. People who try fasting must remember to drink extra water before and during the fasting period to make up for the lost water content of food.
Who Shouldn’t Try Fasting?
There are certain groups of people who shouldn’t try fasting as it could prove detrimental to their health and well-being. These people include pregnant women, people with type 1 diabetes, children under the age of 18 and individuals who are underweight. People who have dealt with an eating disorder in the past are also discouraged from trying this diet.
What Should I Do If I’m Interested in Trying Fasting?
As always before starting a new health routine, you should consult your doctor to make sure it’s the right fit for you. Your healthcare provider can provide guidance and let you know if there are any health issues that may put you at risk of complications.
You can also meet with a nutritionist to help you create a meal plan for both fasting and non-fasting days to make sure that you’re getting the right mix of nutrients.
Since fasting requires a significant window of time when the body doesn’t have food, the easiest time of day to implement a fasting diet is during the hours before and after sleep. Considering that you’ll be asleep for the majority of the window, you’ll be much less tempted to snack and can more easily ignore any potential hunger pangs.
For instance, if you eat a well-balanced dinner around 7 p.m., avoid after-dinner snacks and sleep from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m., then you’ve already managed to fast for 12 hours. Try to extend the fasting period by prolonging breakfast as long as possible to reap the full benefits. Don’t worry though. You can still partake in your morning cup of coffee! Be sure to eat a well-balanced diet the rest of the day to see the best results.
Intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone but it may be worth a try if you’re in good health and have the motivation and willpower to make it work.