Everything You Need to Know About
The term “fasting” can conjure up ideas of deprivation, hunger and suffering that few wish to undertake; however, intermittent fasting methods offer a variety of forms that may seem less daunting. With the potential for better weight control and added health benefits, intermittent fasting might be worth some consideration.
Why Intermittent Fasting?
With intermittent fasting (IF), the focus is more about regulating the time and frequency and less about how much you eat.
By limiting the time and frequency, the digestive system is given a break and the body is forced to utilize fat for fuel, becoming more efficient and improving metabolic health. Additionally, many experience a reduction in cravings and a recalibration of actual hunger within their bodies.
Though many try intermittent fasting for weight loss and weight control, the benefits extend far beyond that. They include reduction in inflammation in the body, improved blood pressure and heart rate, increases in growth hormones and improved insulin sensitivity, to name a few. Limited studies have shown intermittent fasting may improve brain function and reduce the risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s. A common observation once acclimated to IF is feeling sharper, more alert and clearer headed and having more energy.
Types of Intermittent Fasting Methods
There are a variety of fasting methods, and choosing the right one for you is a matter of what seems to fit best with your lifestyle and what seems most achievable and sustainable. The fasting component means exactly that: only non-caloric beverages like water, green tea and black coffee are consumed. Breaking fast consists of smart, sensible nutrient-dense foods. Even though calories are not “counted,” it is about fueling the body with nourishing healthy foods.
16:8 – This method may be the easiest to adapt to, especially if you are new to fasting. The basic principle is that you only eat in an eight-hour window and then fast for 16 hours. If you finished eating your last meal at 6 p.m., then you would not eat until after 10 a.m. the next day. If you find that you do better eating earlier in the day, then your window may be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For others, having the entire evening without food is too daunting or maybe family dinner time is too important. In those cases, shifting to a later schedule, like an 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. window, may be more practical.
20:4 – This method is a bit more time restrictive, with the eating window taking place in a four-hour window and fasting for 20 hours.
5:2 – The 5:2 method consists of two non-consecutive days during the week of a restricted 500 calorie diet and no calorie restriction on the other five days. They can be any two days in a seven-day period.
Eat Stop Eat – This is a 24-hour window of fasting that begins at the completion time of your last meal. For instance, your fasting might begin after your last meal on Tuesday and end that same time on Wednesday. This can be done once or twice a week with the flexibility to choose which day or days fit best.
In many ways, IF works in weight loss because you are likely to be eating less calories overall, having a limited time window. With the focus more on the clock, versus the calorie counting often associated with a typical diet, it can be psychologically easier to work into one’s lifestyle.
Common Myths and Mistakes
Fasting slows down the metabolism. Actually, short-term fasting can increase your metabolic rate. As insulin levels go down, the body is forced to break down body fat for energy and can become more efficient.
You’re not drinking enough. Fasting only means not ingesting any calories. It is important for body function to stay well hydrated with non-caloric beverages. This also aids in feeling full, as perceived hunger pangs are often signals that the body is dehydrated.
It’ll cause poor food choices. Especially if weight loss is the main objective, overindulging and poor food choices can undermine that goal. Even though calories are not the focus, nutrient dense, healthy sensible meals are still the objective.
You’re not eating enough. Having the mentality of not wanting to undo the effort of fasting or fear of eating too much may leave you undernourished and kick your body into starvation mode, which does slow your metabolism down.
Listen to Your Body
Pay attention to your body and how it responds. Initial effects could include low blood sugar, headache, irritability, dizziness, tiredness and fatigue. If new to IF, you may want to ease into the process. Begin with a 12-hour fast and a 12-hour eating window. Then, work from there to a more restricted window. Along the process, you can determine what schedule works best for you.
Is IF for You?
IF is not for everyone. People who are diabetic, hypoglycemic, pregnant or lactating—and anyone under the age of 18—should not try IF. Anyone with a chronic health condition should check with their health care professional before experimenting with intermittent fasting. Also, if you have an unhealthy relationship with food, such as an eating disorder, IF is not recommended.
Intermittent fasting methods can be a manageable way to help your body become more efficient while providing additional health benefits. In many cases, it might be more about returning to sensible eating practices and learning to listen to your body.