You’ve no doubt heard of intermittent fasting at some point in the fairly recent past and wondered what on earth it is.
Put briefly, intermittent fasting (IF) is a pattern of eating that switches between periods of fasting and periods of eating. The main difference between IF and many other diets is that the focus is not so much on the foods you eat, but rather when you should eat them.
So what is the benefit of intermittent fasting over more conventional diets? Let’s cover that more below.
Intermittent Fasting – More Of A Lifestyle Choice Than A Diet
As I mentioned above, IF primarily focuses on when, not what, you choose to eat. It’s an eating pattern which most commonly involves fasting (going without food) for 16 hours and fitting all of your day’s eating within the remaining eight hours. At the more extreme end, some people may choose to fast for a complete 24 hours twice a week.
Fasting in itself isn’t new, it’s actually been around throughout human evolution. Our ancient ancestors were hunter-gatherers without the benefit of 21st century conveniences such as supermarkets, refrigerators or fast food restaurants and often had to go days before finding their next meal. As a result, the human race has evolved to be able to function without food for an extended period. Fasting could actually be considered as more natural than regular (three to four) meals a day.
Fasting is also a popular practise in certain religions including Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity.
You Can Make It A Personal Choice To Suit You
One of the great things about IF is that, to a large extent, you can tailor your periods of fasting to suit your lifestyle.
The most popular methods include:
16:8 – Also referred to as the Leangains protocol this typically involves skipping breakfast and fitting your daily eating into an eight-hour window (for instance between 1pm – 9pm). You then fast for the next 16 hours and repeat. Some people may choose to include breakfast and skip dinner but this, of course comes down to personal choice. So long as you are adhering to the 16/8 split you can choose to eat at whatever time of the day that suits you best.
Eat-Stop-Eat – This method focuses on fasting for a full day (24 hours) between one to two days a week. You could choose to go from dinner time on one day until dinner time the next day.
5:2 – With this method, you would consume only 500 – 600 calories on two non-consecutive days during the week and then eat normally across the other five days.
All of these methods should spark weight loss as long as you don’t go crazy by eating much more than you usually would during the periods you eat. Generally, because you’re cramming your usual calorie intake into a much smaller eating window you tend to feel more satisfied and fuller and the risk of craving certain foods that you may otherwise binge on is reduced. It’s important to try and keep within your ‘maintenance calories’ during your eating window. There’s more information on how you can determine what these are in my article here, which also talks about how you can calculate a calorie deficit to increase fat burning further.
The Evidence-Based Health Benefits
Here are just some of the proven health benefits of intermittent fasting:
1. It changes cell, gene and hormone functions
If you don’t eat for extended periods of time, several things happen inside your body.
Your insulin level drops which helps to encourage fat burning. In addition, human growth hormone begins to increase which also facilitates fat burning as well as muscle gain. Your body’s cells initiate important cellular processes including removing waste material and several genes and molecules related to longevity and disease protection also experience beneficial change.
2. It can help you burn belly fat and lose weight
Most people who choose to follow intermittent fasting are doing it to lose weight. Typically, IF forces you to eat fewer meals and, unless you compensate by eating way more when you do eat you will end up consuming fewer calories.
In addition, as mentioned above, IF enhances hormone function to aid in weight loss by decreasing insulin levels and increasing growth hormone levels which help to break down body fat and turn it into energy. Because of this, short-term intermittent fasting helps to increase your metabolism by anywhere between 3 – 14% helping you to burn even more calories. It’s very much a win-win situation for increasing your metabolic rate and decreasing the amount of food you eat.
3. It has various health benefits
As well as helping you to burn fat and lose weight, IF has many other health benefits associated with it.
It can help reduce insulin resistance which, in turn, helps to lower blood sugar levels and therefore help prevent type 2 diabetes for those who may be at a higher risk.
In addition, it can also help to reduce oxidative stress and fight inflammation in the body which can lead to a host of common diseases and premature aging.
It’s also beneficial for heart health. IF helps to improve blood pressure, total and LDL cholesterol, inflammatory markers and blood sugar levels which can all lead to heart disease if not kept in-check.
4. It’s good for cognitive (brain) function
Typically if it’s good for your body it’s good for your brain. IF helps improve metabolic features that can be important for brain health and can increase the growth of new nerve cells which should benefit brain function.
It’s also been shown to increase levels of the hormone ‘brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is needed in adequate levels to reduce the risk of depression and other problems associated with the brain including neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It may also help to protect against brain damage due to strokes.
5. It could help you to live longer by extending your lifespan
One of the most notable attributes of IF could be its ability to prolong life.
Some studies have shown that it could extend life in a similar vein as continuous calorie restriction. One particular study involving rats showed that those that were made to fast every other day lived 83% longer than the rats who ate regularly.
Whilst there is still some way to go to prove the same in humans, IF is very popular among anti-agers. But given the proven benefits, as mentioned above, it makes perfect sense that IF could help you to live healthier, and for longer.
So, What Is The Benefit Of Intermittent Fasting? The Proof’s In The Pudding!
At the risk of including a corny closing phrase, the proof really is there to see when it comes to the benefits of intermittent fasting. Apart from being, for some at least, a more tolerable alternative to restricting the type of food you eat (a common reason for why so many of us cannot stick to a particular diet long-term) the health benefits IF brings are almost enough in themselves.
Would you try intermittent fasting after reading this? Or perhaps you already have and you’ve got great results to share? Which method did you choose to follow? Please comment underneath and let me know and let’s have a conversation about how intermittent fasting could be your key to a slimmer, healthier body.