Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent Fasting: Benefits & how to go about it

There are many diet plans that come and go but none have made a huge impact like intermittent fasting. It’s currently one of the world’s most popular fitness trends and that doesn’t seem to be ending soon.

What makes intermittent fasting different from other diet plans is that it focuses on when to eat instead of what to eat. This is more favourable for most people since it doesn’t limit the types of foods you should eat. However, it doesn’t mean that you can binge on junk food and expect to see results.

What is intermittent fasting?

Though described as a diet plan, it’s more of an eating plan that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. You eat during specific times of the day and fast during others. This contradicts the usual eating patterns of many who eat throughout the day, thus running on consumed calories and not stored fat. Intermittent fasting works by prolonging periods when the body has burned through the calories consumed and begins burning fat. 

According to experts, our bodies have evolved to going without food for several hours and even days. Therefore, fasting for a few hours each day can have some health benefits.

What are the benefits?

Your body experiences a number of changes when you fast. These changes have a direct impact on your overall health and well-being. Here are some of the benefits of intermittent fasting.

Can aid in weight loss

This one is the most obvious and the main reason people engage in intermittent fasting. It helps you eat fewer meals making it easier for your body to use stored fat for energy. Additionally, it’s a more effective way to lose weight since it’s easier to stick to intermittent fasting than other types of diets. 

Reduces oxidative stress and inflammation

Oxidative stress occurs when there’s an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in your body. This can damage organs and tissues in the body leading to a variety of diseases including cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. Studies have found that overeating and constant eating keep your body in a state of oxidative stress. Therefore, intermittent fasting can help prevent oxidative stress in the body.

Improves brain health 

Some studies suggest that intermittent fasting encourages the growth of new nerve cells thus benefiting brain functions. It promotes the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus which is associated with learning and memory. This improves cognitive function and reduces the risk of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Lowers risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Due to a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits, more people are at a risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Being overweight increases your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. Therefore, losing weight can help lower the risk. Intermittent fasting not only aids in weight loss but also reduces insulin resistance which causes spikes in sugar levels.

Improves heart health

By lowering cholesterol, insulin resistance and blood pressure, intermittent fasting can play a key role in keeping your heart in good shape even if you don’t lose weight. It also lowers chronic inflammation which can damage blood vessels increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Improves Lifespan

Intermittent fasting can improve lifespan as it helps the body reset. It gets rid of weak cells in the body by not giving them energy. This gives room for stronger cells to grow and thrive, improving the chances of living longer. It also keeps off certain chronic illnesses which are associated with early death.

How to start intermittent fasting

Before you start intermittent fasting, you need to figure out which plan is suitable for you. There are many intermittent fasting plans varying in the number of fasting hours or days and calorie allowance. Here are some of the plans:

Fasting for 12 hours

 This is the best option for beginners since the fasting window is small and most of it occurs during sleep. For instance, a person can choose to fast from 6 pm to 6 am.

Fasting for 16 hours

 This is known as the 16:8 method or the Leangains diet. For this plan, men fast for 16 hours while women fast for 14 hours. People usually eat their last meal at 8 pm then skip breakfast the following day and eat at noon. It’s helpful for those who have tried the 12-hour plan and didn’t see results. 

Fasting for 2 days a week  

This is also known as the 5:2 method. People usually eat regular amounts of healthy food for 5 days then reduce their calorie intake for 2 days. The fasting days aren’t usually consecutive. During the 2 fasting days, men typically eat 600 calories while women eat 500 calories.

Alternate day fasting

As the name suggests, this plan involves fasting every other day. However, the calorie consumption varies depending on the person. Some completely avoid solid foods during the fasting days and others eat up to 500 calories. This is an extreme method and not suitable for beginners or people with health conditions.

Weekly 24-hour fast  

This is also known as the eat-stop-eat method and involves completely for 1 or 2 days of the week. You may experience fatigue and dizziness at first but the body adjusts with time and the symptoms stop. You can have water or calorie-free drinks during the fasting days.

The Warrior Diet 

 This plan involves eating mostly fruits and vegetables during a 20-hour fasting period then eating one large meal at night during the 4-hour eating period. It’s another extreme plan and is best for people who have tried other forms of intermittent fasting without any results. It’s also difficult to follow since some people find it hard to eat large meals at night and others can’t resist eating throughout the day. 

Before trying any of these plans, it’s important to check with your doctor first to ensure that this fitness plan is safe for you. Generally, the following groups of people shouldn’t try any kind of intermittent fasting:

  • Children under the age of 18
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • People with type 1 diabetes
  • People with a history of eating disorders