A new way of fasting called intermittent fasting is currently one of the world’s most popular and effective fitness trends, which has many physical and mental health benefits.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting refers to an eating schedule that alternate between fasting and eating periods. The goal of this fasting is to starve the body in such a way as to trigger fat burning. While the research is still in progress and the method is said to not be suitable for everyone, there is evidence that, when done correctly, intermittent fasting can work wonders and help lose weight, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, prevent or control diabetes, and improve mental health.
Intermittent fasting is an age-old practice and has recently gained a massive level of attention for its widespread success in helping relieve various health problems. It is a way that does not tell you what you should eat but, rather, when you should eat. In Intermittent fasting, you are allowed to eat at only some specific timings.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has become very trendy in the contemporary world, and several different types/methods have come to light.
- The 16/8 Method: Fast for 16 hours each day, for example by only eating between noon and 8 pm.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: Once or twice a week, don’t eat anything from dinner one day, until dinner the next day (a 24-hour fast).
- The 5:2 Diet: During 2 days of the week, eat only about 500–600 calories.
Benefits of Intermittent fasting
- Thinking and memory. Studies discovered that through intermittent fasting working memory in animals and verbal memory in adult humans gets boosted.
- Heart health. Intermittent fasting improves blood pressure and heart rates as well as other heart-related problems.
- Physical performance. Young men who fast for 16 hours can lose fat while maintaining muscle mass. Experiments were done on mice who were fed on alternate days and showed better endurance in running.
- Diabetes and obesity. In animal studies, intermittent fasting prevents obesity. And in six brief studies, obese adult humans lost a good amount of weight through intermittent fasting.
The scientific way to understand the benefits of fasting
During a meal, carbohydrate is broken down into glucose. Glucose then absorbs through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream and from there is transported to various organs, where it becomes the major energy source. Excess glucose is stored in the liver and adipose tissue for later use, in the form of glycogen and fats. In between meals, when the body is consuming no food, the liver converts glycogen back to glucose to keep up the supply chain of energy sources. Typically, a person with no physical exercise takes about 10 to 12 hours to use up the stored glycogen, although someone who regularly exercises may consume in much less time. Once the stock of glycogen in the liver is depleted, the body knows to tap into energy stores in adipose tissues. This is the time when fats are broken down into free fatty acids which in response are then converted into additional metabolic fuel in the liver. Thus, it is said if the fasted state lasts long enough, the body burns fat for energy and loses that good amount of extra fat. Losing those extra fats is translated into a range of associated health benefits.
Insulin is the hormone that is required for driving glucose into cells. Insulin level is regulated to check the amount of glucose in the blood, that is, high after a meal and low between meals. Because insulin is secreted after each meal, eating every time of the day keeps insulin levels high most of the time. Constant high insulin levels may deaden body tissues, causing insulin insensitivity – the imprint of prediabetes and diabetes type 2. Fasting helps in keeping insulin levels low, reducing diabetes risks.
Fasting also has a great effect on the brain. It challenges the brain in the same way as physical or cognitive exercise does. It promotes the production of neurotrophic factors, which in response support the growth and survival of neurons.
Fasting, however, is not for everyone. Fasting can also be very harmful if overdone, or if not done correctly.
There are several ways to intermittent fasting, but the easiest to achieve is the one that simply extends the usual nighttime fast. A regular cycle of a 16-hour fast followed by an 8-hour eating window is usually a sustainable schedule.
For intermittent fasting to be safe and effective, it is advisable to combine it with balanced meals that provide good nutrition. It is important to stay hydrated as much as one can, and know your physical limits while fasting. The fast must be broken slowly. Overeating after fast and unhealthy food must be avoided.
Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Mark Mattson has studied intermittent fasting for 25 years. He says that our bodies have evolved to be able to go without food for unexpected hours, or even we can say for several days or longer. In prehistoric times, before humans learned to farm, as we all know they were hunters and gatherers who evolved to survive — and thrive — for long periods without eating. It took a lot of time and energy to hunt and gather nuts and berries, so, they had to wait long hours or several days to have proper food.
What can I eat while intermittent fasting?
During the time when you’re fasting and having nothing, water and zero-calorie beverages such as black coffee and tea are absolutely allowed.
And during your eating periods, “eating normally” does not mean going crazy. You’re not going to lose weight or get healthier if you pack your eating times with high-calorie junk food, super-sized fried items, and treats.
But what one likes about intermittent fasting is that it allows for a variety of different foods to be eaten — and enjoyed. People should be mindful and take pleasure in eating good, nutritious food through this process. Eating with the same-minded people and sharing the mealtime experience adds satisfaction and supports good health.
You can barely go wrong when you pick complex, unrefined carbohydrates such as whole grains, leafy greens, healthy fats, and lean protein.
Also, a study finds out that those who have regularly fasted intermittently for decades have a lower chance of getting severely affected or dying from COVID-19 compared to people who do not practice the proper eating plan, according to a new American study.
The bottom line
While on intermittent fasting, your body goes through several phases of the fed-fast cycle, depending on the amount of time that you fast. So, If you have any health conditions or are taking any medications, be sure to do Intermittent fasting under medical supervision.