Updated: Jun 9
It seems like every time you turn around there’s a new diet popping up and promising to help you lose weight fast – and many promise more than they can deliver. But intermittent fasting isn’t exactly a diet, it’s a pattern for eating.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
As the name suggests, intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that alternates between periods of eating and periods of not eating. There are a few different methods, but some of the most popular include:
16/8: This method restricts all eating to an 8-hour window, leaving the other 16 hours in the day for fasting. Many people choose to skip breakfast on this schedule and instead eat their meals between noon and 8pm or 1pm to 9pm, etc.
Eat-Stop-Eat: With this strategy, you’ll only fast once or twice a week, but you’ll do so for a full 24 hours.
5:2: With this option, you eat regularly for 5 days and fast for two (non-consecutive) days. However, on the fasting days, you’re allowed up to 600 calories.
The underlying idea behind intermittent fasting is that by periodically depriving your body of food, your biology is challenged on a cellular level in a way that makes it stronger.
Many people are drawn to intermittent fasting for its weight-loss capabilities. A 2014 study found that intermittent fasters lost up to 8% of their body fat during a period of 3 to 24 weeks. Furthermore, this weight loss is oftentimes in people’s midsection, an indication of reduced visceral fat.
With the emphasis of fasting on when to eat, rather than what to eat, many people also feel less deprived when it comes to mealtimes. While it’s still encouraged to eat well during non-fasting periods, there’s no need to count calories.
Intermittent fasting is also free, flexible, and simple. There’s no need to track carbs or macros, which makes fasting appealing to many people who don’t respond well to that style of dieting. The flexibility also makes it appealing to people with busy schedules or who don’t love routine. And, it costs nothing.
How Intermittent Fasting Affects the Body and Brain
This way of eating has some science-backed health benefits as well.
During fasting periods, insulin levels in the blood drop and human growth hormones rise, which can stimulate fat burning, rather than sugar burning. This increase in growth hormones can also promote muscle gain. Furthermore, the reduction in insulin may also help lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, specifically in men.
There are also changes that occur in certain cells and genes that may help protect against diseases and promote cellular repair – a critical process that involves flushing out molecular toxins.
Intermittent fasting may also increase new neural and nerve cell growth and the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), both of which may improve overall brain function.
Studies have also suggested that intermittent fasting may improve synaptic plasticity – an indicator of learning and memory. It has also been linked to decreasing the symptoms of anxiety and depressions and may even reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
This style of eating isn’t for everyone, so before trying intermittent fasting discuss it with your doctor. People who are a particular concern are diabetics, people with heart conditions, and those on blood pressure medication.
It’s also important to consider if this way of eating is something you can continue over the long term. A healthy lifestyle is about finding healthy habits that you enjoy and can maintain, otherwise all your hard work can be undone.
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Gunnars, Kris. (2018, July 25). “Intermittent Fasting – The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide.” Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-guide
Gunnars, Kris. (2016, August 16). “10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting.” Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-health-benefits-of-intermittent-fasting
The Obesity Society. (2019, July 24). Meal timing strategies appear to lower appetite, improve fat burning. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/07/190724103702.htm
Bair, Stephanie. (2015, January 9). “Intermittent Fasting: Try This at Home for Brain Health.” Retrived from https://law.stanford.edu/2015/01/09/lawandbiosciences-2015-01-09-intermittent-fasting-try-this-at-home-for-brain-health/
Harvard Medical School. “Not so fast: Pros and cons of the newest diet trend.” Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/not-so-fast-pros-and-cons-of-the-newest-diet-trend