Intermittent fasting has quickly become a growing health trend, promoting eating patterns that cycle between periods of feeding and fasting. Fortunately, this method goes beyond questionable diet trend and can effectively benefit your body, weight loss goals and overall health.
How to Intermittent Fast
Beginners to intermittent fasting should start by understanding the different methods they can adopt. Everyone responds differently, so it may take some time to work out which method works best for your body. One popular method is the 16/8 method where eating is restricted to 8 hours per day, and fasting lasts for the remaining 16 hours. Many will approach this by skipping breakfast and holding off until lunch. Then, the 8-hour window begins at noon and ends 8 p.m. after dinner. Within that window, you can likely fit two meals and a snack or two before closing out for the evening.
On the other hand, the 5:2 method allows followers to eat normally 5 days a week and then restrict calories to about a quarter of the daily needs on the remaining two days. This is about 500-600 calories on “fasting” days. Those opting for this method can select which days during the week they would prefer to fast, as long as there is at least one non-fasting day between. Many tend to opt for Monday and Thursdays to break up fasting evenly throughout the week.
For those curious about a full fast, the eat-stop-eat method is like the 5:2 method, but with two days of full 24-hour fasts. Similarly, alternate day fasting is exactly that—fasting occurs on alternate days. While there are more methods to explore, depending on your preference, each does allow consumption of water, coffee and other zero calorie beverages to help mitigate hunger, especially for beginners.
Whatever the method, intermittent fasting has been shown to offer serious health benefits to body function, weight loss and overall health.
1) Improve Metabolic Function
Restrictive feeding periods have been shown to have positive impacts on metabolism because of a flip in the metabolic switch. This refers to the body’s “shift from utilization of glucose from glycogenolysis to fatty acids and fatty acid-derived ketones.” Intermittent fasting decreases insulin levels—the main hormone that tells the body when to store fat and break it down—meaning your body will have an easier time losing weight, not to mention lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes. Fasting also naturally promotes increased levels of the human growth hormone in blood, an important factor in promoting fat loss.
2) Weight Loss
For many intermittent fasters, the most exciting benefit is weight loss. The main reason is similar to a calorie restrictive diet, you eat fewer calories because your eating window is reduced. A 2016 study found that the group of men under a 16/8 feeding regimen saw a significantly greater decrease in fat loss over the normal diet group. The weight loss is also heavily related to the previously mentioned improved metabolic function. Researchers found that the 16/8 group saw a decrease in blood glucose and insulin levels, whereas the normal diet group did not.
3) Improve Cardio Health
Studies have found that intermittent fasting can improve cardiometabolic functions like insulin resistance, decrease in visceral fat mass, dyslipidemia, and more. While fatty acids and ketones become the main energy fuel during that fasting period, the body’s lipid profiles are positively impacted, meaning lower blood cholesterol levels. And, benefits were also noted when it comes to hypertension because of an increase of the Brain-derived neurotrophic (BDNF) Factor, which leads to a decrease in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
4) Improved Brain Health
The BDNF factor is also a major protein in stress response, long-term memory and other vital brain functions. It helps neurons survive and is essential for learning and memory. In rats, intermittent fasting has been shown to induce BDNF expression, and while research in humans is still needed, this is a promising development. More than that, the metabolic switching—that happens during fasting—from glucose to ketones can also have a positive impact on the brain, promoting neuroplasticity and resistance to brain injury.
5) It May Help You Live Longer
Studies with mice suggest that periods of fasting may have increase lifespan. National Institute of Aging Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. said that “mice who ate one meal per day, and thus had the longest fasting period, seemed to have a longer lifespan and better outcomes for common age-related liver disease and metabolic disorders.” While this research is restricted to mice, the overall health benefits that have been shown in humans can certainly play a broader role in health degeneration and promoting longevity in humans.
Adjusting to intermittent fasting may be challenging at first, but the hunger pains will eventually subside and give way to both visible and underlying health benefits that have kept followers on board this lifestyle. Learn more about the different styles and discover the method that works best for you to start seeing results from body to brain.