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What is Intermittent Fasting?

Posted Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018 by

intermittent, fasting, diet, weight loss

From gaining a greater level of self-control and awareness, to weight loss and fat-burning, the benefits of intermittent fasting have long been touted and are now backed by clinical research and studies. When done properly, alternating between periods of fasting and eating can lead to a healthier, longer, more meaningful life.

Introduction to Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) is a dietary plan that involves cycling between periods of fasting and skipping meals entirely, and periods of normal food consumption. This alternating diet plan allows you to restrict/limit calorie consumption and augment cell and hormone functions.

During fasting periods, all forms of food are avoided, but drinks like water, coffee and juices may be allowed. The goal is to avoid the intake of calories. Supplements can also be taken to avoid nutrient deficiencies, especially during extended fasts.

Research into Intermittent Fasting

The benefits of fasting have been touted for centuries by spiritual gurus and, more recently, by fitness experts – and finally there is substantial research to verify these claims. Clinical studies involving human subjects substantiate the medical effects of intermittent fasting.

One study into the effectiveness of fasting for weight loss showed promising results among the majority of participants, as the fasting encouraged food and caloric restriction and improved eating habits. Another study (on rats) showed that intermittent fasting could be linked to an overall increase in lifespan in subjects; on average, rats that fasted lived longer than fully fed rats.

Yet another study into the power of intermittent fasting showed an improvement in heart health. Ultimately, a lower intake of “bad” calories and a reduction in cardiac risk factors like diabetes and inflammation will reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Another promising clinical study showed a correlation between regular intermittent fasting and a reduction in the development of certain forms of cancer.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Regular fasting can do wonders for the human body—in fact, the body is designed to go for extended periods without food without suffering harm. But the benefits of intermittent fasting extend beyond mere physical merits. There are psychological and cognitive benefits as well, making IF a valuable dieting plan.

The benefits of intermittent fasting include:

  • Cancer prevention
  • Weight loss and fat burning
  • Cellular repair and regeneration
  • Reduced insulin resistance and lower risk of diabetes
  • Prevention of inflammation
  • Improved cardiac health
  • Improved brain and cognitive function
  • Alzheimer’s and stroke prevention

Forms of Intermittent Fasting

The most common forms of intermittent fasting are:

  • 16:8

This requires you to fast for 16 hours in a day, while allowing yourself only an 8-hour feeding period. The most common way to perform a 16:8 fast is to skip breakfast and avoid any meals after 8 p.m.

A person may decide to break his fast by 12 noon, allowing himself an 8-hour window, until 8 p.m., to eat meals. The implication of this pattern is that you are forced to eat just 2 meals a day, rather than 3.

  • 20:4

The 20:4 fast allows for an even shorter eating window, 4 hours. This meaning you fast for 20 hours daily. You may either eat a single meal, or two smaller portions during your 4-hour eating window.

  • 24-hour Fasts

A 24-hour fast, as the name implies, involves a full day’s worth of fasting between meals. The most common variation is the dinner-dinner fasts—eating dinner on the first day, and waiting till dinnertime of the second day to have your next meal.

  • 5:2

The 5:2 fasting plan divides your week into two sections: fasting and non-fasting days. Formulated by famed diet expert Dr. Michael Mosley in his book, The Fast Diet, you have 5 days of regular eating and 2 days of fasting.

During the 2 fasting days, you can consume up to 500 calories, which can be consumed all at once or spread out over the course of the day.

  • 36-hour Fasts

The way to perform the 36-hour fast is to prepare to skip eating for an entire day. You have dinner on Day 1, completely skip eating on Day 2, and then have breakfast on Day 3. Skipping a full day of eating makes this form of IF more effective than shorter fasts, as your body burns more excess calories during your full day of fasting.

  • Extended Fasts

Usually performed by religious sects and more disciplined fitness gurus, extended fasts involve multiple continuous days of fasting. There are verified reports of people fasting for up to 10 months, but in many cases extended fasts are usually just a couple of days to a few weeks in duration.

To avoid depletion of essential nutrients, it is important that extended periods of fasting be performed under the supervision of a licensed health practitioner. It is usually recommended to perform extended fasts while supplementing micro-nutrient loss with a dose of multivitamins and supplements.

Risks and Side-Effects of Intermittent Fasting

Done right, intermittent fasting promises a host of benefits for individuals who adopt it. But like any dieting plan, there are risks and side effects to consider before embarking upon this course.

There is a risk of overeating, as compensation for lost calories, after a fasting period. The learning period is marked with hunger, which may cause you to eat even more than normal to suppress the urge.

Pregnant women, people on prescription medication, children, and elderly persons must fast under supervision. The benefits of fasting must be weighed against the risks of food restriction to avoid harmful caloric and nutritional deficiencies.