Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular weight-loss trends on the internet, with health experts weighing in on the subject all over the place.
But does it work and is fasting healthy? The short answer is yes, it works.
Intermittently fasting, or “IF”, has been shown to help people lose weight, with other added bonuses like increased focus. But the long answer is more complicated than that and there’s some recent science that’s compelling when it comes to IF.
Fasting is different than other health and nutrition trends because it’s not really a guide on what to eat, but rather a guide on when to eat. So…
What is intermittent fasting?
IF is limiting the time you allow yourself to consume calories, with a “feeding” window and the rest of the time fasting. There are different levels of intensity with IF, with varying results for each. The most common form of IF is to allow yourself an 8-hour feeding window, with the other 16 hours of the day not eating anything. There are other patterns as well, such as fasting for the entire day twice a week or drastically decreasing your calories two to three times a week. Most people in their fasting window reduce themselves to only water or black coffee.
The idea here is that if you only allow your body to consume calories for a short amount of time each day, or not at all for 24 hours at a time, your body becomes more efficient at burning the fuel you put into it- calories. There are some scientific studies published recently that show us why our bodies can become more efficient in burning calories and fat while fasting.
A study published in The American Society for Clinical Investigation shows us that Human Growth Hormone, or HGH, levels increase drastically when someone consistently fasts. This is especially true in men, with the increased HGH levels attributing to fat loss and muscle gain.
In a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, fasting was shown to also lower insulin levels significantly, which leads to weight loss. Lower insulin levels allow the fat storages in the body to be more readily accessible, which allows your body to use those fat storages for fuel. Even without any of that, one way IF increases weight loss in the people who try it is just the simple fact that by restricting the time in which you allow yourself to eat, most people naturally end up reducing the number of calories they intake daily, which directly leads to weight loss.
Is Intermittent Fasting realistic for me?
So, what’s the problem? The best diet is the one you’ll stick to.
Intermittent fasting is tough to sustain for long periods of time and many people end up falling back into their normal eating patterns shortly after trying. IF affects your entire day, and at first, it’s quite the adjustment.
For people who don’t fast this way, the idea of an eating pattern probably doesn’t even cross your mind. For most people, when you’re hungry, you eat, and you don’t even give it a second thought. Or you eat when your schedule permits, which could change from month to month, week to week, or even day-to-day. There’s no pattern there, but with IF, it’s a consistent feeding schedule to follow, and it’s that consistency that allows it to be the most effective.
Intermittent Fasting is Healthy for more than Just Your Body
One of the effects of fasting people have noticed in their journey to lose weight doesn’t have to do with your body but rather, your mind. Many people who practice IF have reported feeling sharper and having a stronger sense of focus and concentration.
A recent study, published in the National Institute on Aging, found that mice who fasted showed a 50% increase in brain-derived neurotic factor, a chemical associated with memory and learning that is ignited when the body is burning fat.
Studies have shown that a decrease in this fat-burning, memory, and learning chemical has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. There aren’t many “diets” in this industry that can burn fat, increase memory and learning and protect against fatal diseases the way fasting can, which makes it that much more valuable, especially for the middle-aged market.
How to Get Started with Intermittent Fasting
If you’re ready to give it a try, you might be wondering where to get started.
Fasting can be intimidating at first, so it helps to have a solid plan before you get started.
The most common practice is a 16/8 split, with 16 hours of fasted time and 8 hours of feeding time per day. It’s important to make sure you plan around when you sleep because you want as many of the fasted hours to be when you’re sleeping.
This becomes particularly tricky for overnight shift workers, people with professions in the medical or emergency industry whose schedule might require them to be awake for much longer periods of time. For most people, the easiest way to get started is to skip breakfast, have your first meal around noon, and then don’t eat anything after 8 pm.
Some of the more advanced practices include a 20/4 split or fasting for 24 hours twice a week, but if you’re new to IF, it’s best to start slow and work your way up to that if that’s your goal.
One of the other obstacles most people end up hurdling when they begin to fast is maintaining a healthy diet along with fasting. It can be hard- you’ve starved yourself for 16 hours, so when it’s time to eat you go over the top, and before you know it you’ve stuffed yourself with hundreds of unnecessary and unhealthy calories. This is what we call “hustling backward”.
The easiest way to combat this is to utilize a calorie tracker throughout the day, such as the MyFitnessPal app, to keep yourself accountable for what you eat. It can be easy to lose track of calories on your own, but if you’re tracking calories it makes it a lot easier to stay in a place where you will burn fat and feel great. The other way to make sure you don’t go over the edge is to stop thinking of the food as a reward.
Fasting for most people, food becomes the prize of a game that we’ve created for ourselves, and we determine the size of that prize whether it’s warranted or not. That is a dangerous game because using food as a prize rather than as fuel for your journey to a better you will inevitably lead to overeating and “cheating” on any diet. If we change the way we think about food, then otherwise intimidating practices such as fasting will no longer be daunting and we can enjoy the effects of a sustained, consistent, and healthy lifestyle change.
Have a trial run at Intermittent Fasting
As with any “diet” or lifestyle adjustment around food, it’s best to take a test drive. If fasting is something you want to try, test it out for two or three weeks and really try to observe how your body reacts. Notice the changes in your body, your mind, your sleep, and your general mood from day-to-day. That way, you can assess if it’s sustainable for you, or if there might be another method that works best. Again, the best “diet” is the one you’ll stick to.
Intermittently fasting can be an excellent way to lose weight, feel great, and sharpen your mind in the process. So many people have enjoyed the benefits of IF, and if it’s something you can stay consistent with, there’s no reason why you can’t as well.