Intermittent Fasting – What is it & Is It For You?
Most of you will have probably heard of intermittent fasting – a health and fitness phenomenon, which has been rapidly growing in popularity in the recent years. Many celebrities swear by it to keep in shape – and it has received great media coverage.
What makes it so appealing to those looking to lose weight? It could be the fact that it doesn’t require as much effort (calorie-counting, for example) as many other weight loss methods. Or the fact that it appears to be more ‘natural’ than following a calorie-restrictive diet – after all, people have been practicing fasting for thousands of years.
While it is often used to lose weight, intermittent fasting isn’t a diet, as it doesn’t restrict you to eating certain foods. Many methods of IF don’t even restrict your calorie-intake.
Intermittent fasting isn’t focused on what you eat – but directs attention to when you eat. It is an eating pattern, which alternates cycles of fasting and eating. For example, skipping a meal or restricting calories on certain days of the week with the aim of losing weight, while on the other days of the week, you are free to eat whatever you want (within reason, of course!).
But intermittent fasting isn’t just about losing weight – it also has a huge range of other health benefits.
In this article, we’ll explain how you can use fasting to help you achieve your weight loss goals – and tell you about the other health benefits you can expect.
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What Makes Intermittent Fasting So Effective?
The effectiveness of intermittent fasting to help people lose weight is supported by tons of empirical evidence. Over the years, multiple studies have found that fasting for short periods of time helped people shed unwanted pounds and achieve a slimmer waistline.
Generally speaking, the key reason why intermittent fasting is so effective in aiding weight loss is because when we fast, we inevitably consume fewer calories. All intermittent fasting protocols involve skipping meals for a specific amount of time, resulting in lower daily calorie intake. Consuming fewer calories throughout the day naturally leads to weight loss, even if calorie-counting generally isn’t required for intermittent fasting.
However, it’s important not to overcompensate for the missed calories during your non-fasting periods – or else you could compromise your weight loss results.
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Intermittent Fasting Changes Your Metabolism
Intermittent fasting doesn’t only lead to consuming fewer calories, but it also helps us increase fat burning by boosting metabolism and overall metabolic health.
When we fast, our bodies perform several health-boosting functions which make stored energy more accessible to us. This happens because of changes in the nervous system activity – and some significant changes in several vital hormones.
Here are the processes we experience in our metabolism during fasting:
- Insulin When we consume food, insulin levels in the body increase. Fasting means that insulin decreases significantly – and lower levels of insulin help burn more fat.
- Norepinephrine (noradrenaline). When we fast, norepinephrine is sent to the fat cells, which break down body fat into free fatty acids, that can be burned for energy.
- Human growth hormone (HGH). Fasting results in significantly higher levels of growth hormone, which is a hormone that aids fat loss and muscle gain.
Research shows that intermittent fasting can actually boost your metabolic rate by 3.6% to 14%, helping your body burn more calories – which may be the opposite of what you’ve heard from those who believe 5-6 meals a day are needed for healthy functioning.
Not only does intermittent fasting aid weight loss, but it has numerous other science-based health benefits, such as:
- Improving heart health: IF has been shown to improve several different risk factors, such as blood pressure, total and LDL cholesterol, inflammatory markers, blood triglycerides and blood sugar levels.
- Boosting cellular repair processes: When we fast, our body cells break down and metabolize broken proteins that may build up in the cells over time (also known as “waste removal” or autophagy).
- Helping prevent cancer: IF affects metabolism in ways which have been shown to help reduce cancer.
The Most Effective Intermittent Fasting Methods for Weight Loss
There are several popular intermittent fasting methods, but some are more effective for weight loss than others.
We have listed 4 ways to do intermittent fasting that are recommended by experts specifically for weight loss.
#1: The 16/8 Method (Leangains protocol): Fasting for 16 Hours Each Day
The 16/8 fasting method involves fasting for 16 hours a day, every day. For example, you would fast from 6pm until 10am the next day, meaning that your eating window is from 10am to 6pm. Within this eating window, you can fit in 2-3 healthy meals.
It is important to mostly eat healthy foods during your eating windows, as piling your plate with high-calorie food and rummaging through drawers for unhealthy snacks you crave will make the fast less effective. You can drink water, coffee and other non-caloric drinks during your fast to help reduce hunger levels.
This intermittent fasting method is one of the most popular ones and is often suggested to people who are new to fasting as a first step. The fasting time includes sleep, which makes it easier – and if you trade your breakfast for a cup of tea or coffee, you’re practically there.
You can customize the 16/8 method to make it work for your schedule. For example, you may want to begin fasting a little later – at 8pm and break your fast at noon the next day. The flexibility and not having to count calories makes this method of FI one of the most popular choices among those looking to lose weight.
It is recommended for women to shorten the fasting time to 14-15 hours.
#2: The 5:2 Diet (the Fast diet): Fasting For 2 Days a Week.
With the 5:2 diet, you eat normally 5 days a week, and restrict your diet to 500-600 calories on two days of the week. The simplicity of it has led to it rising in popularity in the recent years.
On the fasting days, women are advised to consume 500 calories, while men 600 calories. For example, Tuesdays and Thursdays might be the two days of the week you fast, meaning that you’ll have a couple of small meals (250 calories each) on those days.
On the rest of the days, you are free to eat what you like – within reason, of course!
It is suggested that women can lose about 1lb a week on the 5:2 diet, with men losing the same or even a little more.
#3: Alternate-Day Fasting: Fasting every other day.
As the name suggests, alternate-day fasting involves fasting every other day. While there are many different versions of this method, the most popular ones allow up to 500 calories during the fasting days. On the non-fasting days, you are free to eat what you like – meaning that your eating is restricted only half of the time.
Alternate-day fasting is a more challenging fasting method than a 5:2 diet, as there are more fasting days in the week.
However, it is a powerful weight loss tool and some studies have shown that people find it easier to follow than traditional, everyday calorie-restricting diets. Research has also shown that it was superior to those diets in preserving muscle mass.
The diet has been shown to be particularly effective for middle-aged people.
#4: Eat-Stop-Eat Fast: A 24-hour fast a few times a week
With the “Eat-Stop-Eat” fast, you fast completely for 24 hours, several times a week. For example, if you have dinner at 8pm on Monday, you wouldn’t eat anything until 8pm on Tuesday to complete a full, 24-hour fasting cycle.
Whether you start your fast from breakfast, lunch or dinner – the effects will be the same. Tea, coffee, water and other non-caloric beverages are allowed – but you can’t have any solid food.
To lose weight, it is important to continue eating normally when your fasting day ends – in other words, consume the same amount of food as if you hadn’t been fasting that day.
It is recommended that you start with a shorter fasting period to ease your body in (for example, 16 hours) – then work your way up to a full-day fast.
If you have been toying with the idea of intermittent fasting, there are evidence-backed reasons to give it a go. The substantial health benefits and its effectiveness in weight loss make it an appealing option to those looking to shed unwanted pounds and give their bodies a health boost.
There are a range of intermittent fasting methods to suit everyone’s lifestyles, making it an even more popular choice for weight loss. The key is not to compensate too much during the non-fasting periods – and you will most likely reap some weight loss benefits.