How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Intermittent fasting has quickly become the “it” diet. Many individuals use it to lose weight or to eat healthier.
But maybe you aren’t sure what it’s all about. After all, how does intermittent fasting work really? You’ve heard of the hype, but you aren’t entirely convinced it’s for you. So, let’s dive into what intermittent fasting is, the benefits of it, the risks or precautions involved, and everything else you should be aware of.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting, or IF, is a way of eating where you eat for a specific number of hours during the day, then fast for a specific number of hours. It has nothing to do with what you eat; instead, it’s all about when you eat.
The 16:8 Method
The most popular form of intermittent fasting is the 16:8 method. This means you fast for 16 hours, including when you sleep, and then have an eight-hour window during your day to eat. For example, you would fast from 8pm to noon the next day. From noon to 8pm, you can eat.
Yet, the 16:8 method isn’t the only way you can do intermittent fasting. There is also the Eat-Stop-Eat method, where you choose a set 24 hours once or twice a week that you fast. There’s also the 5:2 method, which involves setting aside two days a week where you only eat 500 to 600 calories.
How It Works
Generally, this diet may work for some individuals, since it provides a significant caloric cut by reducing the amount of meals or the time a person has to eat.
Let’s dive a little deeper. What’s going on beneath the surface when you fast? How does intermittent fasting work, and what's the science behind it?
When you fast, or go for long periods of time without food, your body increases the Human Growth Hormone, HGH. This can help decrease fat mass and increase muscle mass.
You also become more sensitive to insulin, experience cellular repair and may have changes in gene expression, which could help with disease prevention and help you lead a longer life.
The Benefits of IF
If there weren’t an array of benefits, people simply wouldn’t do it. Intermittent fasting has plenty of benefits to go around, including:
- Helping individuals lose weight
- Decreasing insulin resistance and reducing your risk of developing diabetes
- Reducing oxidative stress and inflammation
- Improved heart health
- Increased cellular repair
- Reduced risk of cancer
- Improved brain health
- Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease
Words of Caution
Interestingly, Harvard Health states that various studies indicate a high dropout rate from IF. About 38% of individuals fall off the bandwagon. This leads experts to believe that it might not be a completely sustainable weight loss strategy.
Fasting may also interfere with your body’s natural hunger cues and your appetite hormones. This may actually lead some individuals to eat more during their specific eating window.
If you’re new to intermittent fasting, it’s best to discuss your options with your doctor first. They can help determine if it's right for you and your health.
Intermittent fasting may be dangerous for some individuals. For example, it’s not recommended for people who have been diagnosed with diabetes, for individuals who take medication for blood pressure, or for individuals who take medication for a heart condition.
If you decide IF is right for you, consider the following before starting.
1. Incorporate as many whole foods as you can.
This means eating vegetables, fruits, lean protein and other nutrient-dense options. Since you only have a set amount of time to consume your daily food intake, you want to ensure you’re getting enough nutrients. If not, you may end up with nutritional deficiencies.
2. Plan your exercise or workouts accordingly.
It might not be the best time to perform your workout right after your eating window has closed. Instead, try to aim to exercise within your eating window or right before. This allows your body to refuel right after your workout session.
3. Emphasize other healthy habits.
Yes, IF can help you lose weight or achieve better health. However, you shouldn’t forget about other healthy habits. For example, a healthy lifestyle involves mindful eating. You still want to ensure you’re eating foods that nourish your body and that you’re not eating those foods too quickly. This will help you tune into your natural hunger cues and help you learn when you’re truly full.
4. Don’t forget to consume water.
Sometimes, thirst signals can be confused for hunger. Aim to drink plenty of water during your eating window and outside of it.
Lastly, it’s important to be aware that this type of diet isn’t for everyone. Getting healthy means finding what works for you and that looks different for different people. If you have any concerns about trying IF in regards to your health, bring it up with your doctor at your next visit. Discuss your options and uncover if IF is right for you.