You’ve no doubt heard of it by now, it’s a phenomenon sweeping across the world. Is it just another fitness and health trend? Or is there some logic to this?
In a nutshell, it involves alternating cycles of fasting and eating.
Lets dig into the details to see what it’s all about.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Put simply, fasting is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. The entire process of intermittent fasting takes a different focus to a typical diet plan. With intermittent fasting, we’re focussing on when to eat, not just what to eat.
There are several different intermittent fasting methods, all of which split the day or week into eating periods and fasting periods. You will find that you’re already quite good at fasting, believe it or not! Every day, when you sleep, you’re "fasting”. Intermittent fasting can be as simple as extending that fast a little longer.
The simplest way to do this is by skipping breakfast, eating your first meal at midday and your last meal at 8 pm. Then you're technically fasting for 16 hours every day, and restricting your eating to an 8-hour eating window. This is the most popular form of intermittent fasting, known as the 16/8 method.
As you may be realising now, intermittent fasting is actually fairly easy to do. Plus, many people report feeling better and having more energy during a fast.
The challenge that many face is the hunger. However, for most, its usually only really a problem in the beginning, while your body is getting used to not eating for extended periods of time.
No food is allowed during the fasting period, but you can drink water, coffee, tea and other non-caloric beverages.
To Summarise, Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. It's one of the few popular trends that actually has some research to back it up, so let’s dive into the ‘Why’.
For thousands of years, humans have been fasting. Sometimes it was done out of necessity, when there simply wasn't any food available. In other instances, it was and still is done for religious reasons. Various religions, including Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, mandate some form of fasting.
We also instinctively fast when sick.
So, the first fear that fasting is ‘unatural’ just doesn’t hold weight. Our bodies are well equipped and prepared to handle periods of not eating.
We can talk about this theory for quite some time but lets take a look at the research to back this up. Here’s 6 great facts on intermittent fasting:
- When we don't eat for a while, a lot of processes in the body begin to change, in order to allow our bodies to thrive during a period of famine. It has to do with hormones, genes and important cellular repair processes (3).
- Significant reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as a drastic increase in human growth hormone (4, 5).
- Intermittent fasting in order to lose weight - it is a very simple and effective way to restrict calories and burn fat (6, 7, 8).
- Metabolic health benefits - it can improve various different risk factors and health markers (1).
- There is also some evidence that intermittent fasting can help you live longer. Studies in rodents show that it can extend lifespan as effectively as calorie restriction (9, 10).
- Some research also suggests that it can help protect against diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's disease and others (11, 12).
Types of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has become very trendy in the past few years, and several different types/methods have emerged.
Here are some of the most popular ones:
- The 16/8 Method: Fast for 16 hours each day, for example by only eating between noon and 8pm.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: Once or twice a week, don't eat anything from dinner one day, until dinner the next day (a 24 hour fast).
- The 5:2 Diet: During 2 days of the week, eat only about 500–600 calories.
Then there are many other variations.
The simplest and easiest to stick to is probably the 16/8 method. Most people lend themselves to this method anyway, especially if you find you’re not all that hungry in the mornings.
As long as you stick to healthy foods, restricting your eating window and fasting from time to time can have some very impressive health benefits.
It is an effective way to lose fat and improve metabolic health, while simplifying your life at the same time.