Intermittent fasting is a very popular practice these days. Some people do it to try and lose weight, other people believe it helps them improve their overall level of fitness.
There are also those who think intermittent fasting is a more natural eating pattern for the body and that it will deliver health benefits and have an anti-aging effect.
Some of the health benefits attributed to Intermittent Fasting include:
- Improved insulin sensitivity (may protect against type 2 diabetes).
- Increased levels of human growth hormone.
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Improved cellular repair.
- Protection from disease.
- Improved mental function and protection against Alzheimer’s disease.
Many of the claims made about the health benefits of intermittent fasting can be backed by scientific evidence, but it is important to bear in mind further study is warranted. It is equally important to remember intermittent fasting is not so much a modern fad as it is a reversion to a more natural eating pattern.
Intermittent Fasting in a Nutshell
Although it is often considered so, intermittent fasting is not a diet. It is an eating pattern. Diets are more about what people eat, how much they eat, and leveraging the calorie intake in a manner that results in weight loss. Intermittent fasting is not about how much people eat it is more concerned with how often they eat. People who practice intermittent fasting can use a variety of different intermittent eating patterns.
The two most common ones are:
- The 16-hour fast (16/8 Method): Eating is restricted to an 8-hour time-slot each day.
- The 5:2 Diet: People have to fast for two days every week, but a normal eating pattern is allowed on the other five days.
Arguments For Intermittent Fasting
Most of the arguments for intermittent fasting are related to the health benefits this kind of eating pattern can provide. However, perhaps the most important argument may be, although most people are accustomed to receiving a regular supply of food, the body is not designed to handle such an abundance. Early man was a hunter and gatherer. Some days the environment he lived in failed to provide opportunities for regular eating. An intermittent eating pattern was normal and the human body became used to it. The fact that obesity levels continue to grow on a worldwide scale is perhaps the most obvious proof of how much times have changed.
The fact that food is so readily available, and such a large and enticing variety exists, may be good on the one hand, but eating so regularly may not be so good for a species that adapted to intermittent fasting over a period of thousands of years.
Is Intermittent Fasting Hard to Do?
Although the idea of going without food may seem so alien many people may consider intermittent fasting too difficult an option to consider it does not have to be as hard as it sounds. For most 16-hour fasters it is often just a case of skipping breakfast because any time spent sleeping counts towards the fast. So anyone who eats a light supper at 8pm, goes to bed, wakes up and skips breakfast (as many people often do anyway), and then eats lunch at 12 noon, will have spent 16 hours fasting.
Even the more severe-sounding 5:2 diet is less drastic than it appears because fasters are not expected to avoid food completely. During fast days, women are permitted to eat 500 calories and men 100 calories more. A typical fast day may involve two 300 calorie meals. A light breakfast, consisting of two scrambled eggs, followed by a small amount of grilled fish and some steamed vegetable at lunch. It must be remembered that it does not take much food to provide 300 calories. A standard Big Mac can deliver 257 calories without any fries or an accompanying drink. Even a 100g apple will provide 52 calories.
How Will I Feel During the Fast?
It may sound surprising, but many people who practice intermittent fasting say they find it quite easy to do and state they feel better in themselves during the fasting period. Some people even say they feel more energetic than normal.
Is Drinking Allowed While Fasting?
It is important that the body remain hydrated so intermittent fasters are allowed to drink water or any other beverage that is unlikely to provide extra calories, such as tea or coffee (without sugar or milk). Green tea can be a particularly good option because it is rich in antioxidants that are good for the health.
Is Intermittent Fasting Worth the Effort and is it Safe to Do?
Anyone who spends a little time doing online research should be able to find numerous studies that support the health benefits claimed for intermittent fasting, but such an eating pattern is not suitable for everyone. People who are diabetic, for example, would be very unwise to attempt depriving their body of food for extended periods of time. It is also possible the fasting process may aggravate certain other medical conditions, so anyone who has existing health problems would do well to consult a doctor prior to attempting any form of fasting.
The Downside of Intermittent Fasting
- There has been little research into the effectiveness of intermittent fasting on enhancing athletic performance, fat loss, and concomitant muscle tissue increase. In fact, numerous studies show that exercising when fasting actually burns muscle as fuel.
- Regarding the removal of toxins from the body, the main detoxification organs (intestines and liver) need energy to fulfill their jobs. To transform toxins to waste for elimination, fiber and calories are required, thus consuming those items is important.
- When it comes to hunger behavior modification, ignoring hunger can lead to binge eating. This can become counterproductive if too many calories are consumed at the next feeding.
- Injured athletes need nutrients to allow for healing. Fasting means important nutrients are not ingested, which can delay the healing process.
- Finally, exercise itself enhances insulin sensitivity and the body’s ability to use fat as fuel. If your goal is to grow muscle and lose fat, you can accomplish this by simply exercising and adhering to appropriate calorie intake.
Health permitting, many people may find Intermittent Fasting a worthwhile endeavor. Others may find such a change in lifestyle too hard to take. Everyone is different. The only way to discover if intermittent fasting is right for you is to give it a try. The proof is in the pudding, as the old saying goes. Just remember pudding is forbidden on fast days.