There are a plethora of nutritional and diet plans to be found out there in the world of medicine, healthcare, sports, and fitness. In general, we are what we eat so it is only natural that people highly value and consider not only the food which they consume on a daily basis but also the period and the manner in which they do so. Intermittent fasting, as it can be preconceived from the notions themselves, is exactly that.
This method of fasting is about the eating cycle and it revolves around eating or fasting at certain periods of the day. It is one of the oldest “nutritional plans” so to speak since we as a species have known to fast for a long time now. People used to eat only once or twice a day if they were privileged to do so. When they had no food they were fasting while trying to find the food source and that would last for days sometimes. This method of fasting is thus no invention or a breakthrough in the branch of nutrition.
However, it has been overlooked because of several other methods that are also available and because of the way we live today. We are immensely supplied with food and we can almost eat whenever we wish to do so. Without further ado, let us see what this method of eating includes, what are the possible benefits or side-effects (if any) and how to apply it.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Before going further into the explanation, it is necessary just to notice one thing. What we’re talking about here is not a diet. More aptly, it could be described as a pattern of eating if we are so eager in giving it a name. What are the implications of that? The variety of food consumption remains pretty much the same. It is not necessary to discard a certain type of food or something of that nature.
The goal of a healthy nutritional lifestyle should be focused on a well-balanced intake of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. These macronutrients are all unique and involved in the maintenance and construction of our bodies. That being said, they should not be discarded. There are other options, such as a keto-based diet, which implement such ideas. Intermittent fasting is temporally dependent rather than qualitatively.
Also, it should be noted that this pattern of eating isn’t restricted only for athletes, bodybuilders or somebody trying to lose weight. It can be freely applied by almost anybody, except for special cases such as pregnant women, or people suffering from certain diseases. Why? Because fasting as such is a practiced sometimes not only to build muscle or lose fat but also because of numerous health benefits that have arisen as a result of intermittent fasting (1).
So how does one fasting schedule look like? There are several approaches to the time proportion in which one is to eat during the day. The most popular choice would probably be a 16:8 ratio, often considered to be a rule of thumb (also called “lean-gain”). What the 16:8 ratio means is that during the day there is a fasting period of 16 hours and a food intake period which lasts for 8 hours. These periods may also be referred to as “windows” or “cycles”. There are several other ratios, such as 12:12, 14:10, and so on.
The ratio which is to be chosen generally depends on the person. There is no strict way of implementing the fasting and it is recommended to try out different things during fasting. Finding the right solution rarely happens from the first try. Next, it should be said that it is not necessary to fast every day. If you’re only beginning intermittent fasting it will probably be hard to make such a big change in your already established eating regimen. My personal recommendation would be to fast one day per week in the beginning. After two weeks, try fasting 2 days a week. Fasting days do not necessarily need to be one after the other. You can alternate between the fasting days (“alternate fasting”).
You can fast on Monday and Thursday in your first week, next week fast on Tuesday and Friday, etc. An advanced version of fasting involves fasting every day of the week or perhaps without the weekdays. Trying out fasting this seriously early on is difficult, although not impossible.
Why Settle For Intermittent Fasting?
It goes without saying that the reasons behind intermittent fasting are many, but I’ll try pointing out the main reasons why you should try it and later on I’ll analyze why it perhaps isn’t the right solution for you.
It is considered as an effective method of losing weight (2). Numerous people try out fasting as a weight-loss program. Some of them turn that program into a lifestyle later because of the positive outcome which came as a result. It is also a good method when trying to maintain muscle mass while burning fat at the same time. That is because while fasted, our body enhances the work of the growth hormone which regulates muscle mass while also burning fat because of the lack of temporarily available nutrients that we usually get from the food. This might interest you if you are keen on fitness for example.
Detoxing your body can be a reason to try intermittent fasting as well. When in a fasted state for 12 hours or more, the body goes through several changes. One of them is “repairing” or getting rid of certain cell parts useless for the body i.e. It is also commonly used for dropping high levels of insulin. Insulin levels rise when there is food in the body since Insulin serves as a valve for our body.
When food is consumed, the “valve” opens up to intake all the nutrients which the food contains. However, unhealthy or poor nutritional habits are known to temper with proper insulin functioning so intermittent fasting can help out in those cases.
It is interesting that there is an increase in brain function as well as better concentration for people who fast. As a result of our historical background, nonetheless, our survival mechanism urges the brain to come up with a strategy of finding food in order to survive.
A big part of the detox process happens during the fasted period since the body has time to cleanse itself. It is not occupied by any other needs, such as food digestion. Fasting is often practiced in order to alleviate pain or simply improve the functions of the gastrointestinal tract.
Intermittent fasting has shown to improve the overall functioning of the immune system, responsible for defending our body from any diseases, infections, viruses, etc. Also, preventing cancer and improving liver function.
When To Avoid Dieting?
I think there are almost no negative effects of intermittent fasting per se. Before judging whether or not it is an option for you, I believe everyone should at least give it a chance.
Fasting cannot “fail” in the basic sense of the word. It can only turn up to be a bad strategy in achieving certain goals that a person might have. Usually, that goes for bodybuilders or athletes.
Often times during the eating window of the day a person doesn’t really consider the number of calories consumed. This is known to result in a calorie deficiency and thus weight loss occurs. That is the reason why it should be taken into account how many calories have been already consumed that day.
Intermittent fasting generally serves good for anyone who wants to increase muscle mass. Those who want to achieve such goals should only be careful with preparing meals since they need bigger portions than usual.
On the other side, this is a good outcome for those in need of burning extra pounds. It depends on what our goals are. Choosing intermittent fasting might be ideal for reaching certain fitness goals while lacking in accomplishing others.
It is a good idea to consider fasting when in lack of time during the day. However, the time saved for eating during the day usually ends up being used, since the quantity of the food should be increased. That might be a downfall for people who aren’t keen on preparing food, for example.
Some Additional Details Regarding Intermittent Fasting
It is generally suggested to intake a lot of water during the day. If on an intermittent fasting regime that caution should be even higher. Our body is starved and needs water to be hydrated properly. Often times people drink tea or coffee in order to break the monotony. Coffee can actually help with feeling hungry since that feeling generally passes when consuming coffee. Although, not in high quantity since caffeine raises cortisol levels (stress hormone).
It is worth mentioning that the “hunger hormone” called ghrelin can make problems for people in the beginning. The body simply has the habit of acquiring food upon its demand. It is not an easy process of acquiring the habit opposite to that one already existing. Even though it will be hard to abstain from eating when the body asks for it this shouldn’t be a problem for a long period.
Ghrelin usually adapts to the change in nutrition intake after a short period of time (3). It takes no longer than a few days although it can fluctuate from person to person. There is no specific rule which applies to every individual. Digesting systems and metabolism work in a different way, but there are certain tendencies that can be seen in most people, of course.
As a side note, it should be said that settling for an 8-hour window during the day does not mean you can eat anything which falls on your plate. It is recommended to stick to whole foods, without any processed or refined products in your diet.
Approaching intermittent fasting with a completely objective standpoint of judgment shows that there clearly is a number of reasons for someone should try fasting. First off, the possible health benefits are large in comparison to the almost non-existing side-effects. Fasting can come in handy when we want to raise awareness of our eating habits. This can have a positive impact on our general health, not only when going to the gym and seeking certain fitness goals. It goes without saying that the beginning is most likely the hardest part of the fasting itself. Every change to our daily habits requires effort and willful decision making.
That being said, we should also look on the bright side. Intermittent fasting is one of the easiest methods to apply while giving great results if followed properly. I highly recommend it to anyone since it can do more good than harm in any possible scenario. Our final goal and purpose of nutrition change are living a healthy and happy life. I assure you, intermittent fasting does exactly that.