Understanding Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting (commonly referred to as “IF”)
is a way of regulating eating. This regulation is accomplished by introducing periods of reprieve from food. These periods of fasting are usually designated as daily or weekly cycles depending on the selected program. Perhaps while not immediately apparent as to why one would sustain from eating at regular intervals, there are plenty of benefits and advantages afforded to those who fast. Intermittent fasting is a tool for weight control; however, it shouldn’t be thought of as a diet since following IF puts no restrictions on what you can or cannot eat. There are surely recommendations to follow, but fasting proves very flexible and abundant with options.
Science and benefits behind “IF”
So why intermittently fast in the first place? When engaging in IF, the body is essentially being retrained on how to control hormone levels. By fasting, people can reset hormones related to eating and metabolism, in particular, insulin. Fasting allows stored glucose levels to deplete entirely so that the body can begin reducing insulin production. This, in turn, is conducive for weight loss as insulin stimulates cells such as muscle and fat cells to absorb glucose. Glucose is taken into the cells to be used for energy; however, without exercise, this energy is converted into fat. When glucose isn’t a readily available energy source, the body, in response, utilizes fat for energy. Beyond just weight loss, IF also offers a plethora of other benefits:
- Reduced visceral and subcutaneous fats
- Reduced resting heart rate
- Improved intestinal motility
- Reduced skeletal muscle inflammation
- Improved cognition
- Reduced blood pressure
- A slight increase in body metabolism
- More energy
- Greater focus
- More time in the day not spent cooking/eating
As mentioned previously, intermittent fasting can be practiced on either a daily or weekly basis. When thinking of daily fasting, the abbreviation “16:8” should come to mind. This simply denotes that for 16 hours of the day, fasting occurs while inversely there’s an eight hour time window for eating. Additionally, 16 and 8 add to 24, which signifies that this IF program is a daily cycle. In contrast, the abbreviation 5:2 means weekly (5 days eating regularly, two days of fasting) since it adds up to 7. Below are several popular styles of IF:
- 16:8 – Typically, eating from 12 pm to 8 pm then fasting until the next day, same time.
- 19:5 – Eating only from 5 pm to 10 pm
- 20:4 – Known as the Warrior diet, this style entails underfeeding during the day and having a single meal in the evening. This particular style has food recommendations specific to a paleolithic diet.
- OMAD or 23:1 – a very strict one meal a day where you can only eat a single plate, at a single sitting, within one hour, once per day, and typically, in the evening.
- ADF (alternate day fasting) – fasting every other day for 24 hours.
Tips on beginning an IF program
Beginning to fast can present numerous challenges as you’re retraining not only your mind and body’s relationship to food but your routines as well. It’ll take time for the body to adjust to the physiological changes. Follow these tips to ease your transition into intermittent
- Drink more water as it will suppress feelings of hunger. Better yet, ice water is helpful as people enjoy the crunching of ice to distract them from cravings to eat.
- Listen to your body as you eat. Let your body inform you when you’re full.
- Ease into achieving your fasting windows. Give yourself some leeway as you begin your
- Avoid refined carbs. Carbohydrates cause insulin to spike, which, consequently, triggers hunger cravings. It’s more prudent to eat nutrient-dense foods over empty carbs as one will leave you feeling more full than the other.
- Caffeine, such as black tea or coffee, is known as an appetite suppressant, which may help tide you over until your feeding window.
- Good sleep is critical as sleep deprivation has yielded clinical studies supporting that tiredness leads to overeating.
Intermittent fasting isn’t a shortcut to weight loss but a serious commitment and test of discipline. It causes us to evaluate the relationships we have with food and to think beyond societal norms that have dictated when and what to eat our entire lives.