Intermittent fasting is one of the most talked-about wellness trends at the moment. With that level of attention, comes a lot of hype. But what does the evidence say? Let’s take a look at the science behind intermittent fasting and how it could benefit you.
Intermittent fasting is very popular these days. Whether it’s celebs or your friend from yoga, you probably know someone practicing it. Although intermittent fasting is an effective way to lose weight, it’s considered more of a lifestyle choice than a diet.
So, why would someone choose to intermittent fast? While still relatively limited, current research reveals many possible benefits to fasting. It’s thought to slow down the ageing process, help manage blood sugar levels, and boost your immune system.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting involves restricting the hours you eat to specific windows of time. It doesn’t tell you what to eat, rather when to eat. You cycle through periods of eating and fasting. Generally, during your eating window, you can eat whatever you like. So, it’s more simple to tweak and fit in around your schedule.
Fasting is by no means a new concept. For centuries, our hunter-gatherer ancestors fasted regularly. Without the convenience of a refrigerator or supermarkets, humans have evolved to function without food for extended periods. Fasting is often done for religious or spiritual reasons, as well.
The word fasting can sound extreme. But, considering we sleep for about nine hours of the day, we already naturally fast. With intermittent fasting, this window is just longer.
During your fasting period, the idea is to refrain from consuming any food or beverages with calories. But, there are certain drinks that you can have while fasting, such as:
- Black coffee
- Vegetable or bone broth
- Tea: green, Oolong, black and herbal
- Apple cider vinegar
5 Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting Backed by Science:
While the research is still relatively limited, there have been some promising early results:
1. Support Weight Loss
Weight loss is one of the top reasons people start intermittent fasting. Generally, when you eat fewer meals, you’re taking in fewer calories and losing weight. One study found that short-term fasting increases your metabolic rate, which helps you to burn even more calories.
A review of 13 studies found that any version of intermittent fasting is beneficial for weight loss. On average, weight loss ranged from 1.3% to 8%. The people in the study also lost 4-7% of fat around the waist. There is an association between harmful fat around the belly and a higher risk for heart disease.
2. Good for the Brain
Intermittent fasting is good for the body and the brain. Studies in rats have found that it may increase the growth of new nerve cells, benefitting brain function. Intermittent fasting helps to boost brain health by reducing oxidative stress, inflammation and blood sugar levels.
Oxidative stress refers to an imbalance of free radicals throughout the body. When it comes to the brain, the effects of oxidative stress may lead to neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
3. Reduce Oxidative Stress and Inflammation
Oxidative stress can damage cells, proteins, and DNA contributing to the ageing process. Both inflammation and oxidative stress are key drivers for many common diseases. Intermittent fasting may increase the body’s resistance to oxidative stress and help fight inflammation.
4. Benefit Heart Health
Heart disease is the world’s biggest killer. Intermittent fasting has been found to improve several markers of heart disease like blood pressure, total cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and inflammation. Healthy blood pressure levels are essential for a happy heart.
5. Reduce Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance means that your body can’t respond to insulin properly. Over time, this results in high blood sugar levels, setting you up for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Intermittent fasting may help to reduce insulin resistance and stabilize blood sugar levels. The idea is that by restricting calories through fasting, it encourages sugar insulin levels to fall. Anything that can help to reduce insulin resistance should lower blood sugar levels. This helps to protect against type 2 diabetes in the future.
3 Intermittent Fasting Schedules Explained
There are a ton of different intermittent fasting schedules you can follow. So, you can experiment with what works for you. Intermittent fasting isn’t a miracle solution to perfect health and weight loss. But, what it can do is form a part of a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and a well-balanced diet.
1. The 16/8 Method
The 16/8 method of intermittent fasting involves fasting for 16 hours and restricting your eating window to eight hours. You might eat between midday and 8 PM. You would skip breakfast and stop eating after dinner.
One study found that people who only ate during a six-hour eating window felt less hungry. In comparison to a normal eating schedule, the fasting group experienced a decrease in appetite.
2. The 5/2 Diet
With the 5/2 method, you would typically eat for five days of the week then fast for two. During the fasting days, you cut your calorie intake down to 20%. For women, that’s about 500 calories and for men, 600.
3. Alternate-Day Fasting
As the name suggests, you alternate fasting days. So, you fast every other day. There are different versions of this type of intermittent fasting. Some versions allow 500 calories on the fasting days.
Is Intermittent Fasting Right For You?
As with any major lifestyle changes, we highly recommend you consult with your healthcare practitioner before attempting a fast. Intermittent fasting can work for a lot of people. There’s a lot of different fasting schedules to choose from and it can be very flexible. But, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition, and the same applies to intermittent fasting.
This eating style is not for everyone. For some people, intermittent fasting can feel very strict and hard to commit to. This can be the case if you love to snack and feel super hangry when you don’t. It’s also not a great idea to use intermittent fasting for anyone underweight, struggling to gain weight or with a history of disordered eating.
If you have higher calorie needs like with pregnancy or breastfeeding, then it’s best to stick to your regular eating pattern. Other individuals who should be careful are people with diabetes or heart conditions.
For some people, intermittent fasting is a complete game-changer. It can be the key to successful weight loss and feeling better overall. Intermittent fasting can result in a serious boost of energy and mental clarity. No matter what pattern of eating you choose, always listen to your body and be kind.