Intermittent fasting has been creating buzz in mainstream news and culture over the past few years. While intermittent fasting (IF) may seem to be the latest trend in health and diet, fasting is actually one of the most ancient and widespread healing traditions in the world. Humans have been fasting throughout history whether overnight during sleep, as a result of food scarcity during extended periods, or for religious purposes.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
In the simplest form, intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating, not a diet. Intermittent fasting is the name given to the practice of occasionally going for extended periods of time without food or calories. Intermittent fasting does not change what you eat, but rather when you eat. Again, we all inadvertently fast while we sleep. You essentially break your fast when you have your first meal of the day.
What Are the Benefits?
Many health and physique-oriented individuals are seeking out IF in order to keep their bodies in tip top shape. Essentially the proposed benefits of intermittent fasting include “looking better”, “feeling better”, and “living longer”. Data shows that when done properly, intermittent fasting may:
- Regulate blood glucose
- Control blood lipids
- Reduce blood pressure
- Reduce risk of cancer
- Manage body weight
- Boost metabolism
- Gain (or maintain) lean muscle mass
- Extend life through cellular turnover and repair
- Improve cardiovascular function
- Regulate circadian rhythm
With so many benefits you may find yourself asking why everyone isn’t practicing IF. Before you jump on the band wagon, take a moment to understand the ins and outs of the practice.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
In order to understand how intermittent fasting works, more specifically how it leads to fat loss, we must understand the difference between being in a fed state as opposed to being in a fasted state. The fed state is when your body is digesting and absorbing food. This state typically lasts 3-5 hours as your body digests and absorbs food and drink. During the fed state it is very difficult for your body to burn fat because your insulin levels are elevated. It is much easier for your body to burn fat in the fasted state when your insulin levels are low. Your body enters the fasted state about 8-12 hours after your last meal. This is how intermittent fasting puts your body in a fat burning state.
Be aware, you can still gain weight if you are in a caloric surplus. So if you are interested in IF you should eat healthy as well as avoid being in a caloric surplus.
Intermittent Fasting Timing and Approaches
Different approaches to intermittent fasting have been developed over the years. Every method can be effective. Deciding which to use depends on the needs and lifestyle of the individual.
The 4 most popular fasting methods include:
- 16:8 — This method involves fasting for 16 hours a day and only eating during an 8-hour ‘window’. For example, you might eat 2-3 meals during the 8-hour window and fast the remaining hours.
- 20:4 — This method involves a 20-hour fast and 4-hour eating window. One might only have one or two meals within the feeding window.
- 24 — This approach involves eating only one meal a day. For example, you might fast from dinner to dinner or lunch to lunch. Practitioners may choose to do this every day or 2-3 times per week.
- 5:2 — This approach involves five regular eating days and two fasting days. For example you would eat as you normally would for five days and only eat 500 calories worth of food for two consecutive days. The calories may be consumed at any time of day as long as you do not exceed 500 calories.
Any one of these fasting methods may allow you to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting. Check with your medical provider to confirm you are a good candidate for IF.
Common Questions Surrounding Intermittent Fasting
Is fasting suitable for me?
It is good practice to consult with your medical provider when undergoing any dietary changes. That being said, you should not fast if you are :
- Under 18 years of age
- Prone to or have a history of an eating disorder
- Pregnant or breastfeeding
- Recovering from surgery or injury
Can women fast?
Some studies have shown evidence that intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial for women as it is to men. For example, some results have shown improved insulin sensitivity in men, but decreased blood sugar control in women. For this and other reasons, it is recommended women follow different guidelines than men such as easing into the practice and consulting a physician.
Can I drink liquids during the fast?
Absolutely. Water, black coffee, tea, and other non-caloric beverages may be consumed. Staying hydrated can also help you feel fuller and combat hunger pains when you are first introducing fasting.
What should I focus on during intermittent fasting?
- Eat a well balanced diet of high-quality protein, leafy greens, and good fats.
- Get enough calories for the day, but avoid a caloric surplus.
- Avoid sugary, processed foods.
- Stay hydrated.
- Get at least 7-9 hours of sleep.
The Take Away
Intermittent fasting is a lifestyle practice with many rewarding benefits. While it may be great for some people, it may not be suitable for others. If you feel good while fasting and find it to be a sustainable way of eating, it has the potential to be a powerful tool to lose weight and improve your health.
Lena Cano holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Chemistry and is a Certified Personal Trainer, Running Coach, and holds a Level 1 Nutrition Certification through Precision Nutrition. Lena strives to be the best version of herself when it comes to stability in health and relationships. For more information on her services you can connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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