Beginner’s Guide To Intermittent Fasting

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Intermittent fasting is a dietary pattern that rotates between periods of eating and fasting. It is believed to help improve your overall health and boost weight loss efforts. Learn more about intermittent fasting, its benefits and how you can follow it.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is a recent popular trend that consists of people alternating between periods of fasting and eating. Many health and weight loss gurus believe that this is a more natural form of eating, closely resembling the way that humans ate for thousands of years. In prehistory, hunter-gatherers may have had extended periods without food, given that they lacked modern conveniences of refrigerators and supermarkets. Emulating this ancient eating pattern is believed to help the body function more efficiently, and engage in more fat-burning than a traditional 3-meals-a-day diet would allow.

There are different ways to introduce intermittent fasting to your life, depending on your health goals and other medical considerations. It is always recommended that you speak with your doctor before making a major change to your dietary patterns.

Intermittent Fasting Diets

The most important aspect of intermittent fasting is the diet plan or schedule you follow. It is more about when you eat rather than what you eat. If you are choosing to go on the diet, then there are a few different plans to choose from, including the 16:8 diet, the 5:2 diet, the 24-hour fast, and the alternating-days approach, among others.

16:8

Perhaps the most common form of an intermittent fast, the 16:8 method consists of fasting for 16 hours and then allowing yourself to eat for 8 hours. This is a popular approach because it can be synchronized with our natural sleep cycle. Most people sleep for 8 hours and are thus, fasting. So, extending the window of fasting before and after sleeping makes it easier to handle. In the 16:8 approach, people may fast from 8 pm to noon, eating an early dinner and skipping breakfast, allowing their body to start burning fats once the liver’s energy stores are expended. The 14:10 method is similar to the 16:8 approach but allows a slightly longer window for eating.

5:2

In this strategy, you can follow a normal diet for 5 days of the week. However, on any two days of the week, you can consume only a moderate-sized meal of about 500 calories. This can often be a less intrusive form of intermittent fasting, as it only changes your behavior two days of the week.

24-Hour Fast

Another effective form of intermittent fasting is simply avoiding food for 24 hours at a time. This is a more intense version of the 5:2 diet. It can also be flexible in terms of how often a person fasts for a full 24 hours.

Alternating Days

An even more intense version of the 5:2 approach, alternating days means eating a normal, calorie-packed diet one day, and then eating a reduced diet (0-500 calories) on the following day. Again, choosing the right intensity for your fasting will depend on your health and weight loss goals.

Alarm clock, plate, measuring tape, spoon and fork laid out on a measuring table

Intermittent fasting can have multiple health benefits. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Benefits

There are many benefits that can come from this type of fasting, some of which are backed by intensive research. This includes boosted cellular repair, increased insulin sensitivity, and heightened levels of HGH, among others.

  • Diabetes – Intermittent fasting can cause an increase in insulin sensitivity and an overall decrease of insulin in the body. This makes it easy to burn body fat and also decreases your risk factors for Type II diabetes, as discussed in this article from Translational Research.
  • Heart Health – Though the research is somewhat limited, studies have found that intermittent fasting can help to lower blood pressure as compared to a control group maintaining a traditional 3-meal daily diet, as shown in this 2018 study, published in the Journal of the American Society of Hypertension.
  • Chronic Disease – Partial fasting is linked to anti-inflammatory behavior in the body, which is one of the major causes behind chronic disease. This anti-inflammatory effect can reduce your likelihood of memory loss and other neurological disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Resistance to oxidative stress has also been witnessed in those practicing this type of fasting, which further boosts the strength of the immune system.
  • HGH Levels – Muscle gain and fat loss are impacted positively by the flood of HGH (Human Growth Hormone) that is released when you regularly practice this intermittent eating pattern.
  • Cellular Repair – Giving your digestive and metabolic system a brief break will allow your cells to undergo repair processes, similar to what happens when we sleep. This can benefit overall cellular health and give your system a kind of cleansing routine.

Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss

Apart from religion, the most common reason for fasting is weight loss. Hence, most claims around this type of fasting revolve around shedding pounds. Losing weight is a simple equation in some ways. If you burn more calories than you consume, then you will lose weight. Cutting back on calories through intermittent fasting can give you an advantage simply based on numbers.

However, this structure of fasting will also improve your body’s ability to burn fat. Essentially, your body will burn through the liver’s energy stores in 10-12 hours, at which point the body must turn to burn fat for fuel. Rather than burning muscle mass, which crash diets can often lead to, strictly following intermittent eating patterns can help reduce calorie intake and increase calorie burning. The increase of insulin sensitivity and the release of HGH and norepinephrine can help boost your metabolic rate by 3-15%, further aiding in your calorie-burning goals.

This dietary approach can help your weight loss goals in multiple ways. It can help elevate your metabolism, increase fat burning, and decrease your caloric intake.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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