Intermittent Fasting: Proven Health Benefits and Plans

Intermittent fasting has been growing in popularity over the last decade. It is currently one of the most popular and discussed health and diet trends. Many people wonder how safe and effective this diet truly is. Studies on intermittent fasting show that it is not only a safe and effective method for losing weight, but helps improve your overall health and prevent some diseases.

What Is Intermittent Fasting

Many diets focus on what you should eat, however intermittent fasting focuses on when you should and shouldn’t eat. This diet involves eating within a specific time frame and fasting for the remainder of the day. The concept of this diet is to replicate how our ancestors would have eaten. In the time before superstores, prehistoric humans would go without food for many hours or days at a time. Intermittent fasting works by extending the length of time between our meals. This allows our body to burn all the calories from the previous meal and begin to burn our stored fat. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting helps with weight loss and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes1. Additionally, research has shown that intermittent fasting helps reduce blood pressure and inflammation which is a driver of many chronic illnesses2.

Intermittent Fasting Plans

There are several different ways of approaching intermittent fasting. However, they all share the same concept. Each day or week is split into eating and fasting periods and no food is consumed during the fasted period. However, you may drink water, coffee, tea, or any non caloric beverage. Try to avoid adding sugar or milk in your coffee or tea. The following are the most popular plans:

  • 8/16 method: This method is the most popular. It is an easy, convenient, and sustainable way to improve your overall health. It involves eating during an 8 hour window throughout the day. The remaining 16 hours are fasted. This method is popular because of how easy it is to maintain this pattern over a long period of time.
  • The 5:2 diet: This is more complicated than the 8/16 method. With this method you would consume 500 calories on two non consecutive days throughout the week. The remaining five days you would follow your normal eating schedule.
  • Eat and Stop: This method is the most dangerous of the three and the least popular. It involves fasting for longer periods of time, such as 24, 36, 48, or even 72hrs. An example of this method would be to not eat dinner and fast till dinner the next day. You would do this on two non consecutive days throughout the week. You would eat normally the remaining five days of the week.

These methods allow you to naturally reduce your calorie intake without counting your calories and should help you lose weight. However, you have to ensure that you are not over compensating by eating more after your fasted periods.

How Does Intermittent Fasting Help Me Lose Weight?

Generally speaking, people start intermittent fasting because they are interested in the weight loss benefits. This fasted eating schedule helps you lose weight in two ways. First, this eating schedule helps you consume less food by naturally reducing your calorie intake. Second, it increases the release of the fat burning hormone norepinephrine or noradrenaline. This hormonal change results in a 3.6% average increase in your metabolic rate3. Thus helping you burn more calories at rest.

Interestingly, this weight loss method also helps conserve your muscle mass. One study showed that intermittent fasting caused less muscle loss than more standard calorie restriction diets4. This is most likely because participants on this diet saw their human growth hormone levels increase5. This increase in growth hormone can even promote muscle growth.

Health Benefits

Studies on intermittent fasting effects on animals and humans have been conducted for decades. These studies conclude that it offers more health benefits than just weight loss. Intermittent fasting helps you improve your overall health by improving the health of your heart, brain, and reducing your risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes.

The following are the health benefits of intermittent fasting:

  • Improved Weight Control: As previously discussed, the fasted eating schedule can help you effectively lose weight. This is a very easy meal plan to stick to, and generally you won’t have to consciously restrict your calories.
  • Increased Insulin Resistance: Studies show that this eating plan can reduce your insulin resistance helping you lower your blood sugar by 3-6%6.
  • Reduced Inflammation: Studies showed that individuals following a fasted eating schedule experienced lower inflammation2.
  • Improved Heart Health: This eating schedule helps reduce the amount of bad cholesterol and helps lower your blood pressure7. These are two leading risk factors for heart disease.
  • Reduced Cancer Risk: Studies on intermittent fastings effects on cancer are still in the early stages. However, studies on animals have shown that it has a positive correlation with cancer prevention8.
  • Improved Brain Health: Intermittent fasting is linked to the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factors9. These help protect your brain against neural degeneration, which is a symptom of alzheimer’s.

Risks and Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting

The primary side effect of this diet is that you will feel hungry. Additionally, your body may feel weaker than normal and you may feel like your brain is sluggish. However, these are generally only temporary symptoms. After your body adapts to the new meal schedule you will notice that you will not be hungry during your fasted periods and your body will not feel as weak.

Much like with any major adjustments to your overall health and wellness, you should always consult with a doctor before making any changes. Although intermittent fasting has shown great results in studies and in practice, your own medical background could make it not right for you.

Conclusion

Intermittent fasting is a great tool to help you lose weight and improve your overall health. Studies have shown that it can improve your heart and brain health. Finally it has been shown to reduce your insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels. This meal plan involves scheduling a fasted and an eating period throughout the day or week. The 8/16 method is the most popular because of how convenient it is. It involves eating for 8 hours of the day and fasting for the remaining 16.

The fasted eating schedule can lead to feelings of hunger and weakness. However these feelings usually pass once your body adjusts to the new eating schedule.

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References

  1. Barnosky AR, Hoddy KK, Unterman TG, Varady KA. Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. Translational Research. 2014;164(4):302-311. doi:10.1016/j.trsl.2014.05.013
  2. Aksungar FB, Topkaya AE, Akyildiz M. Interleukin-6, C-Reactive Protein and Biochemical Parameters during Prolonged Intermittent Fasting. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2007;51(1):88-95. doi:10.1159/000100954
  3. Mansell PI, Fellows IW, Macdonald IA. Enhanced thermogenic response to epinephrine after 48-h starvation in humans. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. 1990;258(1):R87-R93. doi:10.1152/ajpregu.1990.258.1.r87
  4. Varady KA. Intermittent versus daily calorie restriction: which diet regimen is more effective for weight loss? Obesity Reviews. 2011;12(7):e593-e601. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789x.2011.00873.x
  5. Ho KY, Veldhuis JD, Johnson ML, et al. Fasting enhances growth hormone secretion and amplifies the complex rhythms of growth hormone secretion in man. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 1988;81(4):968-975. doi:10.1172/jci113450
  6. Barnosky AR, Hoddy KK, Unterman TG, Varady KA. Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. Translational Research. 2014;164(4):302-311. doi:10.1016/j.trsl.2014.05.013
  7. Varady KA, Bhutani S, Church EC, Klempel MC. Short-term modified alternate-day fasting: a novel dietary strategy for weight loss and cardioprotection in obese adults. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;90(5):1138-1143. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.28380
  8. Siegel I, Liu TL, Nepomuceno N, Gleicher N. Effects of Short-Term Dietary Restriction on Survival of Mammary Ascites Tumor-Bearing Rats. Cancer Investigation. 1988;6(6):677-680. doi:10.3109/07357908809078034
  9. Mattson MP. ENERGY INTAKE, MEAL FREQUENCY, AND HEALTH: A Neurobiological Perspective. Annual Review of Nutrition. 2005;25(1):237-260. doi:10.1146/annurev.nutr.25.050304.092526

2 Thoughts

  1. I’ve been eating once a day, dinner, (5 days a week) for the last two years. Have experienced a lot of benefits and few minor drawbacks, but might consider trying the 8/16 approach.

    1. Hey Mitch, thanks for your comment. If you end up trying the 8/16 approach, let me know how it goes! From experience, it’s convenience makes it easy to follow long term. Additionally there are less drawbacks because a majority of the fasted period is scheduled for when you are sleeping.

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