Intermittent fasting is fast becoming popular among fitness experts as an excellent way to loose weight and improve overall health. Studies have had amazing results with implications for a myriad of disease preventions as well as general longevity. So what exactly is it?
As it says on the tin intermittent fasting is basically restriction of calorie intake for specific short periods. It doesn’t tell you what you can or cannot eat, just when (Although better effects will be seen if coupled with a healthy diet). Therefore it is not classed as a diet but as an eating pattern. Many studies (below) have shown that by altering our eating patterns to be more in-tune with our bodies we can improve our health dramatically.
The periods of fasting vary depending on which method you chose, but the basic theory is the same.
Here are a few of the most popular methods for intermittent fasting:
(Note* water and calorie free drinks such as black coffee can still be drunk during fasting periods).
THE 16/8 METHOD
This is the most popular and, in my opinion, the easiest, method of intermittent fasting. The idea is to eat all your meals in an 8-hour window, in whichever way best suits your lifestyle. For example you may choose to skip breakfast, eat lunch at 12pm then your last meal at 8pm. Or you could have a late breakfast at 10am, lunch as normal, then your last meal of the day at 6pm. I found this the easiest method for habit forming, and was only hungry for the first 3-4 days.
EAT STOP EAT
This method allows you to eat as normal for five or six days of the week then fast for a full 24 hours on one day or two non-consecutive days. The positive side of this method is it allows you freedom for most of the week, however the fast periods may be more difficult. It is advised to start with one day fast a week and build up to two if following this method.
THE 5:2 METHOD
The 5:2 method is similar to the Eat Stop Eat method in that it allows normal eating for 5 days of the week. The difference being on the two non-consecutive days of fast you are allowed 500-600 calories. This amounts to two small meals of 250-300 calories, which is easier than a pure fast. this method could be a good stepping stone towards the Eat Stop Eat method.
ALTERNATE DAY FASTING
As you may have guessed, this method involves completely fasting or restricting your calorie intake to 500-600 calories every other day. This is the most challenging method as it involves the largest periods of calorie restriction. It’s important not to binge eat or eat junk food during eating days, as this may negate many of the benefits.
- WEIGHT LOSS An obvious side effect from restriction of calorie intake is loss of excess weight. Weight loss may be easier with intermittent fasting than traditional dieting. It is an eating pattern which eventually becomes habit, so feels less restrictive. ———————————————————————————————-
- HEALTHIER BRAIN Studies have shown intermittent fasting to enhance memory, spatial learning, and general brain function. There’s also strong evidence to suggest it delays onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. ——————————————————————————————————-
- EXTENDS LIFESPAN Studies have shown intermittent fasting to increase the lifespan of rats by up to 80%. A theory put forward by David Sinclair in his book, ‘Lifespan – Why we age and why we don’t have to’, says fasting activates our “survival circuit”. Consequently our cells get leaner, ridding themselves of waste products and initiating repair. This means we can survive longer and reproduce when resources are more plentiful. ————————————————————————————–
- REDUCES INFLAMMATION Some studies have found intermittent fasting to reduce markers of inflammation in participants. Inflammation is known to be a contributing factor in many chronic diseases including heart disease, and autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, and strokes. ——————————————————————
- HEALTHIER HEART Studies have show intermittent fasting to reduce the concentration of total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol. Together with the effects it has on inflammatory markers and insulin resistance, this reduces the risk of heart disease. —————————————————————–
- IMPROVED INSULIN SENSITIVITY Studies have shown increased insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, and reduced oxidative stress in intermittent fasting participants. This suggests it could offer some protection against type 2 Diabetes. ————————————
- CANCER PREVENTION Some studies have found short term fasting to increase stress resistance of healthy cells whilst increasing sensitivity of tumour cells to toxins and chemotherapy. The suggestion is intermittent fasting could be used to increase effectiveness of chemotherapy treatment, and help in cancer prevention. However studies in this area are still in the early stages.
A More Natural Pattern?
It could be the case that getting our calorie intake in a smaller window is a more natural way for us to eat, more in-sync with our circadian rhythm. Certainly for the vast majority of evolution we wouldn’t have eaten 3+ meals a day. During hunter gatherer times large meals would have been dictated by hunting success, and sometimes many days apart. Perhaps it’s time to return to this pattern of eating and fasting, as the research seems to suggest.
I’ve been following the 16/8 method for the past 6 months and have noticed increased energy levels and a more settled stomach, especially in the mornings. I found it challenging for the first 3-4 days, but now I’m fully accustomed to it and it’s just part of my routine.
Why not give intermittent fasting a go and see how it works for you? The benefits could be endless.
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