- What is Intermittent Fasting?
- Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Your Body and How It Aids Weight Loss
- How to Prepare for Intermittent Fasting
- 5 Popular Intermittent Fasting Schedules
- What to Eat If You’re Following An Intermittent Fasting Plan
- Foods to Avoid
- Watch: 5 Tricks to Make Intermittent Fasting Work Faster
- Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
- The Scientific Evidence of Intermittent Fasting
- Intermittent Fasting and Working Out
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Limiting your meals to an 8-hour window and staying away from food for the rest of the day? The horror! Or so it would seem, up until you try the intermittent fasting plan!
What is Intermittent Fasting?
It would be technically incorrect to say that intermittent fasting (or IF) is a new concept. All through history, people have fasted for various personal reasons, but the benefits of not eating for long periods of time during the day have begun to gain popularity only quite recently.
Intermittent fasting is a dieting pattern that basically calls for gorging on food during a specific time period during the day, then choosing to stay away from meals for the rest of the time. It concentrates on when you eat, as opposed to what you eat during the day.
While fasting for more than 10 hours sounds unnatural and almost torturous (and much like starvation), you’d be surprised to know that you’re already doing it on a daily basis. The time that you’re asleep, the duration of which can start from 8 hours (and can go up to even 14, depending on your sleeping habits!), you’re actually not eating at all. Of course, that is a natural thing to do, but intermittent fasting can be as simple as extending the time that you’re not eating!
It’s important to not confuse fasting with starvation. The latter is a situation where you don’t have access to food, or are left with no choice but to forgo your meals. Fasting, however, is a conscious choice that you’re making to restrict your food intake, and can be for different reasons, such as spiritual, health, and so on. With regard to intermittent fasting, there are different tried-and-tested time windows which are proven to deliver desired results. People who’ve ‘tested the IF waters’ are singing its praises, and with good reason!
Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Your Body and How It Aids Weight Loss
To provide a short insight into how fasting benefits our body, first think of eating and fasting as two sides of the same coin. Your body exists usually in two states – fed or fasting. Insulin, which is a key hormone for the process of food storage, rises when we eat. Because there is limited storage space in the liver for storing sugar, excess glucose is turned into fat; some of this gets stored in the liver itself, while the rest moves to other fat deposits in the body.
On the other hand, fasting means that the body isn’t getting energy to use immediately because there is no food coming in. Insulin and blood glucose levels fall when we fast, which sends the body the message to start burning stored energy, by pulling glucose out of storage. Fasting, therefore, provides the body a break from the constant intake of energy and gives it a chance to utilise the stored fat, which in turn, helps you lose weight.
Intermittent fasting results in weight loss because you’re taking in lower calories over a period of time (unless you radically increase your meal portions), and optimizes the hormones insulin, human growth hormone, and norepinephrine, that help you lose weight. It has several benefits which we’ll cover later in the article.
How to Prepare for Intermittent Fasting
Don’t go headfirst into an intermittent fasting plan without adequate physical and mental preparation. Choose the most suitable plan from the different ones out there, the foods you need to eat or avoid, and remember to always go slow in the beginning, so that your body gets used to this new schedule.
5 Popular Intermittent Fasting Schedules
The most popular ways to follow this plan is to either fast for a whole day, or in between two days (the Eat-Stop-Eat Method, or Alternate Day Fasting), or restrict the time when you’re eating (16/8 Method, 5:2 Method, Warrior Diet).
To explain what can sound like a nightmare to anyone, foodie or not, this plan requires you to fast for 24 hours at a stretch once or twice a week. This means that if you last eat dinner tonight at 8 pm, you can’t eat another meal till 8 pm tomorrow. Yes, it sounds brutal, but it’s considered doable if you can muster enough discipline. You can start off by extending your fasting window from 14 to 16 hours and slowly work your way up – and try not to give into temptation when those recipe videos or #foodlove pictures find their way into your Instagram feed!
2. Alternate Day Fasting
Another form of maintaining an extensive fasting window is to fast every other day. This is definitely not recommended for beginners, and neither is it the ideal diet to commit to for long-term, because squeezing in a work-out while on this diet would be very difficult. Alternate day fasting calls for restricting your calorie intake to 25% of your regular calorie intake during a diet, which means consuming 500 calories if you’re supposed to taking in 2000 calories on your diet.
3. The 16/8 Method
This method calls for fasting for 14-16 hours a day, and keeping the ‘’eating window’’ open for only 8-10 hours. Made popular by fitness expert Martin Berkhan, it is recommended that men fast for 16 hours while women keep the ‘fasting window’ open for 14-15 hours a day. People who don’t eat their morning meals regularly will probably not find any novelty in this concept because they unconsciously follow one rule of this method everyday – not eating anything after dinner and skipping breakfast the next morning. It can be as simple as that and you can plan the time according to your own schedule and needs. You can enjoy 2-3 healthy meals (no junk food or excessive eating!) between your ‘’eating window’’ but have to stay off any food later on; you can, however, drink water, tea, coffee, or other non-caloric beverages to keep hunger pangs at bay.
4. The 5:2 Diet
In this method which was popularised by Michael Mosley, a British journalist and doctor, you have to restrict your calorie intake to 500 or 600 calories (depending on whether you’re female or male) on fasting days. Out of the 7 days of the week, you can eat normally on 5, and then restrict yourself to two small meals of 250 to 300 calories.
5. The Warrior Diet
This diet is based on the principle of ‘fast-and-feast’, where you can eat small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables throughout the day, then eat a large meal during a 4-hour window at night. The ‘Warrior Diet’ is inspired by the habits of ancient warriors, who would go hunting or fighting during the daytime and focus on preparing and eating a nighttime meal alone. One disadvantage that has been seen with this diet is that it is difficult to get all the nutrients the body needs from just one meal.
What to Eat If You’re Following An Intermittent Fasting Plan
What you eat in between the periods that you do get to satiate your inner foodie matters, as it can either make the weighing scale your favourite gadget, or send all your weight-loss efforts down the drain. Stick to simple home-cooked meals which are easy to digest, include plenty of fruits and veggies, and protein-rich foods, and stay hydrated. Ensure that whenever you’re breaking your fast, you’re not giving your body a rude awakening with anything heavy. Start with gentle foods like yogurt or nuts, and work your way into a filling meal. Opt for zero-calorie beverages like green or black tea, black coffee – basically drinks without milk or cream content.
Foods to Avoid
The common mentality for most people before beginning a diet is – ‘One last splurge before the life-changing diet!’ If you adopt this principle right before you begin your intermittent fasting plan, the results that you’re hoping to see could take a bit longer. The logic here is that eating the kind of foods that require your body to work hard to process them, will have the body working during the fasting period, instead of experiencing the rest it deserves.
Skip foods that are hard to digest, such as greasy or fried foods, sweets and chocolate, and cut back on carbs because they are high in calories and you’ll find yourself hungry very soon after eating. White sugar, coffee, and salt can be dehydrating for the body so it would make sense to cut back on those items too.
Watch: 5 Tricks to Make Intermittent Fasting Work Faster
Dr Eric Berg, who specialises in weight loss through natural and nutritional methods, provides 5 tips to make your intermittent fasting plan work for you.
- Maintain high potassium levels in your body; 4.7 grams on a daily basis, to be exact.
- Don’t overeat in between your ‘’eating window’’. Add a salad in between two main meals.
- Go slowly into the intermittent fasting schedule, and make sure you’re not forcing your body into adapting this new plan. Start with avoiding snacks while following a 3-meals-a-day plan; after which, move on to two meals a day. Over time, your body starts to adjust and you’ll see that you’re able to shorten your ‘’eating window’’.
- Catch up on all the sleep you can.
- Try high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, which get your whole body moving over a short duration, and call for lots of rest.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Following an intermittent fasting plan can benefit you in the following ways:
1. It Guarantees Weight Loss
When you follow a regular diet which can sometimes restrict your favourite foods altogether, or has you counting every calorie every day, it can lead to dissatisfaction and make you want to jump off the dieting bandwagon. In the case of intermittent fasting, you will find it easier to stick to as it only limits the time that you’re eating, and doesn’t impose many restrictions on what is part of your diet. It optimizes the hormones that help you lose weight, and leads you to take in fewer calories because you’re taking in fewer meals!
2. It May Reduce the Risk of Developing Type 2 Diabetes
For people who are pre-diabetic, intermittent fasting can reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. This is because, with IF, food intake is controlled, as a result of which blood sugar levels come down and the body does not need to produce insulin too often. Intermittent fasting has been shown to battle insulin resistance and keep blood sugar levels lowered.
3. It Helps to Maintain the Weight You’ve Lost
A study conducted by Zuo and Pannell showed that when intermittent fasting was combined with a high-protein and low-calorie diet, the weight regain in the individuals after one year was minimized. Which also goes to show how important it is to maintain the quality of your diet while fasting!
4. It Helps to Reduce the Risk of Developing Cardiovascular Disease
One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that alternate-day fasting actually helped against developing heart disease. Keep in mind, however, that fasting here meant that they restricted the quantity of food they ate, and didn’t scrap eating meals altogether.
5. It May Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s does not have a cure as of now, so preventing it as early as possible is the best measure. A study has shown that intermittent fasting may be able to delay Alzheimer’s from showing up at all. However, more research needs to be conducted to prove this irrevocably.
6. It Can Help Someone Who Has Hit a Weight-Plateau
If you see that your dieting and exercising efforts have suddenly stopped yielding results, it could be because your body is taking a break from the weight-loss process. Intermittent fasting could help move past such issues as it calls for a change in the timings of your diet, and changes the metabolism of the body. It also can help with digestive problems you’re facing.
7. It Can Be Good for Your Brain
Intermittent fasting helps to reduce oxidative stress, insulin resistance, and inflammation, which are various metabolic processes that can help to improve the overall health of the brain as well.
8. It Helps with Weight Loss for Your Wallet Too
This one is a no-brainer. Skipping one meal (if you’re the kind who orders in) saves you cash. Now think of this happening over a week’s or a month’s time. Whether cooking or ordering in, that’s a huge drop down in the amount of ingredients and food you’ll be buying, which makes intermittent fasting a pocket-friendly habit too!
The Scientific Evidence of Intermittent Fasting
Nutrition researcher, Krysta Varady, has been an advocate for intermittent fasting for a very long time. But in a year-long study that she conducted on 100 obese participants, out of which 86 were women and 14 were men, she noticed that alternate-day fasting did not provide any superior benefit against those who were on a calorie-restricted diet. It did have its benefits, however, and Varady credits it to the fact that intermittent fasts actually trick the human mind and body into eating less. By doing so, weight loss happens and the body receives the metabolic benefits of the same.
Intermittent Fasting and Working Out
Exercising on an empty stomach doesn’t seem like an ideal prospect, and rightly so. Since your body’s glycogen reserves deplete soon because of lesser intake of food, your body resorts to burning fat for energy. Which is an advantage, up until the time your body also starts breaking down protein to fuel its energy – which basically means muscle. So on an IF diet, while it is possible that you can lose weight,you’re prone to losing muscle mass as well. It’s also common knowledge that working out or even walking up the stairs when you’re fasting can make you feel weak and tired. This is why it’s necessary to plan your diet and workouts smartly so that you get the best out of your IF plan.
1. Opt for Low Intensity Workouts While on the Fast
Check if you are able to hold a conversation while exercising. If you’re finding it incredibly difficult to breathe, or you feel light-headed and dizzy, your workout may be more intense than it should be.
2. Schedule Your Workouts Around Your Meals
You can plan for high-intensity workouts if your body has the energy to take it! For this, plan your workout sessions as close as possible to your last meal; or rather, make sure that your workout falls in between two meals, which means your body will have enough glycogen to burn. Follow up the workout session with a carb-rich snack to keep your energy levels high.
3. Gorge on Protein Rich Foods
To maintain muscle mass while you’re on the intermittent fasting plan, it’s important to stock up on proteins. Foods such as milk, eggs, fish, meat, soy, quinoa, and so on, provide high-quality proteins to the body.
4. Plan Different Nutrient Groups for Workout and Non Workout Days
On the days you are planning to work out, ensure that you have a carb-rich diet, which provides your body with the energy it needs. On rest days, stock up on proteins, plant fibres, and fats.
Here are some of the FAQs regarding intermittent fasting.
1. Are The Effects of Intermittent Fasting Different for Males and Females?
Yes, there can be significant differences in the way IF affects women, against how it affects men. As unfair as it seems, men benefit from IF more than women do. In women, their reproductive system is intertwined with their metabolism; this means that a woman’s hormone levels go for a complete toss when they follow intermittent fasting too frequently. Eating too little can lead to an increased production of the stress hormone, cortisol, which consequently can lead to weight gain. Fasting can also lead to depletion of protein levels in the body, which affect fertility in women. Basically, anything that affects a woman’s reproductive health can cause trouble for her overall health, because the hormones in females are programmed in such a manner that they don’t allow the foetus to starve (whether or not you’re pregnant). This is why in the case of women, it’s better to opt for the less extreme versions of IF (which is simply skipping a meal a day), rather than depriving the body of food for longer periods of time.
2. How Can I Do the Intermittent Fasting Plan If I Can’t Skip Breakfast?
It isn’t compulsory to skip the first meal of the day to achieve success on your IF plan. What you can do instead is to shorten your ‘”eating window”’ (eg: from 8 pm to 3 pm), whereby you take in all the necessary calories earlier in the day. Studies have found that having an early dinner and fasting during the later hours of the day has helped to improve the body’s metabolism and burns fat more. There are different plans you can choose if skipping breakfast isn’t your thing.
3. How to Deal With Hunger Pangs during Fasting?
It will be common to experience constant hunger pangs at the beginning of your intermittent fasting plan, mainly because your body is just beginning to get used to a whole new schedule. Once you manage to push through the first 2 weeks, you’ll see that it gets easier. Get plenty of sleep, which optimizes the levels of leptin and ghrelin in your body, which means lesser hunger. Keep yourself hydrated with plenty of water, and liquids like tea, coffee, and non-caloric beverages. Feast enough during your ‘eating window’, so that it provides you energy for the rest of the day, and keep yourself active with various activities, so that the thought of food cannot distract you.
4. When Should I Stop Intermittent Fasting?
If you observe the following signs, it’s recommended that you stay off fasting intermittently.
- You’re constantly hungry, no matter what you’ve feasted on in your ‘eating window’.
- You’re not in a good place, mentally, physically, or emotionally.
- You’re just recovering from a serious illness or surgery.
- You find that your IF plan doesn’t make you very happy, isn’t helping you lose weight, or is stressing you out.
The bottom line for intermittent fasting is that you need to pay attention to the clues your body is giving you. Choose the right time to eat and fast, depending on your daily schedule, and don’t go too hard on yourself right in the beginning. If you see that skipping meals is doing you more harm than good, stop immediately, and give your body the food it’s craving for. But if it works wonders and is making you feel better physically and mentally, then, by all means, keep at it!