A Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting

The most effective and affordable healing strategy we can use in our daily lives is probably intermittent fasting. Moreover, intermittent fasting is healthier and more “natural” than eating three to four meals a day continuously.

Intermittent Fasting is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and not eating. It’s not a diet that says “eat this, not that”, but rather you don’t eat any food for a certain length of time – usually 16-24 hours.

Intermittent fasting is meant to give your body a period of time without eating so that it can focus more of its energy on internal repair and healing.

When we fast, our blood sugar and insulin levels significantly drop, while our levels of human growth hormone sharply rise. All of these are advantageous for slimming down, keeping muscle, and lowering our risk of insulin resistance, diabetes, and heart disease. Many studies have shown that both overweight and obese subjects burn more fat and lose weight with intermittent fasting.

A study conducted in 2005 published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry revealed that the beneficial effects of intermittent fasting result from at least two mechanisms: reduced oxidative damage and increased cellular stress resistance. Basically, that means that it helps your body deal with stress, which includes being able to better cope with fasting (which is a form of stress) itself.

In essence, skipping meals instructs your body to draw more heavily on its fat reserves. This phenomenon is comparable to that brought on by regular exercise.

Basically, your body becomes “smarter” and understands that, in order to maintain blood sugar and spare muscle and liver glycogen (stored carbohydrates) for potential immediate use, it’s better off relying on fat, which naturally provides more energy (9 calories per gram) versus carbohydrates or protein (4 calories per gram each).

Here are some Intermittent Fasting Benefits research has revealed so far:

  • Thinking and memory. Studies discovered that intermittent fasting boosts working memory in animals and verbal memory in adult humans.
  • Heart health. Intermittent fasting improved blood pressure and resting heart rates as well as other heart-related measurements.
  • Physical performance. Young men who fasted for 16 hours showed fat loss while maintaining muscle mass. Mice who were fed on alternate days showed better endurance in running.
  • Diabetes and obesity. In animal studies, intermittent fasting prevented obesity. And in six brief studies, obese adult humans lost weight through intermittent fasting.
  • Tissue health. In animals, intermittent fasting reduced tissue damage in surgery and improved results.

Who Should Not Try Intermittent Fasting?

Not everyone should (or needs to) try Intermittent Fasting: 

  • women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant (extended fasting periods may throw off your menstrual cycle) 
  • those taking diabetes medication (blood sugar can drop too far in the absence of food)
  • anyone who takes multiple medications (food, or lack of it, can affect absorption and dosage)
  • people with a history of eating disorders (introducing periods where you’re “not allowed” to eat can put you on a dangerous path toward a relapse).

The Most Common Fasting Regimens are as follows:

  • 16:8: This means fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8 hours. For example, finish dinner at 7pm and have your first meal the next day at 11am. There are many other variations of this such as 14:10, 18:6, and 20:4. Most people find it easy to stick with this pattern over the long term.
  • OMAD: This stands for “one meal a day.” As it sounds, this simply means eating only one meal for the entire day with no snacking. You can learn more about OMAD in this dedicated guide, What you need to know about OMAD.
  • Alternate-Day Fasting (ADF): Finish dinner at 7pm Monday, don’t eat anything all day Tuesday, and have your first meal at breakfast or lunch on Wednesday. That’s an alternate-day fast. Read more about ADF here.
  • 5:2. Eat normally for five days during the weak and fast or eat very low calories (around 500 calories) two days of the week. The two days do not have to be consecutive days.

Longer periods without food, such as 24, 36, 48 and 72-hour fasting periods, are not necessarily better for you and may be dangerous. Going too long without eating might actually encourage your body to start storing more fat in response to starvation.

When starting out, it is recommended to start small and build up. That may mean starting with a 14:10 pattern three days per week. As that becomes easier, you can try increasing the fasting window and/or increasing the number of fasting days per week.

What can I Eat while Intermittent Fasting?

Remember, fasting in this sense means no food; it does not mean no drinking. Staying well hydrated is an important part of succeeding with intermittent fasting. The best drinks are free from calories and sweeteners, meaning still or sparkling water, and tea or coffee without any additives.

Also, during your eating periods, “eating normally” does not mean going crazy. You’re not likely to lose weight or get healthier if you pack your feeding times with high-calorie junk food, super-sized fried items and treats.

Click here for more in depth information, as well as here.

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