Every other day, there’s a new article boasting the benefits of some new health regimen, superfood or workout guaranteed to make you healthier than you’ve ever been before. If you’re reading this, you most likely care about your health. You’re probably also like the millions that are honestly fed up with the complexities of a healthy lifestyle.
And, yeah, it can get pretty exhausting.
So I’m going to give you just one thing to do today. Chances are that you may have already heard of this practice, but perhaps you aren’t sure it’s actually good for you, or you simply haven’t taken the time to try it for yourself. At any rate, I’d like to show you how this one dietary change can be super beneficial for both your waistline and your overall health. And the good news is that it doesn’t require changing what you eat.
Welcome to intermittent fasting.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting, or cyclic fasting, is an old concept that’s getting new traction as more research reveals its benefits. It involves changing the schedule on which you eat and spending certain periods of time without food.
There are “beginner” and “advanced” types of intermittent fasting, but the thing to remember is that you should listen to your body’s responses and not use fasting as an excuse to eat whatever you want — remember that it’s always a good idea to base your diet on whole, minimally-processed foods.
Unlike with other types of diets, you don’t have to calorie-count or log all the foods you eat when practicing intermittent fasting. In fact, the point of this lifestyle is to free you from common restrictions without causing you to gain weight.
As a precaution: While almost everybody can benefit from this, you should not practice intermittent fasting if you have gallstone disease, an eating disorder, adrenal fatigue, thyroid dysfunction or are sick.
Common Types of Intermittent Fasting
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to intermittent fasting. Some people will typically find one method too difficult or lacking in results, while another method will help them feel better, lose weight and improve metabolism.
The most common methods of fasting include:
16/8 Fasting: If you’re a beginner, this method is probably the one for you. In 16/8 fasting, you fast for 16 hours a day and then limit your eating to eight hours. The way most people accomplish this is by eating nothing after dinnertime and skipping breakfast the next morning.
5:2 Diet: To go 5:2, eat normally for five days of the week, then greatly restrict your calories the remaining two days to no more than 500-600 on each of the remaining two days.
The Warrior Diet: Kind of like a partial Daniel fast, this diet involves eating only fruits and vegetables during the day, then eating one large meal every night.
Alternate-Day Fasting: As you might expect, alternate-day fasting means eating only every other day. Depending on your level of comfort, you can either eat nothing every other day, or restrict your calories to 500 or less. Please read: This is not for newbies. This method requires commitment and should be done under the careful supervision of your doctor.
Eat-Stop-Eat: A less drastic version of alternate-day fasting, those on an eat-stop-eat diet pick one or two days out of the week and fast for 24 hours, eating nothing from dinner one day until dinner the next day. On the other days, they eat normally. Again, I would not recommend trying this if you’re new to intermittent fasting.
3 Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
1. Promotes Weight Loss
You probably figured this out already, but intermittent fasting is a proven method of weight loss. Similar to the ketogenic diet, fasting helps your body to use stored energy by depriving it of additional fuel in the form of food.
In 2015, a review was conducted to examine the effects of alternate-day fasting on body composition and found that, on average, it slashed body weight by up to 7 percent and cut body fat by up to 12 pounds. Similar results were discovered during whole-day fasting, but with up to a 9 percent reduction in body weight. (Not all experts recommend fasting for whole days, as not a lot has been done to determine the impact it may have on valuable muscle stores.)
The 16/8 method of intermittent fasting was then observed in 2016, and the results showed a significant reduction in fat mass but no loss of muscle mass and strength, which explains why 16/8 is my recommended method of intermittent fasting.
One closely related factor to weight loss is your body’s blood sugar levels. When observing diabetic patients, scientists found that intermittent fasting helped to decrease blood sugar levels, caloric intake and weight. Another blood sugar study saw similar results in healthy males, with a drop in blood sugar correlated with times of fasting in addition to a decrease in insulin levels.
2. Decreases Hunger
It may sound counterintuitive, but another (weight loss-related) benefit of intermittent fasting is its ability to decrease your hunger.
Leptin, known as the satiety hormone, is produced by fat cells, and it decreases when you’re hungry in order to signal to your body that it’s time to eat. Overweight or obese people tend to have an elevated level of leptin in the body, so some research points to the connection between low overall leptin and less hunger responses.
And during intermittent fasting, it seems that leptin levels remain lower than during normal eating patterns, according to a 2014 study published in the peer-review journal PLOS One.
3. Supports Overall Health
Intermittent fasting may support your health in a number of other ways, most notably by potentially protecting the heart and brain and by decreasing chronic inflammation.
Fasting may help to decrease LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels and improve your ratio of HDL:LDL, thus lowering your risk of heart disease. Some research has also found that intermittent fasting increases the levels of adiponectin, a protein involved in the metabolism of fat and sugar that may also be heart-protective. Finally, animal studies have found that fasting every other day increased the survival rate of heart attacks, although this result hasn’t been tested in humans as of yet.
In one animal study, intermittent fasting enhanced cognitive function and protected against changes in memory and learning, compared to a control group. Another animal study found that intermittent fasting helped protect the brains of mice by influencing certain proteins involved in brain aging.
Finally, intermittent fasting seems to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Inflammation is the root cause of most diseases, and by reducing overall inflammation in the body, you can reduce your risk for a number of illnesses. Preliminary research has found that inflammation levels drop while fasting, specifically during religious fasting for Ramadan and also when nighttime fasting is extended.