A beginners guide to intermittent fasting

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is rapidly becoming a popular choice among those trying to lose weight. However, it’s also popular with many other people too who want to reap its health and wellness benefits. So, what is intermittent fasting all about?

@Anikona_ via Twenty20

How is Intermittent Fasting Different from Other Diets?

Essentially, intermittent fasting (or IF for short) is a pattern of eating rather than a regular diet.

Standard diets focus on what you’re eating. Dieters are restricted to a certain number of calories or specific types of food. This leads to dieters thinking constantly about what they are and aren’t allowed to eat. Fatty and sugary foods are absolutely forbidden. There is a strong focus on vegetables, fruit and lowfat, low-sugar meals.

Those following these ways of eating often end up fantasizing about treats and snacks. While they may lose weight, they may struggle to stick to their eating plan in the long term.

Intermittent fasting is different. It is a lifestyle rather than a diet. It involves eating patterns during which you cycle between windows of fasting and eating. Unlike other diets, it doesn’t focus on what you’re eating. Instead, it focuses on when you should eat. Some dieters enjoy the greater freedom this gives them. They can eat the foods they enjoy without guilt. Many people also find that it fits better into their lifestyles. However, there are some potential pitfalls when it comes to IF for weight loss.

The Origins of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting as a lifestyle choice is relatively new. However, the concept of fasting certainly isn’t. There are verses in the Bible and Koran about fasting for religious purposes. Many religious people still fast today for religious reasons. The month of Ramadan remains a time when Muslims refrain from eating from sun-up to sun-down. Therefore, it’s easy to see where the idea of intermittent fasting originates.

Even during ancient Greek civilizations, fasting was practiced. In many primitive cultures, fasting was part of many rituals. It has also formed the basis of political protests – for example by the suffragettes during the early 20th century.

Therapeutic fasting became a trend during the 1800s as a way of preventing or treating poor health. Carried out under a doctor’s supervision, this type of fasting was adopted to treat many conditions from hypertension to headaches. Each fast was tailored to the individual’s needs. It could be just a day or up to three months.

Although fasting fell out of favor as new medications were developed, it has recently re-emerged. In 2019, “intermittent fasting” was one of the most commonly searched terms. So, what should you know about it?

The Most Popular Types of Intermittent Fasting

There are plenty of different kinds of intermittent fasting. Each one has its own following. All follow the same principle of restricting food intake for a certain period of time. However, the length of the time and the gap between eating windows varies.

Perhaps the most popular IF method is the 16:8 fast. This involves an eating window of 8 hours followed by 16 hours of fasting. Many people find this the most convenient option for them. If they skip breakfast or dinner, they can fit it easily into their lifestyle.

Another popular IF option is the 24-hour fast. This is sometimes known as the Eat-Stop-Eat method. It involves eating normally one day then avoiding food for the following 24 hours. The gaps in between fasts could be as short as 24 hours or up to 72 hours.

The 5:2 fasting method is also popular. This involves eating normally for five days of the week. The other two consecutive days, the dieter should restrict their calorie consumption to around 500-600 calories.

Some IF dieters choose the 20:4 method. This involves concentrating all eating each day into a four-hour window. During the other 20 hours of the day, the dieter should eat no calories.

There are several other types of fasting diet. Some people follow extended fasts of up to 48 or 36 hours. Others fast for even more extended periods. If you’re considering trying IF, you’ll need to choose the right method for you.

Why do People Prefer Intermittent Fasting?

Unlike other types of dieting, IF allows dieters to eat pretty much what they want. They can eat the sugary or fatty foods they crave. They can go out to eat and not worry about calorie counting. They don’t have to eat foods they don’t enjoy. They don’t have to feel as if they’re depriving themselves of the things they love. It’s easy to see why it’s such a popular choice.

Not only that, but intermittent fasting offers many more benefits than other types of diet. Yes, it promotes rapid weight loss. However, it also helps dieters to feel more focused and be more productive. It helps them to feel healthier and more energetic. With the wellness benefits that this way of eating brings, it’s no wonder people prefer it to regular diets.

The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

There are several benefits that those who follow an intermittent fasting lifestyle report. Here, we take a closer look at some of the most common.

Weight Loss

Many people who do intermittent fasting do so to lose weight rapidly. There is evidence to show that this way of eating helps you to shed the pounds more quickly. There are several reasons why IF helps weight loss. It enhances the function of the metabolism for faster fat burning.

It also reduces the number of calories you consume in 24 hours. By lowering insulin levels, increasing growth hormone levels and increasing norepinephrine, IF speeds up the breakdown of fat. It also facilitates the use of fat to produce energy.

Fasting for short periods of time has been shown to increase metabolic rate by up to 14 percent. This means you’ll burn more calories. As a result, IF can help cause weight loss of up to 8 percent over a period of 3 – 24 weeks. That’s an impressive loss!

Those who try IF report a reduction of 7 percent in the circumference of their waist. This indicates a loss of belly fat – the most harmful type of fat that results in disease.

As an added bonus, IF causes reduced muscle loss when compared to calorie restriction diets.

Repairing Cells

When you fast, your body’s cells begin a process of removing waste cells. This is known as “autophagy”. Autophagy involves the body’s cells being broken down. It also involves the metabolization of dysfunctional and broken proteins that have built up over time in the cells.

What is the benefit of autophagy? Well, experts believe that it offers protection from the development of several diseases. These include Alzheimer’s Disease and cancer.

Therefore, if you follow an intermittent fasting regime, you may help to protect yourself from diseases. As a result, you may live a longer and healthier life.

Insulin Sensitivity

More people than ever before have type 2 diabetes. The disease is becoming more common due to increasing obesity. The primary feature of diabetes is increased levels of sugar in the blood due to insulin resistance. If you can reduce insulin, your blood sugar level should decrease. This will offer excellent protection from developing type 2 diabetes.

Intermittent fasting has been proven to have a major benefit when it comes to insulin resistance. It can reduce blood sugar levels by an impressive amount. In studies into intermittent fasting with human participants, blood sugar levels decreased by up to 6 percent while fasting. As a result, fasting insulin levels can reduce by as much as 31 percent. This shows that IF could offer the benefit of reducing the chance of developing diabetes.

Another piece of research carried out amongst diabetic lab rats showed IF protected against damage to the kidneys. This is a severe complication associated with diabetes. So, again, it suggests that intermittent fasting is also a great option for anyone who already has diabetes.

Enhanced Brain Function

When something is good for your body, it’s often good for your brain too. Intermittent fasting is known to improve several metabolic features. These are vital for good brain health.

Intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce oxidative stress. It also reduces inflammation and reduces the levels of sugar in the blood. Not only that, it reduces insulin resistance as we showed above. These are all key factors in enhancing brain function.

Studies that have taken place with lab rats have also shown that IF can help boost new nerve cell growth. This too offers benefits when it comes to brain function. Meanwhile, it also increases the level of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). This is a brain hormone, and if you are deficient in it you may suffer from brain problems and depression. When you try intermittent fasting you will have better protection from these problems.

As an added advantage, studies in animals have shown that IF can protect against damage to the brain from strokes.

All of this suggests that intermittent fasting offers many brain health benefits.

Decreased Inflammation

It is known that oxidative stress is a key factor in chronic diseases as well as aging. Oxidative stress involves free radicals which are unstable molecules reacting with other key molecules such as DNA and protein. The result is damage to those molecules that causes harm in the body.

There have been several studies to prove that IF can help improve your body’s ability to resist oxidative stress. Other studies have also shown it can help to combat inflammation which also drives many common diseases.

Why Does Intermittent Fasting Help to Promote Weight Loss?

Although intermittent fasting offers many benefits, the greatest one is weight loss. Most people who embark on this lifestyle are hoping to shed pounds and maintain a healthy bodyweight. So, why does intermittent fasting help to promote weight loss? Here, we look at the three main reasons.

Reduced Calorie Intake

The main reason that IF helps to boost weight loss is because you naturally eat less. When you only have a short eating window, you have less time to eat. Usually, you’ll miss at least one meal per day in order to accommodate this schedule. As a result, you’ll consume fewer calories within each 24-hour period. As you know, you must maintain a calorie deficit to shed weight. Therefore, IF helps you to reach your weight loss goals effectively.

It’s important to note, though, that some people fail to lose weight when they fast intermittently. This is because they don’t reduce their calorie intake. During their eating window, they continue to eat as much as they would have if they had been eating normally. Therefore, they don’t have the necessary calorie deficit to shed the pounds.

As long as you don’t eat excessively during your eating window, you’ll automatically reduce your calorie intake.

Hormonal Changes Boost Metabolism

The human body stores energy in the form of calories in body fat. If you don’t eat, your body changes a number of things so that stored energy can be more accessible. These changes involve the activity of your nervous system. They also include major changes in a number of key hormones.

These changes occur in the metabolism when you’re fasting:

 Insulin increases every time you eat. If you fast, your insulin level will dramatically decrease. A lower insulin level facilitates fat burning.
 HGH (Human Growth Hormone) skyrockets when you fast. It can increase by as much as five times its normal level. Growth hormone aids muscle gain and fat loss.
 Noradrenaline (Norepinephrine) is sent by the nervous system to your fat cells. This causes them to break down your body fat. It is turned into free fatty acids. These are then burned to produce energy.

Many people believe that if you fast your metabolism slows down. However, evidence shows that fasting in the short-term may boost fat burning. There have been two studies that have shown fasting for 48 hours increases metabolism up to 14 percent.

Reduced Insulin Levels Speed Fat Burning

You probably already know about insulin because of its importance for diabetics. People who have diabetes have to take insulin to maintain normal function. However, many people are unsure of what insulin does in the body or even what it is.

Insulin is a hormone that is made by your pancreas. Its job is to convert sugar (glucose) in the blood into energy. The cells then use that energy as fuel. Insulin also has another role to play in the body. It drives the storage of fat.

The level of insulin in the body will increase whenever you eat. It also decreases whenever you fast. The lower level of insulin caused when you fast can help to prevent excess storage of fat. It also helps the body to mobilize the fat that is already stored. As a result, it can boost your fat loss and help you lose weight more rapidly.

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