Intermittent fasting (IF) is when an individual cycles their eating pattern between periods of fasting and food consumption. Even though eating a healthy balanced diet is encouraged, there’s less of a focus on the type of food you eat with IF. But it can be assumed that if you’re looking into this healthy behavior, you are already on top of your healthy eating behaviors as well. The primary focus of IF is timing.
We all know that fad diets and fitness trends come and go, and it’s important to be skeptical of them, but IF is a current trend that keeps being backed up by more and more research. There is SO MUCH RESEARCH which made me write this article, to have all the key findings in one place, and to save you the time of going through the same IF rabbit hole I did. I’ll go through the benefits, methods, and my most important question I had while looking into IF.
What are the benefits?
“Fasting, characterized by periods of food deprivation for several hours to a few days, is a popular dietary approach for weight management in humans. In addition, the beneficial effects of fasting on ageing, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases have been well documented in both animals and humans.”
Healthline outlines some major benefits to IF, and it’s very convincing if you’re on the fence to trying it out.
“The food we eat is broken down by enzymes in our gut and eventually ends up as molecules in our bloodstream. Carbohydrates, particularly sugars and refined grains (think white flours and rice), are quickly broken down into sugar, which our cells use for energy. If our cells don’t use it all, we store it in our fat cells as, well, fat. But sugar can only enter our cells with insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas. Insulin brings sugar into the fat cells and keeps it there. Between meals, as long as we don’t snack, our insulin levels will go down and our fat cells can then release their stored sugar, to be used as energy. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. The entire idea of IF is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat.” (M.T.)
Inflammation and Cancer: MyCancer explains cancer risk biomarkers to be “…proteins, genes, and other molecules that affect how cancer cells grow, multiply, die, and respond to other compounds in the body.” Doctor Brady Salcido lays out how IF lowers the inflammation cell growth (cancer) in a few important ways…
- Ketones — “During fasting, the body uses up all of it’s sugar stores and has to turn to fat for fuel. When fats get broken down it creates ketones. One of the most abundant ketones, β-hydroxybutrate, actually blocks part of the immune system responsible for regulating inflammatory disorders like arthritis and even alzheimers.” (B.S.)
- Autophagy — “Autophagy is when the body destroys old or damaged cells. Think of it like cleaning off the rust and cleansing itself. It’s a way of the body repairing itself. If old or damaged cells remain in the body, they create inflammation. Intermittent fasting stimulates autophagy, helping the body to cleanse itself, thereby reducing inflammation.” (B.S.)
Brain Health: A study explains that the mild stress response in brain cells that IF causes, activates certain compensating mechanisms. Specifically, the upregulation of the brain hormone BDNF which aids in the growth of new nerve cells. Ketones (referenced before in inflammation) also powers the brain in a different way, resulting in a more efficient functioning process.
Anti-Aging: All of these benefits listed previously, contribute to a longer and healthier life. Studies show that rats who were put on a fasting diet, lived significantly longer than the rats in the control group.
Is there more than one way to use IF?
Yes! One size definitely doesn’t fit all for health routines and the same applies to IF, you can pick the variant that works best for you and your current lifestyle.
- Fasting Within A Daily Window: The most popular method here is 16/8 (also my favorite), eating between the window of 8 hours and fasting for 16 hours which usually carries on into the next day. Depending on your schedule you would ideally start eating at 9am, once 5pm hits (8 hours later) you stop eating until 9am the next morning. If you really want to amp things up, people also do the 18/6 method, but both have proven to result in success.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: This method involves fasting for 24 hours, usually 1–2 times a week. One idea would be to have dinner on a monday at 5pm, and not eat until the next day (Tuesday) at 5pm.
- 5:2 Diet: With this, you would eat 500–600 calories each day for 2 days, then eat normally the other 5 days of the week.
There are also individuals, like Tim Ferris, who fast for a few days a month. Ferris begins his fast on a Thursday night and ends on Sunday night, and this month-to-month method works best for him.
Now the question that we all have been waiting for: Will IF result in muscle loss?
“We don’t waste away our muscle while keeping all our fat stores. That would be idiotic. During fasting, hormonal changes kick in to give us more energy (increased adrenalin), keep glucose and energy stores high (burning fatty acids and ketone bodies), and keep our lean muscles and bones (growth hormone). This is normal and natural and there is nothing here to be feared.” (J.F.)
So basically fat is burned for energy instead of protein, which preserves all your hard earned gains in the gym. Healthline mentions that during fasting, Human Growth Hormone substantially increases in the body — increasing fat loss and muscle gain. Working out during fasting is encouraged, and the video below can help you find the best time to workout during your fasting period.
Just like with exercise, you need to give your body time to recover in order to get stronger, so it’s important to know your boundaries on IF and to always consult with your medical professional before starting any new IF health routine.
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