Intermittent fasting is an eating trend that has once again gained popularity after being studied for its health benefits. As accessibility to food wasn’t always convenient like it is today, humans would go through phases of fasting which taught them how to function, even on an empty stomach, for long periods of time. Some people choose to fast for religious or spiritual reasons, and in fact can feel more natural than traditional eating practices.
Intermittent fasting guides your focus to when you’re eating as opposed to what you’re eating. A fast can vary in length, with different goals and methods.
There are three main types of intermittent fasting:
- Time restrictive eating. You’ve probably heard of this method most often, as it is, as it aims to align your eating patterns with your circadian rhythm. In this method (16:8), you would fast for 16 hours, and eat over the course of eight. This is often the most sustainable way to practice fasting, and is definitely the most popular option.
- Whole-day fasting. You may have heard of this as the 5:2 diet, where you eat your regular portions and at your regular times for five days, and then two days each week you are on a complete 24-hour fast.
- Alternate day fasting. This is the strictest form of fasting, because you only eat every other day. 24 hours of eating is followed by 24 hours of fasting. But beware of long term fasting; if you go too long without intaking any calories, your body might actually start storing more fat in response to starvation.
What is the point of reducing my calorie intake during these fasting phases?
After hours without food, your body begins to run out of sugar to use for energy to keep you going. At this point, your body will look to other sources for energy, at which point it will begin burning fat. Some refer to this as metabolic switching.
By prolonging the fasting period, your body becomes able to begin burning fat more quickly. When choosing the right fast for you, you want to make sure you’re adding your preferred method into your daily routine. The key to any ‘diet’ is consistency, so be sure to choose a method that you’re going to feel confident sticking with for an extended period of time so that you’re truly able to see and feel the results.
Is there anything I am allowed to have during my fasting periods?
Yes. Water and zero-calorie beverages such as black coffee and some teas are permitted during these fasting times. Also be sure to use caution during your eating time periods. The point of fasting is to cut out calories for a designated period of time; this does not mean that during your eating windows that you should be consuming vastly more calories than you normally would on any given day. Fasting does not permit you to “go crazy” during these eating windows; instead it allows your body to better metabolize what you are eating during your day-to-day.
What exactly are the benefits of intermittent fasting for my body?
The benefits of fasting go far beyond physical health. While weight loss is often the most talked-about benefit, it is certainly not the only one. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting helps to improve memory. Furthermore, fasting can improve your heart and tissue health. Reduced tissue damage, improved blood pressure, and improved resting heart rate are all benefits that go beyond just what you notice in the mirror. Some even use fasting to help monitor irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, or high cholesterol.
So, is it safe?
As with any lifestyle change such as intermittent fasting, it’s always a good idea to consult with a physician. It may not be recommended for children under 18, women who are pregnant or nursing, or people with a history of blood-sugar trouble or eating disorders. Listen to your body, and remember that change does not happen overnight. It takes consistency, and trial and error to figure out what is going to work best for your own body.
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