What is Intermittent Fasting and What are Its Benefits?
Intermittent fasting is currently one of the most popular dieting methods for health and fitness. This trend is great for losing weight, losing fat, improving health, and simplifying your life. It also comes with incredibly powerful health benefits for the brain and the body.
Intermittent fasting is considered an easier diet to follow than other continuous calorie restriction diets. The idea is that you move from fasting days where you reduce calorie intake to eating periods of normal eating. It involves eating healthful foods at all times but moving your calorie intake up and down.
There are a number of different methods of intermittent fasting that are used by enthusiasts of this kind of diet and this kind of eating is backed by scientific evidence produced in a range of randomized controlled trials that show the metabolic health benefits that intermittent fasting programs can have.
With all of these positive benefits of this kind of diet, you're probably wondering how you can begin your own journey of building healthy habits through intermittent fasting. We've rounded up as much information as possible on the trend and have summarised it all here for you.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting involves fasting periods and eating periods that can support significant weight loss. During eating periods, followers of this kind of diet will eat whatever they want (within reason) and during fasting periods they will either significantly restrict their calorie intake, or will completely stop eating.
Intermittent fasting addresses the issue that other calorie restriction diets can create. With continuous calorie restriction, there can be psychological changes that allow the body to become used to fewer calories, halting weight loss and rendering this kind of diet useless to those who want to lose weight.
The idea of the diet is to reduce the number of calories that you eat without continuous restriction. Basically, your body can't get used to not having enough calories! Different versions of the diet require fasting for different periods but the general idea is the same.
Intermittent fasting has been proven to have significant benefits to human health, including improving markers of health like blood pressure and cholesterol and reducing the risk of a range of chronic diseases.
How does intermittent fasting work?
So, how does intermittent fasting actually work?
There are a number of ways that the continuous cycling between eating and fasting can benefit your body and support healthy weight loss but the main reason it works is that it changes the body at a cellular, metabolic level. When you reduce your calories and then increase them repeatedly throughout the week, a number of changes occur in your blood, including the reduction of blood sugars and insulin, the lowering of blood pressure, and lowering of cholesterol levels, particularly LDL (or bad) cholesterol levels. Additionally, during fasting periods, the body uses stored body fat as energy which releases ketones into the blood and encourages weight loss.
The way intermittent fasting works, on a psychological level, is to help you get used to restricting calories and to improve healthy habits. Some people choose to eat like this for short periods of time to kickstart weight loss while others use it as their main diet.
What are the different methods of intermittent fasting?
The intermittent fasting regime is varied and there are lots of different ways to do intermittent fasting. Below we've summarised some of the most popular methods of the regime.
Fasting for 12-hours a day
This is usually a great choice for beginners and it involves fasting for 12 hours each day. One of the reasons this is so great for beginners is because most of the fasting period can be done while sleeping. The idea would be to finish your dinner by 7 pm in the evening and then not eat breakfast until 7 am the next morning. Between 7 am and 7 pm you would practice normal eating.
During the normal eating period, you need to ensure you're eating healthful foods. This includes fruit and vegetables, lots of grains like rice, oats, and quinoa, beans, and pulses, like lentils, chickpeas, and mung beans, and healthy fats, like avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and nuts.
Fasting for 16-hours a day (16:8 method)
The next method is called the 16:8 method and it involves fasting for 16 hours of the day and eating in the other 8 hours. This is a good option for those who do not see any improvements with the 12:12 option or for those who struggle with longer eating periods.
A good method for the 16:8 option is to finish your evening meal before 8 pm and then not eat until noon the next day. This keeps the majority of your fasting during sleeping hours which will help you to maintain your fasting time.
2-day a week fast
The next method is about fasting for full days at a time rather than specific hours during the day. The 5:2 method means eating normally for five days a week and then either fasting or significantly reducing calorie intake on two, non-consecutive days a week.
The five days of eating need to consist of healthful foods that have lots of fibre to ensure you don't become deficient in any major food groups. Dried fruits, like dried papaya and dried figs, and cereals, like porridge, muesli, and granola, can all offer fibre-filled additions to your day.
Alternate day fasting
Alternate day fasting is like a step up from the 5:2 method and involves fasting, or reducing calorie intake, every other day. Most choose to stay under 500 calories on fasting days while others completely stop eating. This is a really effective method for weight loss and is great for your heart health. This is perhaps not a great method for beginners though!
Weekly 24-hour fast
Another full-day fasting method is to have a weekly 24-hour fast. This is called the eat-stop-eat diet and you would fast from breakfast to breakfast or lunch to lunch, etc. This method really helps with the reduction of calorie intake without completely changing eating patterns.
This is a great method for seasoned fasters but isn't a good choice for beginners. This method can cause headaches, fatigue, and irritability but these side effects can become easier to manage over time.
Meal skipping is a popular version of intermittent fasting. It involves skipping meals to reduce the number of calories you eat. Quite a lot of people choose to skip breakfast and begin eating at noon. This method works best when you listen to your body and make decisions based on your hunger needs throughout the day.
The Warrior diet
The Warrior diet regimen is a popular and effective version of intermittent fasting but it is also very extreme. The idea is to eat very little for up to 20 hours a day and then eat one large meal in the evening. The eating period is around four hours.
This is a good option if you have tried other methods first but isn't suitable for all. During the eating period, it is necessary to eat lots of fruit, veg and healthy fats and you should also try to get in some carbs too. Some people using this diet miss out on their fibre intake for the day which can be dangerous for digestive and immune health.
What are the health benefits of intermittent fasting?
So, we know how to follow an intermittent fasting diet, and we know that it's a good diet for weight loss, but what are the actual health benefits of intermittent fasting? We've done our research and have found a few different health benefits and have summarised them below.
We mentioned earlier that this kind of diet can benefit the body through cellular changes. This means an increase in human growth hormone levels which boost weight loss and increase muscle gain as well as increased cellular repair and protection against disease. It also means a drop in blood insulin levels which lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Increased weight loss, including fat loss
Eating fewer meals and fewer calories is a great method of weight loss and intermittent fasting helps you to build healthier habits to maintain weight loss too. It also enhances hormones that facilitate weight loss and studies show that there are generally positive results for those using fasting to lose weight.
Reduced insulin resistance and lowered risk of type 2 diabetes
We've discussed the benefit of this kind of diet already in terms of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Intermittent fasting is good for reducing blood sugar levels and is known to improve insulin resistance. It can also lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
There is some evidence to suggest that this benefit is more prevalent in men, with females showing higher blood sugar levels than men after following a fasting diet.
Inflammation can cause lots of problems for the body and can result in the onset of chronic conditions. Intermittent fasting can reduce chronic inflammation in the body and help to lower the risk of these chronic diseases.
Increased resistance to oxidative stress
Oxidative stress causes ageing and is generally caused by free radicals in the body. Intermittent fasting can enhance the body's ability to resist oxidative stress, keeping you looking younger for longer. In addition, oxidative stress and free radicals can be linked to a number of chronic illnesses so protecting against these is a great idea.
Good for heart health
Intermittent fasting can help to decrease blood sugar levels, blood pressure levels, blood triglyceride levels, cholesterol levels (including LDL cholesterol levels), and inflammatory markers. All of these are markers for poor heart health and the reduction of them is great for your heart health helping to protect against cardiovascular diseases, like heart disease and stroke.
Good for your brain
Generally, if something is good for your body, it is good for your brain. All of the health benefits of intermittent fasting help this dieting method to boost brain health too. Some studies also suggest that this kind of diet can help to prevent neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer's, and shows positive results in animal tests.
Intermittent fasting is said to boost lifespan. In animal studies, this kind of fasting helped to increase longevity in the same way that calorie restriction can increase your lifespan.
Who shouldn't intermittent fast?
There are a number of people who should avoid intermittent fasting. Those who suffer from or who have suffered from eating disorders should not follow this kind of diet as it can encourage disorder eating and could result in a relapse. In addition, if you are struggling to put on weight, you should avoid intermittent fasting.
Anyone under the age of eighteen should not use this regime and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not either. You should also consult your doctor if you have any medical conditions, like diabetes and low blood pressure, before trying any kind of intermittent fasting.
Tips for maintaining intermittent fasting
If you've decided to begin some form of intermittent fasting, you may be looking for some tips and tricks on how to stay on track. We've gathered a few below.
- Start realistically. This means starting out on a fasting schedule that is sustainable and realistic for you and your goals. Don't dive right into a full day of fasting if you have never tried it before because you're more likely to quit.
- Build a tolerance. The reason so many people start out with easier methods like 12:12 or 16:8 is that they're easier to get used to. Once you have built a tolerance to fasting and can get through the day without feeling like you could eat a horse, then you can build up to more strenuous methods.
- Stay hydrated. During fasting periods, it is essential that you stay well-hydrated so as not to feel faint. You can drink water and other low-calorie drinks, like tea, coffee, and herbal tea (don't add sugar!!)
- Eat slowly and frequently. During the eating periods, you should aim to eat every three hours. Eat slowly and don't rush through meals, take your time and savour the food.
- Plan healthy meals. Ensure the food you're planning to eat is healthy and nutritious and plan it out so that you don't end up snacking on food that isn't good for you.
- Prep meals. A step on from planning, prepping your meals can ensure you don't have time to snack. If your meals are already prepared then you don't need to snack while you wait to cook.
- Eat healthy fats. It is important when fasting to ensure that you eat enough healthy fats. Add 2 - 3 tablespoons of healthy fats to your evening meal to regulate blood sugars through the night.
- Sleep problems? If you have trouble sleeping then intermittent fasting may not be for you. If you would like to try it, you will need to sort out your sleeping habits first.
Now you have all of the information you could possibly need when it comes to intermittent fasting, it is time to get started!
Remember that during the fasting period, you are allowed to drink low-calorie drinks. If you are choosing to just reduce calories rather than fully fast, you should still watch out for drinks with high sugar content. It is also important that you continue to exercise during this kind of diet. Intermittent fasting causes weight loss which can result in muscle loss. By continuing to lift weights and exercise, you're signalling to your body that the muscles are in use. This should help the body to burn more fat than muscle.
When choosing an intermittent fasting approach, it is important to note that most people find the 12:12 or 16:8 method the easiest and most sustainable, to begin with. These methods allow lots of the fasting period to be sleeping time which can help with cravings. Try out one of these methods before ploughing ahead with a more strenuous kind of intermittent fasting diet.
While there are specific fasting methods, others choose to just fast intuitively. This means that the fasting isn't scheduled and it is done more for convenience. If you, perhaps, don't have time to cook, or are simply not hungry, you could choose to skip a meal. It is important to not then binge on snacks when you are hungry though.
Short term fasting is said to be a good boost for your metabolism, however, long-term fasting can suppress it. This is why it is essential that you don't fast for more than one consecutive day, otherwise you may halt on weight loss as your body goes into starvation mode.
Always begin new diets with caution and if you have any health conditions that could be affected by this kind of fasting, then speak to your doctor before beginning.
Intermittent fasting is a popular dieting trend that has been used by many to lose weight and fat. There are multiple different methods of intermittent fasting wherein the fasting periods change. Each method has its benefits and some are more suitable for beginners than others.
Intermittent fasting comes with a whole range of benefits, including improved overall health, reduced blood pressure, better heart health, reduced insulin resistance, better blood sugar regulation, weight loss, and boosted brain health. Some people should not try intermittent fasting and if you are concerned about this kind of eating, you should speak to a health professional to get advice.
Getting started with intermittent fasting is easy. It is important to stay hydrated throughout the fasting periods and you must ensure that you do not start out with too hard a fasting method. Start out easy and build a tolerance before embarking on more strenuous activity. Remember to continue to exercise throughout this kind of diet so as not to lose muscle and stop if you have any negative side effects of the diet.
It is important to eat healthily during eating periods meaning you should eat a diet with lots of healthy fats, fibre, fruit and veg, and grains. You can find supplies for this kind of diet here at Australian Organic Product + More. Check out our website now and get stocked up.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the rules for intermittent fasting?
There are a number of different methods for intermittent fasting that require different lengths of fasting and eating periods. While the length may vary depending on the kind of method you're following, the general rules remain the same. When fasting, you need to stay well-hydrated but should not consume any beverages with high sugar content. Stick with water, coffee, and tea. During eating periods, you should follow a healthful diet that includes lots of fruit and veg, grains, healthy fats, and nuts and seeds. It is important that you continue to exercise during this kind of diet so as not to lose lots of muscle too.
Is 14 hours enough for intermittent fasting?
There are many different styles of intermittent fasting and fasting for fourteen hours a day is a good amount. This length of time allows most of the fasting period to be during sleep. You could eat your evening meal and then fast until breakfast the next day. It is essential you do not push yourself too hard with the fasting period, to begin with, and should start off slowly to build a tolerance to fasting and stave off any negative side effects.
What happens when you intermittent fast for 18 hours?
Intermittent fasting helps to reduce the number of calories that you eat in a day. Fasting for 18 hours and then eating for six is an easy way to reduce calorie intake. In the eating period, you should ensure that you are eating healthful foods and getting in enough fibre to remain healthy. When you fast, your body will begin to burn off fat which will result in weight loss. During the 18 hours fast, you may choose to eat a small number of calories, if not, you need to ensure you remain well-hydrated. Always choose a fasting length that feels right to you and never push yourself too hard. If you begin to feel ill, stop following the intermittent fasting regime.
How much weight can I lose with intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a great option for those who have tried other kinds of dieting and have not had any luck. While there isn't a set total on how much weight you can lose while intermittent fasting, you can kickstart weight loss with this method. Intermittent fasting doesn't allow your body to get used to eating fewer calories which is why it works better than some other calorie restriction diets. Fasting for short periods of time can also boost your metabolism, helping you to be able to maintain a healthier weight.
Is intermittent fasting actually good for you?
Intermittent fasting can be. a great way to help you lose weight in a sustained and healthy way. It comes with lots of health benefits which include boosting heart health, reducing cholesterol levels and blood pressure, regulating blood pressure and reducing insulin resistance, and boosting overall health. Intermittent fasting is good for people who have tried to lose weight in other ways without success. It can help you to build healthier eating habits. If you have any medical conditions, like diabetes or low blood sugar, are trying to conceive, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have struggled with eating disorders in the past, intermittent fasting may not be for you. You should always speak to your doctor before beginning this kind of diet.
Does intermittent fasting burn fat?
Intermittent fasting helps your body to burn fat, particularly during the fasting period. With intermittent fasting, you are reducing the number of calories you consume in a healthy way which means your body is more likely to burn fat. This kind of diet can help to boost your metabolism while not letting your body get used to calorie restriction, the main downfall with lots of diets. To ensure your body continues to burn fat while intermittent fasting, it is important that you continue to exercise so that you don't lose muscle instead of fat.