You’re probably aware that going too many hours between meals can cause a drop in blood sugar that leads to headaches, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. While that’s true, new research shows that planned periods of Intermittent Fasting (IF) or Intermittent Energy Restriction (IER) can be good for your health. This is not about starving yourself to lose weight. Instead, IER aims to give the digestive system a break from food, which allows the body to cleanse itself. To be truly restorative, IER is matched with a similar break from mental and physical activity.
For most people, fasting carries religious connotations, but the idea of intermittent fasting is completely secular. Rather than controlling what you eat, this is more about when you eat, a “dining pattern” of sorts. In general, for a few days a week, those who practice intermittent fasting abstain from eating for a set period of time, generally from 14 to 18 hours.
This isn’t as huge of a departure as you may think from normal eating habits. For example, we all go through a fast of sorts, while we sleep. If you were to skip breakfast and eat your first meal at noon, you have a 16 hour-fast. When it comes to any fasting, be sure to discuss it with your doctor or medical professional first, to make sure you are doing so safely.
Benefits of intermittent fasting:
- Increased sensitivity to insulin and leptin, which can lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease and even cancer
- Better regulation of hormones associated with appetite
- Enhanced metabolic use of stored fat
- Lower triglyceride levels, which decreases risk for heart disease
- Reduced inflammation
- Enhanced awareness of appetite and cues for eating
Along with these benefits, people who are struggling with digestive issues may also want to consider intermittent fasting. When you fast, it gives your body a break from constantly needing to digest, which lowers the amount of time you need to deal with digestive distress symptoms. In addition, by eating less overall, it’s easier to come up with meals that are suited for digestive support.
Intermittent fasting regimens:
During an Intermittent Fast, drink plenty of water, keep exercise to low intensity, and avoid stress such as the kind created by work deadlines or care-taking for family. For best health practices, choose unprocessed, whole foods including grains, fresh fruits and veggies, and best quality fish, meat and dairy.
The 16:8 Method involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours (e.g., Noon – 8 pm), then fasting for 16 hours (8 pm to 12 pm the next day).
The Weekly/Bi-weekly 24-hour Fast involves a 24 hour period of fasting for one or two days per week or every other week. Last meal at 8 pm Monday, no food but plenty of water until 8 pm the next day.
The 5:2 Method involves choosing any two non-consecutive days of the week and eating only about 600 calories on those days. Tuesday 600 calories; Thursday 600 calories, rest of the week eating regular, healthy meals.
So, how does this all connect to health benefits? One thing to understand is that there are several changes human bodies undergo after not eating for a period of time. These include significant drops of insulin in the blood, as well as increases in blood levels of growth hormone and certain cellular repair processes.
What’s most important to the majority of people trying intermittent fasting, though, is weight loss. There are direct and indirect ways that fasting can contribute to weight loss. One of the major issues for people looking to control their weight is often portion control. Fasting helps here, because people who fast eat less overall. However, all the processes that we mentioned earlier contribute as well, helping to increase the breakdown of body fat. We can help you determine if this is a good approach for you and which is the best intermittent fasting regimen to meet your health goals.