What is Intermittent Fasting?
Many believe that intermittent fasting is a diet but this is not the case. It is a way of planning your meals in order to get maximum benefit out of them. Intermittent fasting is not focused on changing what you consume, but on changing the time when you would consume food. In other words, it is time-restricted eating.
Intermittent fasting is quickly becoming a way of life for many people with the main goal being to lose weight but mostly body fat. The reason it is gaining popularity is that it requires very little lifestyle/ behavior change. With that in mind, quite a number of people are able to successfully begin intermittent fasting and maintain it as a lifestyle.
‘Fed’ and ‘Fasted’ are the two different and opposite states that the human body is designed to effortlessly shift between.
During the Fed state, insulin levels are escalated and this communicates to the body to store excess amounts of calories in the body’s fat cells. As insulin becomes present in the body, the burning of fat comes to a standstill and, while the body burns glucose from your last meal instead.
In the Fasted state, the body starts mobilizing stored body fat from your fat cells and burning this fat for energy, instead of glucose. This happens because insulin levels are low, while glucagon and growth hormone which oppose insulin are high. This is to say, the body can only store more fat while in the fed state and can only burn fatter while in the fasted state.
Many people are spending less time in the fasted state and more and more time in the fed state. This result in the body spending less time gathering and burning stored body fat for energy, and the mechanisms for burning glucose become overworked and overused. As a result, insulin levels remain high all the time and the body avoids the burning of stored fat and makes use of glucose mostly. After a substantial amount of time, this habitual exposure to insulin leads to ‘insulin resistance’ where the body produces more insulin in response to the fed state. Chronic insulin resistance is the cause of low HDL (good cholesterol), obesity, elevated glucose with eventual type 2 diabetes, abdominal fat storage, high triglycerides.
A person with insulin resistance is burning glucose on a cellular level, and will hardly have the opportunity to burn any body fat. For such a person, when the body runs out of glucose from the last meal consumed, instead it shifting to the fasted state to burn fat, one becomes hungry and the body demands for glucose from carbohydrates as the body has the reduced ability to mobilize and burn fat for energy.
Adaptation of Fat
People have the ability to alter their behavior and improve the ability to fuel their bodies with stored body fat instead of glucose. This can be achieved over time and will take practice.
The body will have to do several things in order to slowly increase the avenues to burning fat. This will include developing insulin sensitivity in order to reduce insulin and advance fat mobilization into fatty acids from the fat cells (adipocytes), also increase the regulating of fat burning avenues at the cell level in the mitochondria.
One of the best ways to improve adaptation of fat is through intermittent fasting, which is a strategy for exercising and strengthening the body’s physical ability to endure and spending more time in the fasted state, leading to more fat being burnt instead of stagnating in the fed state where glucose is burnt. The state where fat is burnt faster is referred to as Ketosis.
- Eat small meals frequently
Many people are advised to keep eating throughout the day so that their bodies do not enter starvation mode. This is a problem because in order to burn fat one need to be in the fasted state as much as possible and allow the body to live on stored fat rather than the calorie the body is getting from frequent eating.
- The metabolism slows down with Fasting
This is not true. Studies show that in fasting even up to 72 hours the metabolism does not slow down, and may actually pick up speed slightly due to the release of adrenaline, dopamine and norepinephrine which activate the sympathetic nervous system also called “fight or flight” system, with the reverse being the parasympathetic nervous system also known as the “rest and digest “ system . The “fight or flight” system is active during the day when people are most active and in the fasted state that is when they are sourcing for food then followed by “rest and digest “mode in the evening after having a large meal.
- Not eating will give one hypoglycemia (Low blood sugar)
Research has shown that healthy individuals who are not under any diabetic medication and do not have pre-existing medical conditions, can last for very long periods of time without suffering from hypoglycemia. On the contrary, most cases of hypoglycemia in nondiabetics occur from consuming a high glycemic index carbohydrate food a few hours before. It should be noted, that anyone with a diabetic condition should check with their doctor before undertaking a fast.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
When undertaking this type of fast, one goes for sixteen hours without eating, then one eats whatever they want for the remainder of the eight hours. During the sixteen-hour fasting window, one can only consume water, coffee, diet soda or black tea. Most people plan their eight-hour window during the day for example from 11 am to 7 pm, so that the most hours of the fast are spent with one being asleep.
Benefits of the 16:8 Fast – It helps with weight loss as it takes away the aspect of eating and overeating at night.
The disadvantage of the 16:8 Fast-This time frame might not be enough to get the body into ketosis. Should one end up in ketosis but continue to eat even a substantial amount of carbs, one will end up dropping from ketosis every time.
Skipping a Meal
This simple, just skipping one meal in the course of the day, you have two meals out of the standard three meals, and you skip at the usual time for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Benefits of Skipping Meal – It is an efficient way to start the practice of fasting for beginners.
The disadvantage of Skipping a Meal- Skipping a meal without a proper plan that can lead to overeating when having the next meal.
The Warrior Diet
This entails eating a small serving of fruits, vegetables and a protein like a yogurt or whey protein which are easily digested, every few hours and eating one large meal within the last four hours of one’s night.
Benefits of the Warrior Diet – It is easier to manage since snacks are allowed during the day that forgoing food during the day. The diet encourages high-quality food choices and avoiding sugar and processed foods.
Disadvantages of the Warrior Diet-Since it encourages one to have a huge meal at night, this can lead to overeating resulting indigestion problems from heavy late- night eating.
24 Hour intermittent fasting
This method is relatively simple. One simply fasts from one meal either breakfast, lunch or dinner to the same meal the next day. For example, if you stop eating after lunch one day you fast until lunch the next day or whichever meal one prefers.
Benefits of 24 Hour Fasting-This can be a great way of getting into ketosis (a condition where stored fat is broken down to produce energy) more quickly. It is a good way to give your body a break from food.
Disadvantages of 24 Hour Fasting- This method can prove difficult for those starting intermittent fasting and might find beginning with a 12-16 hour fast better while cultivating the discipline for longer hours.
It is common practice to incorporate supplements in the course of intermittent fasting. The types of supplements to use depend on personal preference and what one seeks to gain at the end of the day. It is advisable to carry out research before taking any supplement and to consult a physician as well.
Conclusion on Intermittent Fasting
In the quest to live a healthy life, one has to be willing to acquire knowledge then apply it until a suitable health routine is established. Since every individual is unique, one particular method of intermittent fasting cannot work for all. It is therefore advisable, to read through the different books available on the topic and establish what will suit you as an individual. The quest to be healthy never stops and is one of the critical things each person must strive to do. Good health is attainable with patience, commitment and discipline.
Alexa Bauer has a Master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Maryland and works as a full-time researcher at Swol Headquarters. Alexa Bauer spends her spare time blogging about cardiovascular health and nutrition. She’s specialized in weight loss.