You’ve probably at least heard the term intermittent fasting, and odds are, you know someone who swears by it. But before you dismiss it as just another diet fad or delve into it head first, it’s important to learn more about what it really is and why it works for so many people.
Intermittent fasting, or IF as it’s sometimes referred to, isn’t a diet per se, but a dieting pattern. It involves either partially or entirely abstaining from eating for a set period of time before eating regularly again. One fasts and then feasts purposely, consuming calories only during a specific window of the day. Research, as Harvard Medical School summarizes, has suggested that this way of eating can offer a number of benefits, like increased longevity, fat loss and better overall health.
How IF Works
IF is believed to be effective as it allows the body to enter its fat-burning peak, something that occurs about 8 to 12 hours after eating a meal. This leads to the body losing fat without sacrificing muscle mass, which can lower the metabolism and create a vicious cycle of never-ending dieting and a struggle to obtain a thinner waistline. When following a typical eating schedule, meaning breakfast, lunch and dinner that’s spread through a 12-hour period, the body never reaches that point.
When one eats a meal, the body spends several hours burning what it can from the food that was consumed. As it has this readily available and easy-to-burn energy in its bloodstream, the body chooses to use it as energy instead of fat that’s been stored. This is especially true following a high carbohydrate, high sugar meal as the body turns to sugar to burn as energy first, before any other source. When you fast, the body doesn’t have a meal that was recently consumed to use as energy, so it then turns to stored fat instead of glucose in the bloodstream or glycogen in the liver and/or muscles. That results in more fat being burned.
Weight Loss and Other Benefits of IF
Most people turn to IF to lose weight. As you won’t be eating as many meals, unless you make up for that by consuming a lot more when you do eat, you will take in fewer calories overall, the basic formula for weight loss. But IF also helps by allowing the body to reach its fat-burning peak, so that you’ll lose fat and not muscle, the key to long-term, successful weight loss as more muscle generally means a higher metabolism. That means you’ll burn more calories, even when sitting or sleeping.
Some studies have also found that fasting may raise human growth hormone (HGH) by as much as 1,300 percent in women, and 2,000 percent in men. And, HGH is well-known to play an important role in our health - even slowing the aging process. IF may extend longevity as it can enhance stress resistance. A number of animal studies showed these effects are similar to the benefits of continual calorie restriction. In some research published in the journal Gerontology, dramatic results were achieved when, for example, rats that fasted every other day lived 83% longer than those who didn't.
In addition to weight loss and extended longevity, some of the other benefits from following IF may include:
- Lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes
- Supporting heart health
- Slowing cognitive decline
- Preventing brain diseases
- Reducing the risk of cancer
Intermittent Fasting Options
There isn’t one right way to do IF, but something most people who follow it have discovered is that it tends to be easier to maintain than a traditional, calorie-controlled diet, especially if you choose something that suits your particular lifestyle. Different styles of IF suit different people – choosing which is all up to you. The best is the one that you feel you can follow the easiest.
For example, you might choose to eat only from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., or you could follow an even shorter window, such as a six-hour time frame. Some find that skipping two meals one day followed by a 24-hour fast works well for them. For example, you’ll eat at your usual schedule, ending at 7 p.m. and then not eat again until 7 p.m. the following day. Many find that the easiest to stick with is eating for eight hours and fasting for 16, but it all comes down to what’s right for you.
Tips for Success
There’s really no argument against intermittent fasting when it comes to losing fat and our overall health. The important thing is to learn how to incorporate IF into your personal lifestyle so that it’s sustainable over the long term. These tips can help you accomplish that.
Combine IF with the Keto or Paleo Diet. If you try IF with a higher-carbohydrate diet, your blood sugar will rise and fall throughout the day. Unstable blood sugar brings challenges like running out of energy, lightheadedness, cravings and possibly mood swings. Both the Keto and Paleo diets focus on high-quality, nutrient-rich foods and are low-carb (although Paleo contains a higher amount of carbs both tend to be good options). These diets will help keep hunger at bay, reduce or eliminate cravings and encourage greater fat loss, making them a one-two punch for losing weight when combined with IF.
Supplements. Taking a supplement like our BCAAs + Collagen with an electrolyte blend can be an important part of success with intermittent fasting, as well as well following a Paleo or Keto diet. Electrolytes, including sodium, magnesium, potassium and calcium are essential for many vital body processes. Not getting enough electrolytes is one of the most common reasons people fail when following IF and many diets.
Stay hydrated. Staying hydrated is a must for good health, but even more important when following IF. It will further aid in helping you to cope with hunger too, reducing the risk of straying off your eating schedule. Aim to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day.
Eat nutritiously during your allotted time frame. It will be counterproductive to chow down on fast food, processed junk and the like when it comes time to eat. Aim to fuel your body with nutritious, whole foods such as plenty of organic fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, healthy oils like coconut or olive oil, and high-quality protein sources like wild-caught fish, free-range poultry and grass-fed meats.