Since time immemorial, people have had one important question: how to lose weight? There is an onslaught of information regarding different diet plans and crash programs for weight loss in various forms of print and electronic media. With the ever-expanding mass of information on and off the internet, it is not easy to filter out the diet plans that suit your body and lifestyle. One such diet plan with tried-and-tested safety and efficacy profile is Intermittent Fasting.
Read on to find out more about Intermittent Fasting, its pros and cons, and the best ways to get started.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent Fasting is exactly what the name suggests: a pattern of eating where you cycle between variable time intervals of eating and not eating or fasting. It dictates only the schedule of eating, but not the permitted food groups or types.
The goal of Intermittent Fasting is to strategically starve the body of food and nutrients for a suitable period, which eventually triggers consumption or burning of body fat reserves. With time, the fat reserves of the body get depleted and result in weight loss.
Fasting has a cultural or religious significance in multiple regions around the world. Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Buddhists fast during particular times of the year due to religious reasons. It is associated with multiple health benefits, including weight control, bowel regulation, reduced risk of metabolic disorders, and spiritual cleansing.
The Science Behind Intermittent Fasting
Under normal circumstances, the body obtains nutrients from the digested food. Complex nutrients like carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestinal wall. The glucose then gets consumed by the body to obtain energy to drive various bodily functions.
The excess glucose from the diet reaches the Liver through the blood. Here, it is converted into glycogen for storage in the Liver and skeletal muscles. The remaining glucose is converted into fatty acids and stored as fat in the adipose tissue.
In the fasting state, the glycogen reserves get broken down to release glucose to provide energy. A typical human body in the inactive state consumes the glycogen stores in around 10 to 12 hours. People who exercise may use up their glycogen stores in less time.
Once the glycogen stores diminish, the body shifts to using the fat reserves in the adipose tissue. The fatty acids released are sent to the Liver where they get converted to metabolic substrates used by the body for energy.
Intermittent Fasting works by prolonging starvation, which causes the body to burn the fat stores, and leads to weight loss and associated benefits.
Methods of Intermittent Fasting
Multiple methods for intermittent fasting are in practice today. All of these include the division of weeks or days into distinct periods for eating and fasting.
The 16:8 Plan
In this method, a person refrains from eating anything for 16 hours. It is followed by a period of 8 hours where you can eat one or more meals. The 16:8 method of Intermittent fasting is also called the “Leangains Protocol” and works well for both men and women.
For this method to be effective, it is necessary to stick to healthy and wholesome foods during the eating windows. You may consume calorie-free drinks, including water, coffee, black or green tea.
The 5:2 Plan
This method involves eating a regular diet for five days of the week and following a restricted diet during the remaining two days. These days, experts recommend eating 500 to 600 calories per day. The 5:2 method is also called the “Fast Diet.”
The Alternate-Day Plan
This method involves fasting on alternative days, i.e., eat, then fast, then eat, and so forth. The fasting periods, in this case, are full 24-hour days. While following such a pattern might be challenging for some, its effects on the body can be incredibly beneficial.
The Meal Skipping Plan
It is not necessary to follow a strict predefined pattern to avail the benefits of intermittent fasting. You can also choose to skip meals whenever you feel that you are not hungry. It is, however, essential to eat healthy and nutritious foods whenever possible.
Pros & Cons of Intermittent Fasting
Like every other diet plan, Intermittent Fasting has its set of advantages and disadvantages.
Pros of Intermittent Fasting
- Weight Loss: It helps you in maintaining your body weight within your ideal BMI range. Weight loss is associated with multiple indirect health benefits like better cholesterol control and sustained insulin levels in the body. It reduces the risk of comorbidities associated with obesity, like coronary disease, Diabetes Mellitus, etc.
- Improved Mental Health: It enables you to have better focus, attention, and memory. There is an increased level of mental clarity, which can improve your day-to-day functioning and productivity.
- Control & Flexibility: With multiple methods available everywhere on the internet, it is easy to pick and choose the one that suits you the most. It offers more control and flexibility than all other diet plans or fast diet crashes.
- Anti-Inflammatory & Anti-Oxidant Effects: The clean diet also decreases inflammation and damage to the body due to free radicals.
Cons of Intermittent Fasting
- Unhealthy Eating Habits: If you fast, you are more likely to load your meals with calories or engage in binge-eating. Most people make the mistake of eating a lot of junk food during the eating periods, which offsets any advantage of Intermittent Fasting.
- Nutrient Deficiency: You are likely to become deficient in one or more essential nutrients if you are not careful about your diet.
- Restrictions for Diabetics: Individuals with Diabetes have naturally poor control of blood sugar. Such individuals cannot do this diet because it will likely cause more harm than good due to hypoglycemia.
- Mood Changes: You might develop mood changes, headache, nausea while eating, or other symptoms. There is also a chance of hypoglycemia leading to fainting spells.
Intermittent Fasting Recommendations
Here is a selection of the top-rated resources to read more about Intermittent Fasting.
- Intermittent Fasting for Beginners (By Sarah Amber Patterson): It is a good resource for beginners who are unfamiliar with the basics of fasting and diet plans.
- Intermittent Fasting for Women (By Melany Flores): The book covers all the essentials of fasting and advice and plans designed for females.
- The Scientific Approach to Intermittent Fasting (By Dr. Michael VanDerschelden): Aside from being an ideal resource for beginners, the book offers a medical perspective on the technique and its health benefits.
- Intermittent Fasting Stories (By Gin Stephens): The podcast covers real experiences with fasting and first-hand accounts of various benefits and drawbacks of fasting.
- The Intermittent Fasting Podcast (By Melany Avalon & Gin Stephens): The podcast covers all the basics of fasting, especially in the light of pre-existing health issues.
- Cut the Fat Weight Loss Podcast (By Ray Hinish & Blythe Wagner): It is an all-in-one podcast featuring tips related to fasting and multiple other methods for weight loss.