In our Healthy Eating Series, we’ve covered a wide range of diets, and today we’re going to explore Intermittent Fasting. But it’s not exactly a diet. Instead, it’s an eating pattern and with this plan, you can focus on when you eat instead of what you eat.
Intermittent Fasting offers many health benefits, including weight loss and gaining muscle mass, just to name a few. If it sounds too good to be true, keep reading to discover how Intermittent Fasting works and why you should try it.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Fasting isn’t anything new. In fact, when our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, they had to fast when food was in short supply. Fasting continued in different religious observances, too, and it's still practiced today throughout Christianity and Islam, as well as other faiths.
Even though fasting isn’t new, Intermittent Fasting has become a specific program that people follow to improve their health and wellbeing.
With Intermittent Fasting, you only eat two meals within a specific time frame (usually within an eight hour time period). Then, you allow your body to fast until your next meal. By giving your body a break from consumption and digestion, you give it time to improve other physiological processes. We’ll talk more about this soon.
Different Intermittent Fasting schedules
There are several ways to fast on an intermittent schedule. Here are two of the most common approaches:
With this schedule, you fast for 16 hours and allow yourself two meals during an eight-hour period. Most people skip breakfast and have their first meal at about 12 or 1 PM. Then, they wait until about 8 PM for their final meal. After that, they allow their body to fast for 16 hours. They break this fast on the following day with a noon-time meal.
If you don’t like the idea of skipping breakfast, you can still incorporate the 16/8 protocol into your routine. You can eat your first meal at 7 AM, and then have your final meal at about 3 PM, before you fast until the following morning.
There’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to the 16/8 protocol. It’s just important that you allow yourself two meals in an eight-hour time frame, and then follow it with 16 hours of fasting.
This may be more difficult to try if you’re new to Intermittent Fasting. That’s because you fast for a full 24 hours before eating your next meal. And that can be a lot to adjust to when you’re just starting out.
For example, after your evening dinner, you fast for 24 hours until the next evening’s meal. Once you become more accustomed to Intermittent Fasting, you can do the 24-hour protocol once or twice per week.
You might wonder why anyone would want to skip a meal – especially breakfast! Food is such an integral part of everyone’s life and might seem like cruel and unusual punishment to fast.
But once you discover the health benefits of intermittent fasting, it might be easier to understand why people choose to live on just two meals a day.
So, before we dive into the health benefits of Intermittent Fasting, let’s talk more how it works. That will make it easier to understand some of the amazing benefits of this eating pattern.
How does Intermittent Fasting work?
You may be wondering how fasting can be a good thing for the body.
Here’s the scoop: When you consume food, it takes several hours for your body to digest and process the food you eat. And when eat frequently throughout the day, our body always has a readily-available source of energy to burn.
In fact, your body will go for this easy-to-burn energy rather than tap into your fat stores. Therefore, your body just turns to the food you eat for energy, rather than using up energy in your fat stores.
What else happens when you eat food? Your body reacts to meals by producing insulin. But when you eat frequent meals (3 or more meals per day), your body becomes less sensitive to insulin, and it’s also less efficient at utilizing the energy from your meals.
But when you enter into a fasting state, this all changes.
You see, when you don’t consume food (and therefore, when you stop giving your body a readily available source of energy to burn), your body goes to your fat stores for energy instead.
What’s more, when you fast, your body develops a greater sensitivity to insulin. In fact, your body is more sensitive to insulin after you fast rather than after you eat. This sensitivity helps your body utilize the energy from the food you eat more efficiently.
Therefore, after you’ve fasted for 16 hours and have your first meal, your body is, even more, adapt to utilizing this fresh source of energy.
Health benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Now that you understand the basics of Intermittent Fasting, let’s dive a little deeper and talk about some of the many health benefits associated with this eating pattern.
When you only eat two meals per day, you immediately cut back on calories without having to make other significant lifestyle changes. Of course, what you eat is important, too – and we’ll get to that soon – but in general, Intermittent Fasting supports healthy weight loss.
Money- and time-saving
With intermittent fasting, you only have to make two meals a day instead of the usual three. What’s more, you also cut back on snacking throughout the day. You can save a significant amount of time this way. What’s more, you can also save a bit of money, too.
Increase Human Growth Hormone production
Studies are revealing that fasting can increase the production of human growth hormone. This means that while your body is tapping into fat stores for energy, thereby helping you lose weight, you’re also getting a boost of human growth hormone.
This means you can increase muscle mass and support healthy growth while removing unwanted weight from your body. It’s a win-win with Intermittent Fasting.
Improve insulin sensitivity
Research also shows that calorie restriction, i.e., Intermittent Fasting, can reverse insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity.
This means that your blood sugar levels are kept in check. It also means that your body is better equipped to use the energy from the food you consume when you’re not fasting.
According to Harvard School of Public Health, “periods of fasting might promote healthy aging” thereby increasing lifespan and promoting health.
Intermittent Fasting can also improve brain aging and slow the onset of neurodegenerative disorders, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson disease. Therefore, giving your body a break from eating can add healthy years to your life.
Foods to eat while Intermittent Fasting
When you try Intermittent Fasting, you place a greater emphasis on when you eat instead of what you eat. Nonetheless, it’s important to keep some guidelines in place, especially if you’re aiming to lose weight with this eating schedule.
Always consume a balanced meal
Whether you’re eating breakfast, lunch or dinner, be sure that every meal you eat contains a serving of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Your small meal can include Greek yogurt, along with nuts and berries.
Or, you can have an omelet with a side of fruit. Lean sources of protein, like chicken breast or tuna, go well with a side of vegetables or fruit, too.
Choose top foods
Protein helps you feel full and sustains you for longer periods of time. However, it’s important to not bog your body down with heavy sources of protein. Chicken breast, lean cuts of red meat, and seafood can be a wonderful source of protein.
When it comes to carbohydrates, go for whole food sources of fruits, rather than sugary drinks or baked goods. You’ll obtain essential vitamins and minerals when you consume whole foods rather than processed goods.
Finally, try not to skimp out on fats. High-quality fats help to prevent hunger and nourish both your brain and your nervous system. Just be sure to avoid inflammatory vegetable oils, such as corn, canola and soybean oils.
Instead, opt for olive oil, coconut oil, and even avocado oil. And saturated fats from animal sources, such as butter, lard, and tallow, are good for you in moderation.
Avoid added sugars and processed foods
When you cut a meal out of your day, it’s important that you make every meal count and provide healthy nutrients to your body. So, when you skip a meal, you should also skip added sugars and processed foods, too.
According to Dr. Axe, sugar can lead to systemic and chronic inflammation. This, in turn, is said to be the root of most diseases. So, don’t be afraid to trade that blueberry muffin for a serving of fresh blueberries.
When should you avoid intermittent fasting?
Like all diets and eating plans, there’s no one-size-fits-all. And for some individuals, Intermittent Fasting can make you feel worse instead of better. Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac, recommends avoiding intermittent fasting if you have blood sugar regulation problems.
That’s because fasting can raise the stress hormone, cortisol. And when cortisol levels are too high, it’s more difficult to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. For some people, it’s necessary to eat frequent meals throughout the day – even once every two to three hours to maintain a stable blood sugar level.
So, if you struggle with blood sugar regulation, Intermittent Fasting may not be a good dietary schedule for you.
As you can see, Intermittent Fasting can be a great way to improve health and wellness. You can help your body better utilize the energy you consume. You can also lose weight since your body taps into fat stores for energy.
Plus, you get to save time and money while feeling and looking better. Do you think you’d want to give Intermittent Fasting a try? Let us know below!