Intermittent fasting has become an increasingly popular health and fitness trend, with many trialing the regime for weight loss, improved health and to simplify their lifestyles. Scroll through any social media platform or online health and fitness publication, and you’re bound to read about someone doing intermittent fasting.
So, what exactly is intermittent fasting? Let’s take a look at what the concept involves and why you might implement this way of eating to your lifestyle:
What Is It?
Intermittent fasting is an eating regime where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. It doesn’t change which foods you should eat, but rather when you should eat them. For this reason, it’s not labelled as a diet in the conventional sense, but more so an eating pattern.
What Are The Different Types?
There are a few different ways of doing intermittent fasting, all of which involve the same concept of splitting the day or week into eating and fasting periods. During the fasting period you are limited to only drinking water, black coffee or tea. The three most popular methods of fasting are:
The 16/8 Method:
The 16/8 method involves restricting your daily eating window to 8 hours, and then fasting for 16 hours. The most common way to do this is by skipping breakfast and having your first meal at around 12pm. An eating period of 8 hours then gives you until 8pm that night for you to have your last meal. The eating and fasting windows can be adapted to whatever suits you and your lifestyle best.
The 5:2 Fast:
The 5:2 method involves eating normally 5 days of the week, while restricting calories to 500-600 on two days of the week.
This involves a 24 hour fast either once or twice per week. The fasting is most commonly done by not eating from dinner one day to dinner the next, but similarly can be done from breakfast to breakfast or lunch to lunch.
What Are The Benefits/Risks?
Intermittent fasting is promoted to change body composition through loss of fat mass and weight, and to improve markers of health that are associated with disease such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Weight Loss – the most obvious way fasting can aid weight loss is by helping to reduce an individual’s overall calorie intake. By minimising periods of eating in a day or week, it can help people limit their food consumption and create a calorie deficit. Simply put, if calories in are less than calories out, your body will burn fat to compensate.
- Insulin Resistance – intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce insulin resistance and help lower blood sugar levels.
- Heart Health – some studies have shown that intermittent fasting can improve numerous risk factors for health disease, such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels and inflammatory markers.
- Simplifying Eating – many diets exist, but not many are successfully followed. Intermittent fasting is a simple eating pattern to follow and because you aren’t eating as many meals, it means there is less food to prepare, cook and clean up after.
- Overeating – the main risk associated with prolonged periods without eating is that it may increase the chances of overeating during the non-fasting periods.
- Not for Everyone – intermittent fasting is certainly not for everyone. If you have certain health conditions or a history of eating problems, fasting may not be for you. There is also some evidence that intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial for women as it is for men.
- Hunger/Weakness – common side effects of fasting are hunger and feeling weak. It can take some time for your body to adapt to the fasting schedule, and it can become quite a mental battle to fight through the hunger pains until your body adjusts.
Fasting and Exercise:
If you’re still wanting to get your workouts in while fasting, there are some pros and cons to consider. The promoted upside to exercising in a fasted state is that your stored carbohydrates, known as glycogen, are most likely depleted so you’ll be burning more fat to fuel your workout. However, the downside to exercising in a fasted state is that you may feel sluggish and weak, making you more susceptible to hitting the wall and not performing as well.
To combat this, you could look at changing your exercise schedule so that you are working out in the afternoon or evening once you’re in the eating phase and have consumed a nutritional meal. If you still like to get up and active in the mornings, some lighter exercise may be more appropriate while in a fasted state.
Take Home Message:
There are many people that have tried intermittent fasting with successful results. Fasting however is certainly not for everyone, and not something everyone needs to do. More research and high-quality studies are required to show the direct effect and benefits intermittent fasting has. One of the most important things to remember if you’re thinking about fasting is that you must still make healthy eating choices. Consuming junk foods and bingeing during the eating periods will not lead to health and weight improvements.
If you are keen to give intermittent fasting a go, be sure to do your research, consult a qualified health professional, and of course, always listen to your body. 😊