Contributed by – Preksha Buttan
You must have come across the term intermittent fasting. It’s been doing the rounds on social media and also in conversations that people have on nutrition and weight loss. Some have even claimed it to be a foolproof weight-loss method. While some are also questioning its veracity because skipping breakfast or staying hungry for long hours are considered deterrents to good health. What is the real deal on intermittent fasting? Is it a farce or there is any science behind it? Here is our take on it, to help you make the right choices and get the best out of intermittent fasting.
What is intermittent fasting?
Contrary to what most people believe, intermittent fasting is not a diet. It is an eating pattern. It is a way to schedule your meals judiciously so that you make the most of your metabolism. You don’t change what you eat; you change when you eat. Intermittent fasting can help you take bad weight off and keep good weight on. But the question is – how does intermittent fasting lead to weight loss?
The answer lies in the fed state and the fasted state. The fed state starts as and when you start eating and last for around 3 to 5 hours. During this state, your body digests and absorbs and derives energy directly from the food that you’ve eaten. Due to high insulin levels during this state, your body stores excess energy in the form of fat. And then there’s fasted state when your body isn’t processing any food. You enter this state almost 8 to 12 hours after your meal. In this state, your insulin level decreases and your body starts burning fat to derive energy and carry on its functions.
Since our bodies don’t normally enter this fasted state, it is hard to burn the fat naturally. This is the reason why in intermittent fasting, without changing what you eat, you can end up losing weight.
How to do intermittent fasting?
There are a few common schedules in intermittent fasting. You can try and find out what is comfortable for you and what works for you better.
- 16/8 method– This method involves fasting for 16 hours and eating during 8 hours. In these eating hours, you can fit 2 or 3 meals. The easiest way to adopt this method is by eating dinner around 8 and then straight away having lunch the next day.
- 5:2 diet– In this method, you eat normally for 5 days and restrict calories to 500-600 for two days of the week. For example, you eat as you eat for all days of the week except for Tuesdays and Fridays where you eat two meals of 250-300 calories each.
- Eat-Stop-Eat– It involves fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week. For example, you eat your dinner and then not eat anything the next day until dinner. However, non-caloric beverages like water and coffee are allowed in this type of fasting method.
- Alternate day fasting– In this method, you fast every other day. It can get difficult for beginners. So they can reduce their calorie intake to 500 on fasting days. Otherwise, you fast for complete 24 hours every alternate day.
What are the health benefits of intermittent fasting?
Changes hormonal and cellular functions
Many things happen in your body when you don’t eat for a while. Your insulin levels drop and your growth hormone increases. As a result, you burn fat and muscles are retained. Your body also initiates cellular repair by removing waste material from the cells.
Helps you lose weight
This is the most common reason that people choose to do intermittent fasting. In intermittent fasting you eat fewer meals which leads to decreased caloric intake (provided you do not eat more than usual in your meals). And since your insulin drops and growth hormone increases, your metabolic function goes up too. So, the higher metabolic rate and lower calorie intake will eventually help you lose weight.
Lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes
Diabetes type 2 is the result of insulin resistance which leads to high blood sugar levels. Anything that will reduce insulin resistance will be beneficial in diabetes type 2. Over the course of time, intermittent fasting has shown major benefits for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. It reduced blood sugar levels to some extent which implies that those who are at risk of diabetes type 2 may benefit from intermittent fasting.
May benefit heart health
Heart failure is the biggest cause of death worldwide. Intermittent fasting may be beneficial for heart health since it has been observed to have helped in controlling blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. However, more research is underway on this to be able to attribute intermittent fasting as a significant contributor to a healthy heart.
May prevent cancer
The effect of intermittent fasting on metabolism may help in reducing the chances of cancer. As per studies, in some cancer patients, it showed reduced side effects of chemotherapy. However, there is not much evidence to support this claim and more in-depth studies are required in this area.
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