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What does intermittent fasting mean?
This article could easily be subtitled And why the heck would anyone want to do it? But let’s hold off on that gut reaction for a bit. (Please pardon the pun. It was begging to be made.)
Intermittent fasting is not so much a diet as an eating pattern. The pattern basically consists of dividing the week—or day, depending on the method–into eating periods and fasting periods. In a way, it’s about when you eat, not what or how much you eat.
If you think you can stomach the fasting periods (that’s absolutely the last pun, I promise) there are some pretty significant benefits that have been said to be associated with it:
- Protects brain cells from changes associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease
- Increases sense of well-being
- Strengthens immune system
- Reduces risk of chronic disease
- Reduces hunger and sugar cravings
- Promotes weight loss
- Helps slow the aging process
- Supports neural health
- Lowers triglyceride levels
- Reduces oxidative stress
- Reduces sugar cravings
- Improves risk factors for heart disease
Now, whether all of the above are true or not is the burning question. Obviously, there are no certainties when it comes to new ways of doing something, but if you want the skinny on fasting (I lied) you came to the right place.
During fasting, the body attempts to conserve energy. During that process, all kinds of things happen in the body, but mainly the body has to turn to fat, rather than sugar, for energy.This, in turn, leads to all sorts of other things that are highly beneficial to your health.
Allow me to explain. Intermittent fasting helps reset your body to use fat, rather than sugar, as its primary fuel. About eight hours after the last meal of the day, the body starts using glucose that is stored in the liver and muscles.
After the stored glucose is depleted, the body turns to fat as its energy source. Numerous scientific studies have shown that by doing this, you dramatically reduce your risk of chronic disease. Many scientists have also suggested that this promotes weight loss.
How is intermittent fasting beneficial?
How does it love thee? Let me count the ways.
- Reboots the immune system. According to the University of Southern California study, during fasting periods our bodies recycle unneeded immune cells, especially those that may be damaged. This can effectively “reboot” the immune system by clearing out all the old immune cells and replacing them with new ones. As researcher Valter Longo said, “We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the hematopoietic system.”
The team also found that fasting for three days immediately prior to chemotherapy protects against immune system damage that can occur as a result of the treatment. According to Longo, “Now, if you start with a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or aging, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system.”
- Releases Endorphins. Studies have shown that after two days of fasting, the body’s endorphin levels increase, which can bolster mental well-being.
- Reduces hunger. I know what you’re thinking and it’s along the lines of “yeah, right.” However, studies have shown that intermittent fasting tends to normalize levels of ghrelin in the blood. Ghrelin is known as the body’s “hunger hormone.”
- Reduces sugar cravings. Several weeks after your body has shifted to burning fat as its primary fuel, cravings for sugar and carbs have been said to automatically disappear.
- Increases HGH levels. Researchers have shown that fasting can raise levels of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) in the body, a fat-burning hormone that also plays an important role in fitness and slowing the aging process. These same studies have shown that fasting can raise HGH in women by 1,300 percent, and in men by 2,000 percent.
- Detoxes your body. Intermittent fasting triggers a detoxification process whereby toxins that have been stored in the body’s fat breakdown are flushed from the body.
- Promotes brain health. Intermittent fasting increases production of a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is highly useful as a trigger for numerous chemicals that promote brain health. BDNF also defends your brain cells from many of the changes that have been associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Research sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, suggests that alternate-day fasting (we’ll come back to that later when we talk about fasting methods) can boost BDNF by anywhere from 50 to 400 percent.
- Promotes heart health. Intermittent fasting has been shown to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and inflammatory markers and other markers for heart disease.
- Slows aging process. Fasting decreases the amount of oxidative radicals in cells, thereby protecting cellular proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids associated with aging and disease from oxidative damage. Fasting also inhibits the mTOR pathway, which plays an important part in driving the aging process.
- Eliminates cellular waste. When we fast, the cells in the body break down and the body begins a process of metabolizing the broken and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells over time. In other words, fasting initiates a cellular “waste removal” process (this is called ‘autophagy,’ by the way) which purges waste material from cells.
Is intermittent fasting safe for everyone?
No. If you are used to having 3 meals a day plus snacks in between, even brief fasting periods can be tough to do.
Also, fasting can increase stress levels and disrupt sleep.Dehydration, hunger, or lack of sleep during a fasting period can also lead to headaches.
If you are prone to heartburn or stomach, be advised that fasting can lead to a reduction in stomach acid, which digests food and destroys bacteria. However, just smelling or even thinking about food when fasting can fool your brain into instructing the stomach to produce more acid, and with no food to be digested that leads to heartburn.
If you’re hypoglycemic or diabetic, you shouldn’t try it. Others that would best serve to avoid fasting include those with adrenal fatigue (chronic stress) and anyone with cortisol dysregulation. Others who should avoid fasting are people who are underweight, individuals under the age of 18, pregnant women, and individuals recovering from surgery.
How intermittent is “intermittent”?
There are plenty of intermittent fasting methods out there. We’ll just touch on the Big Six.
- 5:2 Fast Diet. Following the 5:2 fasting schedule means that you eat a recommended number of calories five days a week and then kick it down to between 500 and 600 calories for each of the remaining two days.
- Alternate Day Fasting. The protocol for Alternate Day Fasting is basically fasting every other day. On fasting days, you consume about 500-600 calories. On nonfasting days you can eat whatever you want.
- Leangains Protocol. This is also called the 16/8 Method. It involves skipping breakfast and restricting all daily eating to a period of 8 hours, say 12 pm to 8 pm. The rest of the time – 16 hours each day – is the fasting period.
- Eat-Stop-Eat. This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week.
- Warrior Diet. Fast during the day, and feast on a huge meal at dinnertime (always within a 4-hour eating window). During the fasting period, you can eat raw fruits and vegetables.
- Spontaneous Meal Skipping. This isn’t fancy. Just skip meals from time to time as convenient.
What’s the lowdown?
If you don’t fit into any of the groups of people advised not to do it, and if you think you can deal with the short-term hunger pains, you may wish to give it try.Will it help you lose weight, gain muscle, live longer and so on and so forth? Let us know what you find out!