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The Skinny on Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent Fasting, a popular trend in the health and wellness field, is deemed by many enthusiasts as an effective weight loss solution and the key to longevity. Intermittent fasting is not new; in fact, fasting is as old as mankind and forms a part of many cultural and religious practices all over the world. So what exactly is intermittent fasting? How is it different from a starvation diet? And is it even safe? I address these and other questions in today's article.
As the name suggests, intermittent fasting is a diet regime where you fast for certain periods of time and restrict eating to a certain window. There are different ways intermittent fasting can be done with the most popular being:
· The 16:8 method where you fast for 16 hours a day and restrict eating to a continuous 8-hour period. The 16 hours can include sleep so someone following this plan may fast from 8pm to noon the following day and consume all meals between noon and 8pm.
· The 5:2 method where persons fast for two non-consecutive days a week and eat normally for five days a week. During the fasting days some people practise a strict fast, consuming only water or other zero-calorie drinks such as coffee or tea, while others consume fewer than 500 calories of protein and healthy fats such as nuts and avocado.
Some argue that the success of intermittent fasting diets comes from the reduction in calories consumed each week and hence it is no different than following a low-calorie diet. Low calorie diets have been deemed to be unsustainable in the long-term because the body may eventually go into 'starvation mode' where metabolism slows down and weight loss plateaus.
But, research has shown that intermittent fasting actually increases your metabolism and changes the body at a hormonal level. When we eat, insulin is released, which helps the body store any excess energy in the liver and as fat deposits throughout the body. Conversely when we fast, the body's insulin levels drop, signaling to the body to tap into this stored energy source. When we are eating all throughout the day, either small meals or regular meals with snacks in between, our insulin levels remain elevated and the body won't tap into those fat stores. Regular fasting not only decreases insulin, but helps to prevent insulin resistance and increase the secretion of growth hormones and noradrenaline which help to build lean body mass and increase metabolism respectively.
The benefits go beyond weight loss. They can include reduced inflammation, increased energy, decreased appetite, improved brain function and reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. While intermittent fasting prescribes the timing of eating and not a specific meal plan, it is important that it is combined with a nutrient-rich diet based on whole foods.
Despite the many benefits, intermittent fasting is not for everyone. People with a history of eating disorders and who are underweight, pregnant and nursing women and children should avoid this diet. People who have difficulty regulating their insulin or are on medication for other serious illnesses should consult their physician before starting an intermittent fasting regime. If you do plan on starting an intermittent fasting program, it is best to start small, extending the time between your dinner and your breakfast or eating dinner a little earlier each night. You may experience temporary symptoms of discomfort such as headaches and irritability as your body (and your mind) adapt to your new pattern of eating.
Like any other diet program, what works for one person may not work for someone else. However there are certainly many aspects of this protocol that makes intuitive sense. From an evolutionary standpoint, access to food continuously is relatively new and so, it is a good idea to give your digestion a break by not snacking in between meals. In addition, since we naturally follow a circadian rhythm where we are active during the day and sleep at night, our metabolism will be adapted for eating in the daytime and resting at night, allowing for a natural overnight fast. A lot of our body's healing and restoration happens during this period of 'rest and digest'. But let's not forget, it's not just about when you eat, but also what you eat.
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