Once and again, the world goes frenzy about a new trend for weight loss, but as you will expect, not everyone who jumps into this trend will be successful. That is not because the trend itself is wrong but because people miss certain key intricacies associated with the practice. In this article, I will discuss one of such trends- intermittent fasting.
I’ll also guide you through its benefits, approach, myths and facts about this fasting routing, but my aim is to help you get the best results from intermittent fast in the easiest way possible. Can’t wait to get started? I too; so, let’s dig in already!
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating pattern that cycles periods of fasting and eating. Put differently; it means stopping eating for a specific period. It is not a diet and does not change what you eat but how and when you eat foods.
I am quite fond of the intermittent fasting routine for so many reasons. First, it doesn’t deprive you of a healthy, joyful life with a strenuous dieting program. Also because intermittent fast genuinely mirrors the most natural eating routine- only eating when you’re hungry and stopping while you’re full. Besides, the fasting practice has been used throughout centuries in almost every religion and culture for numerous exciting benefits.
Now how do you go about it?
Methods of Intermittent Fasting
There are different ways of doing an intermittent fast, but the idea hinges on dividing your day into eating and fasting periods. You can as well go for a weekly option with fasting days and days where you eat. The idea is to eat at some point and allow your body to burn fat for energy when you’re not eating.
Still, the most common methods of intermittent fast include the 16/8, 5/2 and Eat-Stop-Eat methods.
16/8 Method: This approach involves skipping breakfast and limiting your eating periods for the day to eight hours. For example, you skip breakfast, have lunch and dinner between say 12 pm to 8 pm. With that, you’ve fasted for 16 hours and eaten in 8. Thus, the 16/8 method.
5/2 Method: Here, you eat between 500 to 600 calories two non-consecutive days in a week but follow your normal eating routing in the remaining five days.
Eat-Stop-Eat Method: This approach is a little more strenuous than the rest. Here, you go on a 24-hour fast once or twice a week.
Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting offers you a stress-free way of reducing your calorie intake. Better put, reducing the frequency of your calorie intake, at least. It is certain that reduced calorie intake via fasting links to weight loss but it's not the only reason why fasting helps with weight loss. Another important way intermittent fast helps to speed weight loss is the regulation of insulin.
Insulin is a fat-storage hormone responsible for metabolism and produced when we eat. With excessive insulin levels, your body starts to store up fat rather than burn them. So, maintaining insulin balance is key for weight loss.
Intermittent fasting utilizes this subtle way to help your body burn fat. Since insulin is produced every time we eat, goes down four hours after a meal, and the body only burns fat with low insulin levels, you will burn fat for sixteen hours if you follow the 16/8 method or full 24 hours for a 5/2 approach.
Intermittent fasting fosters cellular repairs by breaking down and metabolizing dysfunctional proteins that build up in cells over time; hence, regenerating the immune system. It reduces high blood sugar related issues like diabetes(1), insulin resistance, and Alzheimer’s disease(2).
Improve Heart Health
Going on an intermittent fast can get your body to reduce LDL cholesterol, insulin resistance, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers and blood sugar level. Thus, improving heart health.
Improved Brain Function
Intermittent fasting increases a handful of metabolic features essential for brain health. It improves the growth of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)(3) also aids in the growth of new nerve cells(4).
Who Shouldn’t Do An Intermittent Fast?
Not every eating pattern suits everyone, and that’s valid for intermittent fasting. If you’re underweight (check your BMI here), diabetic, breastfeeding, pregnant, have low blood pressure, or a history with amenorrhea, eating disorders or blood sugar regulation, you should consult your doctor before venturing on an intermittent fast.
How to start an intermittent fast
When you wake up in the morning, refrain from eating your first meal until you feel the first pangs of hunger; listen to your body, and it will tell you when you need to eat, then push half an hour after that point, keep extending with an extra half an hour everyday. Before you know it, you will not be feeling like eating breakfast until noon.
For a morning refreshment, water with lemon will suffice after getting up, as well as during your fast. Many people like to turn to tea or coffee as a pick-me-up morning drink, however, this can have adverse effects on an empty stomach by raising the acidity levels. This can in turn, cause future digestive distress.
Lastly, schedule a cut off time for your fast at night, starting with 8PM. If you feel any hunger pangs after this time, try to flush it out with herbal drinks. To begin with, fast for 12 hours from 8PM till the next morning, and build your way up to 16 if possible. Your body will gradually get used to the fasting and when you stop feeling hungry, you can add another hour every night.
Following this method, you will find yourself filling the 16 hours of fasting and earning yourself all the benefits cast in with such an eating pattern.
Myths and Facts about intermittent fasting
Myth 1: Fasting induces hunger.
I would be careful when debunking this myth because it is quite tricky. Yes, at the initial stages of your intermittent fast, you might experience brain fog and hunger, but this is only temporary. It takes some time for your body to adapt to your new eating pattern, and it does not secrete hunger hormones in the process.
Well, in fact, fasting induces a lower secretion of the hunger hormone- ghrelin; thus, making you feel less hungry when your body fully adapts to staying without foods. It also increases the secretion of leptin, a satiety hormone and will make you feel full.
Fact 1: The results of intermittent fasting hinges on insulin balance
Irrespective of the goal you intend to achieve with an intermittent fast, be it to reduce weight, tone muscles, improve heart function, immunity, etc., the success is dependent on your body’s metabolism and keeping insulin levels low is key to achieving the best metabolic rate. That is because insulin secretion reduces or stops the fat-burning process and initiates storing these fats.
Myth 2: Zero-calorie sweetened, or flavored drinks do not affect your fast
It is common and logical to think that zero-calorie sweetened drinks wouldn’t affect your fast or insulin levels since you’re not adding any calorie to your body, but the assumption is wrong.
Your body will translate any sweet taste into “there is food coming” and secretes insulin as a response. Remember, insulin is produced every time you eat, irrespective of the food you eat.
After insulin secretion, your taste buds signal to your brain to prepare for incoming food because the brain doesn’t know that we figured out a way to make something that tastes like food but isn’t actually food! So, the body prepares and craves for the calories that never comes. The overall result will be high insulin levels very detrimental to your fast (in fact, you can say the fast is ruined), cravings and ultimately, failure of the program.
Fact 2: How to break your intermittent fast is equally as important as the fast
Think of it this way; insulin isn’t produced because you eat. Precisely, insulin is the body’s response to lowering the blood sugar spike produced when you eat.
Now, eating an enormous amount of calories after your fast will likewise cause your body to release large amounts of insulin to balance the blood sugar level. Here are two things that could happen.
First, excessive calories after a fast could simply increase insulin levels and retract those health benefits you’ve set in motion during the fast.
Secondly, your body might become resistant to this insulin secretion if you continue this eating habit for long, leading to increased risk of diabetes, obesity and other blood sugar related issues.
How emotions play a role with intermittent fasting
That might be easy to say, but here’s a concern. The way you feel about your intermittent fast matters a whole lot!
See it this way, the gratification from fasting for religious reasons might keep you going till the end. In contrast, it is not same when you’re fasting for dieting purposes or weight loss. There’s this dieting mentality that steals the whole joy; sometimes people force themselves even when they’re starving because they want to lose more pounds and for me, that is not the right approach.
I have put up the mindful weight loss program that uses the intermittent fasting approach to help you burn fat and lose weight. Albeit, the thrilling catch is that the program isn’t a rigidly structured one that forces you through a stagnant dieting routine. The mindful weight loss program is flexible enough to let you explore what’s best for you, and avail you your weight loss goal without feeling deprived.
I strongly believe (well, it’s factual; so, “believe” may not be so fitting) that the intermittent fasting approach is a healthy and useful approach for living generally, as well as health-related issues.
As a practicing muslim coach, I have been fasting as early as 12 years old from sunrise to sunset a whole month every single year in Ramadan. This was purely to fulfill my religious obligations towards Allah. Weight-loss and health benefits were both not my main goal or motive, Yet now as a muslim health coach studying about the benefits of intermittent fasting resonated with me so much, and really allowed me to see the wisdom in the divine teachings prophet mohamed has sent to us. PBUH Mohamed used to fast Mondays and Thursdays of every month, as well as The White Days, the 13th, 14th, and 15th day of each lunar month, of course in addition to the full month of Ramadan. Muslims are encouraged to follow the sunnah of PBUH Mohamed including regular fasting. That being said, fasting for religious reasons feels very different that fasting for health or dietary related issues.
Fasting has many health benefits if done correctly, but I don’t recommend trying intermittent fasting as a weight-loss approach if you don’t feel good about it. That is because doing so might not avail you long term benefits. Yes; you will lose weight, but if you don’t appreciate the practice and simply go back to your normal eating routine afterwards, it will reverse those benefits.
I prefer you only venture into an intermittent fast if you believe in its health benefits and you’re ready for it. Sometimes willingness is what it takes! In the mindful weight loss program, I will be exposing you routines that will reduce your cravings or emotional eating habits; so, you do not have to worry about your incapability.