Intermittent fasting has become all the rage over the past few years. It seems everyone is embracing some form of intermittent fasting, from only eating during certain hours to going without food for 24 hours or more.
But what is intermittent fasting? Is it safe? And is it the right option for you?
What is Intermittent Fasting?
With intermittent fasting, you’ll eat only during specific time periods. Rather than focusing solely on what you eat, you’ll concentrate on when you eat instead.
When we fast (especially when we fast on a regular schedule), our bodies burn through available sugars, turning instead to fat stores. That can lead to weight loss, body fat loss, and, in some cases, improving or reversing weight-related health conditions.
There are several ways to follow intermittent fasting. Some people follow a 16:8 schedule, where they fast for 16 hours a day and eat during the other eight hours. During those eight hours, you’re still trying to eat plenty of protein, fruits and vegetables, and complex carbohydrates (if applicable to your eating plan).
Other people will follow a schedule of regular eating patterns five days of the week, then eat only one 500-600-calorie meal the other two days. For instance, you might only eat one meal on Mondays and Thursdays, but eat normally the other days of the week.
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Experts say fasting should not go longer than 24 hours as this could cause your body to go into “starvation mode.” When that happens, your body will hold on to fat stores rather than burning them, which will sabotage your metabolism.
Medical professionals also caution against intermittent fasting for those under 18, pregnant people, those with diabetes or other blood sugar-related conditions, or those with a history of eating disorders.
You should always consult with your doctor before beginning a nutrition program.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Though intermittent fasting has gained popularity over the past few years, it’s not an entirely new concept. Fasting has been long-studied as a way to reduce certain weight-related illnesses and kick-start the metabolism.
Researchers have found that intermittent fasting has several benefits, including:
- Boost memory and cognitive function
- Improved blood pressure and resting heart rate
- Fat loss and increased muscle mass
- Lower rates of obesity and Type II Diabetes
- Reduction of tissue damage
Proponents say intermittent fasting is easier to follow compared to restrictive diets. For those who stick with intermittent fasting, it can become a positive, long-term lifestyle change.
Drawbacks of Intermittent Fasting
As with any diet or exercise program, there are potential downsides to intermittent fasting.
Medical research shows that it can take two to four weeks for your body to adjust to intermittent fasting. During that time, you can expect to feel cranky, hungry, and potentially experience lightheadedness, headaches, nausea, and a range of other symptoms.
However, the same studies show that those who make it through the initial adjustment period tend to stick with intermittent fasting because they ultimately feel better overall.
There’s also the obvious downside of having narrow windows in which to eat. Going out to dinner with friends or sitting down for a family meal become more complicated when you’re only eating during certain timeframes.
Athletes should also carefully consider whether intermittent fasting will interfere with caloric intake, energy levels, recovery, and performance. Cutting back on calories might not be a great idea for those training intensely. Talk to your doctor before beginning a fasting program.
Is Intermittent Fasting Right for You?
Those with existing medical conditions might not benefit from intermittent fasting. But for most people, intermittent fasting is a safe and effective way to lose weight, gain muscle, and create a habit with lifelong health benefits.
However, we should note that intermittent fasting doesn’t give you permission to eat unhealthy foods during the hours you’re eating. If you fast, but then eat processed foods full of sugar and saturated fats, you aren’t going to see any results. Your body still needs proper nutrition: lean protein, complex carbohydrates (including whole grains), fruits, and vegetables.
Junk food is junk food, no matter how many hours a day you’re eating!
During periods of fasting, you should also drink lots of water. You can also have unsweetened tea, black coffee, and other zero-calorie drinks, like LaCroix.. Consider adding vitamin and mineral supplements as well.
Consult with your doctor before starting any diet or exercise program.