With so many diet approaches out there to help you lose weight and get healthy, could a simple, and ancient approach actually be the best for you? Fasting is an age-old practice, but it’s intermittent fasting that may give you the best health benefits.
This type of fasting has also been helpful for weight loss and is being adopted by many. This article will look beyond just the aesthetic advantages and uncover the health benefits of intermittent fasting.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is simply where you aren’t eating for a certain amount of time, followed by a shorter feeding window. All your calories for the day would be eaten in this shorter time frame. As mentioned before, fasting has been around for centuries and plays a big role in many religions.
There is a cleansing component to fasting, and this is where some of the health benefits seem to lie. But what are the best ways to follow intermittent fasting, and what should the different time periods look like?
There is no set rule here and they are a few different protocols you can follow: the first thing though is that any form of fasting should be addressed with your doctor just to make sure you have all your bases covered.
One popular way to do intermittent fasting is with time-restricted eating. This is where you would eat nothing for 16 hours and eat all your calories over an 8-hour period. An easy way to approach this is to not eat anything after dinner – around 7 pm – and then not having your first meal until around lunch the next day.
This may sound extreme or overwhelming, but remember, you’re sleeping for 7-8 hours of that fasting period.
Other Intermittent Fasting Methods
The 16/8 model is one of the most popular, but there is also the eat-stop-eat method. This is where you pick one day out of the week to do a full 24-hour fast. All you would do is fast from dinner one night until dinner the next night.
There is also 5:2 fasting. This is where you eat as healthy as possible – but normally – for five days of the week and then fast for two non-consecutive days during the week. These are some general plans, but it’s important to remember that everyone is different.
There is also the difference between males and females, and females do better with shorter fasting periods because of hormonal variations. Again, this is something to discuss with your doctor, but females can do well on a 12-hour fast, and 12-hour feeding window, or 14-hour fast, and 10-hour feeding window.
So that’s a quick look at how intermittent fasting works, but what is the positive impact this can have on your body?
Here are 5 health benefits of intermittent fasting.
1. Improved Glucose Levels
Fasting can improve your insulin sensitivity and lowering your insulin resistance. This means that your body is better equipped to handle sugar. Your pancreas will not have to secrete as much insulin to deal with the sugar, and this is great for keeping blood sugar levels stable and combatting type 2 diabetes.
2. Decreased Body fat Levels
Part of this may be because of point number one. When you are eating a lot of sugar or refined carbohydrates, your insulin levels are always elevated, and this makes it much more likely for those substances to be turned into body fat.
Poor glucose management also results in lowered blood sugar, which results in cravings for more simple sugars and starches, which also lead to weight gain.
Fasting also helps you burn body fat by using your stored energy aka body fat. Your body will usually use sugar and carbs first to burn as energy but without any available during the fast, your body taps into its body fat stores to acquire energy.
3. Decreased Inflammation
If you’ve ever gotten a splinter, you’ve noticed how red and inflamed that area becomes. This is the inflammation that you can see and feel, but the same thing can happen inside you. This time, you can’t see or feel it, but long term, chronic inflammation can lead to many serious conditions and issues such as:
- heart disease
- rheumatoid arthritis
- certain cancers
This list goes a lot longer, but you can see how serious this issue is. One of the greatest health benefits of intermittent fasting is its ability to lower inflammation in the body. Inflammation can happen from oxidative stress and periods of fasting help to lower these levels.
Your body is now in a better position to fight free radicals and the inflammation caused by them.
4. Heart Protection
Another of the health benefits of intermittent fasting involves decreasing certain contributors to heart disease. When you are fasting, the body can experience autophagy – which is the way it cleans out damaged cells. Fasting is like a power wash on your cells, which also eliminates inferior ones.
These damaged cells can cause cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death worldwide.
5. Brain Protection
The protection of the brain from intermittent fasting seems to come from that anti-inflammatory effect. Fasting can help slow the development of neurodegenerative diseases. This means intermittent fasting is a great way to combat things like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It can also have the day-to-day benefit of improving your memory.
The health benefits of intermittent fasting are truly remarkable. This age-old practice is not only simple, but it’s also free to do! You want to consult with your doctor before beginning something like this and if you do, it’s a good idea to ease into it.
If you’ve never done any form of fast, you don’t want to jump into a 16/8 or 24-hour fast. Start slow with an 8 to 10 hour fast (and remember, most of this is when you are sleeping) and gradually add another hour on to it. Intermittent fasting has had a lot of studies devoted to it and shows much promise to take back control of your health.