Weight Loss Using Intermittent Fasting
Are you someone who has struggled with weight loss for as long as you can remember? You aren’t alone, there are many others out there just like you. This is why there are so many different diets on the market and why it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry.
At the core of every weight loss journey is a person who wants to lose weight to improve their health, someone who wants to look and feel better and feel more confident about themselves. While sometimes the judgment of others plays a part, for the most part, it is a personal journey and it can weigh heavily on some as they try to overcome their fat demons.
One of the most popular ways to do this these days is through Intermittent Fasting (IF). There are studies that indicate this is an effective way to lose weight and according to a University of Southern California (on fasting, Longo, et al), it can benefit your body, mind, and lifespan.
What Intermittent Fasting Means
Before we go any further into the subject, first we must discuss what it is. So, what is Intermittent Fasting?
It sounds very much like the name indicates with an eating pattern that cycles between eating and fasting. What you eat isn’t dictated to you, rather it’s all about when you should eat. Therefore, in this sense, it isn’t a diet in the traditional sense of the word. A more accurate description of the practice would be to call it an eating pattern.
The most popular technique or method for Intermittent Fasting is fasting for 16-24 hours for two days of every week.
There is a long human history of fasting, whether it was because food was scarce or for religious reasons (Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians all practice fasting) so the idea isn’t a new one.
Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers who had to find their meals in nature and without the convenience of a local grocery store that’s always open; they relied on eating when they could find food. Therefore, because of that, the body evolved to function, for an extended period of time, without food.
In fact, many people believe that Intermittent Fasting is far more natural than our habit of eating three meals a day.
Is Intermittent Fasting Healthy?
Fasting is something that animals (and humans) will often do when they are unwell, this is an instinct. Therefore, this suggests that fasting isn’t unnatural in any way.
When you don’t eat, your bodily processes start to change – your body finds a way to survive (and thrive) in times of famine. Insulin and blood sugar levels drop and according to the University of Virginia Medical School, IF increases the body’s level of HGH (human growth hormone or somatotropin which is a peptide hormone that stimulates cell regeneration and reproduction as well as growth) drastically.
While many people have turned to Intermittent Fasting as a way to lose weight it’s also incredibly popular in the weightlifting community as an effective means to restrict calories, while burning fat and building muscle.
Studies from the University of Surrey (http://ibimapublishing.com/articles/ENDO/2014/459119/) have found that it can also lower a variety of risk factors, including those for Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
While additional studies (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2622429/) found that rodents lived longer when intermittently fasting. Additionally, there may be evidence to suggest it can protect against cancer and dementia.
Of course, many of the people who follow an IF diet haven’t considered that side of things but merely have discovered an ultra-convenient life hack to make life simpler while giving their health a boost.
How can it make your life simpler? Well, if you have fewer meals to eat then there will be less planning involved. It will also save you time and money on food and reduce the amount of dishes you have to do.
The human species is well equipped to handle a periodic fast and the research noted above indicates that it’s beneficial for preventing diseases, losing weight, and your overall metabolic health.
How To Start With Intermittent Fasting
There is a variety of methods that you can use if you are interested in trying Intermittent Fasting. However, they all share a commonality, which is that your week (or day) will be split into periods of eating and fasting. In the fasting periods, you will either eat nothing or very little.
The most popular Intermittent Fasting methods are as follows:
- 5:2 Diet – For five days of the week you can eat normally, however, on the other two days you will restrict your calorie intake to between 500 and 600 calories.
- The Alternate Day – This is much like the 5:2 diet except you fast every other day with a low-calorie intake of 600 calories with the other days being normal. This may be an effective way to get your plan kick started, but it may not be sustainable for the majority of the population.
- 16/8 Method – You may have heard of this being referred to as Leangains protocol. In this method, you don’t eat breakfast and only eat for 8 hours. Therefore, you would only eat between noon and 8 pm and you fast for the remaining 16 hours. It’s probably one of the easiest methods to get started with.
- Eat-Stop-Eat – In this method, you fast for a day or two (for the full 24 hours) out of the week. You can do this by skipping dinner one evening and then fasting until dinner the following day.
- The Warrior – This is an advanced technique, which is certainly not for the faint of heart. It requires fasting for 20 hours every day and only enjoying one large meal in the evening. The good news is the 20-hour fasting period doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to eat at all – it means you need to under eat. You can still enjoy some fruit/vegetable snacks and enjoy a protein hit here and there. Still, it’s a challenge.
- Fat Loss Forever – This is a hybrid of the above IF methods. It essentially takes the best of each and amalgamates them into one super IF method. While you get an entire cheat day it will be followed by an intense 36-hour fast. This is the perfect option for anyone who has a lot of willpower and can handle cheat days responsibly. Also handy for anyone who has extremely busy days that can distract them from the intensity of fasting for 36 hours at any one time.
As you can see from the popular methods you don’t need to go without food altogether, there are clever ways to benefit from fasting without spending an entire day without eating.
The purpose, though, is to eat fewer calories to help you lose weight. The key, of course, is that you don’t overcompensate by eating too much during those periods you are allowed to eat.
Everyone is different so you may find one of these methods to be more effective for you than the others, but the important thing is you find one that you find easy to follow, as it will be more sustainable.
Benefits To Intermittent Fasting
There is a multitude of goals you can achieve with Intermittent Fasting. Fasting forces several changes to your body, on the molecular and cellular levels.
For instance, your hormone levels will shift to allow your body to start burning fat rather than muscle. Your cells can start the process of making necessary repairs.
- As mentioned above, fasting increases the levels of HGH (the human growth hormone). The truth is HGH levels skyrocket by as much as five times, this according to the University of Virginia. What benefit does this have? It helps with losing fat and building muscle, which is why this is such a popular choice for many bodybuilders and weightlifters.
- When it comes to insulin levels, sensitivity improves and there can be a dramatic drop in insulin levels. According to a study from Pennington Biomedical Research Center, low levels of insulin can also make body fat easily accessible to burn as energy.
- Additionally, fasting can alter gene function, which is related to protecting against disease.
- Cellular repair is another benefit of fasting – cells can quickly initiate the process during fasting. At this point, cells will digest protein build up in cells and remove them.
Because by eating fewer meals you will automatically experience a drop in calorie consumption. It also helps in shifting hormone levels to make it easier to lose the weight. This is because your insulin levels drop and the levels of HGH are boosted – this triggers norepinephrine release, which is a fat burning hormone.
Multiple studies (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2405717, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10837292) suggest that this hormone change, caused by Intermittent Fasting, can boost the metabolic rate by up to 14%. Eating fewer calories is going to help you burn calories more efficiently thus providing an effective way to lose weight.
The University of Illinois at Chicago found in a 2014 study that Intermittent Fasting could contribute to up to 8% weight loss over a period of just three (to 24) weeks (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S193152441400200X). Compared to the majority of weight loss studies this is an incredibly large win. This study also found that most of the participants lost as much as 7% of the weight from their waist circumference. This is an important factor to note as belly fat is harmful and tends to be the cause of many diseases as the fat stores up around the organs.
It’s important to remember why this is such an effective method of weight loss – it’s because of the cut in calorie consumption. It won’t work if you binge during your eating periods.
There have been a wide variety of studies completed with regards to Intermittent Fasting, they have involved both humans and animals. The majority of these studies have indicated that IF provides powerful benefits for your brain health, as well as controlling weight and the overall health of your body. As stated earlier some studies indicate it could help you extend your lifespan.
We’ve covered weight loss and insulin resistance, but is there more to it than that?
Absolutely, if you’re looking to control certain illnesses or help reduce your risk of them then IF might be the solution you’ve been searching for.
- Heart Health – Some studies have shown that IF could help fight LDL cholesterol, insulin resistance, blood sugar resistance, triglycerides, and inflammatory markers. All of these are the risk factors for heart disease (Short-term modified alternate-day fasting: a novel dietary strategy for weight loss and cardio protection in obese adults, Varady KA, et al).
- Brain Health – IF triggers an increase in the release of the brain hormone BDNF. Why is this significant? It may help protect against dementia and aid in growing new nerve cells (Intermittent fasting and caloric restriction ameliorate age-related behavioral deficits in the triple-transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, Halagappa VK, et al).
- Inflammation – Studies have indicated that IF can reduce inflammation markers which just happen to be the driver in many chronic illnesses and diseases (Interleukin-6, C-reactive protein and biochemical parameters during prolonged intermittent fasting, Aksungar FB, et al).
- Cancer – Yes, (animal) studies have shown that IF could be a key in helping to prevent cancer (Effects of short-term dietary restriction on survival of mammary ascites tumor-bearing rats, Siegel I, et al).
- Anti-Aging – Rats exposed to IF have been found to live anywhere from 36% longer to as much as 83% (Effects of Intermittent Feeding Upon Growth and Life Span in Rats, Goodrick C.L.)
Research is still in the early stages, many of the studies we have cited were small, and a few were only tested on animals. However, the results are promising and do indicate that Intermittent Fasting can be of great benefit to a wide variety of people.
Additionally, it makes living a healthy lifestyle far easier than ever before. Why? Well, it can be challenging to stick to a diet of eating healthily. One of the major obstacles people face with a healthy diet lies in the planning and cooking stages.
Intermittent Fasting makes life far easier because there is less planning and cooking to worry about. So, suddenly eating healthily is a breeze. This is probably why it’s become so popular amongst the people who are constantly on the lookout for effective life hacks. You’re enjoying a healthier lifestyle all while simplifying things.
Intermittent Fasting Is Not For Everyone
What is important to note is that this technique is not for everyone. If you have struggled with eating disorders or you are underweight Intermittent Fasting is not something that you should start without first speaking to your primary care physician. The reason for this is because it could harm your health (or mental health).
Additionally, there is evidence indicating that it is more effective for men rather than woman (Intermittent Fasting Dietary Restriction Regimen Negatively Influences Reproduction in Young Rats: A Study of Hypothalamo-Hypophysial-Gonadal Axis; Sushil Kumar, Gurcharan Kaur). We don’t know why for sure, but it has been found to worsen insulin sensitivity in women. Additionally, the female rats in the study were found to miss periods, become masculinized and emaciated, as well as infertile.
There have been no human studies completed to bear this out, however, there are anecdotal reports from women who have tried IF and found their menstrual cycle thrown off. This is why women should take caution when embarking on a life of Intermitted Fasting. If you’re intent on trying it do so slowly and if you do start to experience any problems stop IF immediately.
Additionally, for any women who are already experiencing fertility problems, actively trying to fall pregnant, currently pregnant or breastfeeding, it is best to avoid Intermittent Fasting.
As far as side effects go, there is one main one: hunger. Of course, this is normal of any change in eating habits because your body has become accustomed to eating a certain amount at particular times of the day and you’re throwing it out of whack by changing that.
You will also very likely feel weak (due to hunger) and you may even find you initially experience brain fog. These are temporary side effects; however, as your body simply needs a bit of time to adapt to your new style of eating.
If you have any type of medical condition, you should speak to your primary care physician before starting Intermittent Fasting. This is incredibly important for specific diseases more than others, so if you are diabetic, underweight, on medication, struggle with regulating blood sugar, struggle (or have struggled) with eating disorders, have low blood pressure, or you are trying to conceive, are pregnant, breastfeeding or have a history of menstrual troubles you should contact your doctor.
There are some dangers, though, and they mostly stem from ignorance on the subject as opposed to the lifestyle itself. Fasting does not mean you cannot consume any liquids; your body needs liquids (particularly water) to function. Therefore, you can drink water, tea, coffee, and any other type of calorie free beverage you desire. You shouldn’t add any sugar or sweeteners to your coffee and if you must add milk use the smallest amount possible.
Provided you are eating healthy meals during your eating periods, you should remain well nourished and there haven’t been any reports of dangerous side effects of Intermittent Fasting.
Some Final Thoughts On Intermittent Fasting
Many people have suggested that Intermittent Fasting can’t be good for you because skipping breakfast is an unhealthy habit. While breakfast is an important part of the day, the typical person who skips it lives an overall unhealthy lifestyle and makes up for the lack of breakfast by indulging in calorific food items. The key is to eat healthy.
Additionally, you can continue taking supplements even during your fasting periods. What you should take note of, though, is which vitamins and supplements are more effective when they are taken with meals.
You may want to create the right balance of taking the fat-soluble supplements when you are eating and the others during your fasting periods. You are also safe to continue working out during your fasting periods.
Another worry that people have is that they will lose muscle; however, the point of Intermittent Fasting is that it burns fat and helps you build muscle (provided you are eating a sufficient amount of protein and lifting weights).
Any diet or weight loss method can contribute to the loss of muscle, though, so this is nothing out of the ordinary. There’s no need to worry that skipping meals or fasting will slow your metabolism down either, the studies linked above have shown the opposite is true.
You may be unaware of it, but there’s every chance you’ve already experienced Intermittent Fasting. Don’t believe me? Have you ever worked late and missed dinner? You’ve gotten home and been so exhausted that you went straight to bed and didn’t eat until mid-morning or early afternoon the following day? Well, that’s around a 16 hour fast so every adult has likely done this. This is probably why the 16/8 method is so popular. It really is simple and sustainable, so if you’re looking to get started with Intermittent Fasting you might want to experiment with the 16/8 method first.
If you’re unsure of where to start or if you’re ready try to sporadically fast when you find it most convenient. For example, if you aren’t feeling particularly hungry go ahead and skip the meal. You don’t have to follow any of the methods listed above or even followed a structured plan to enjoy the benefits.
Is it right for you? We can’t say for sure because as stated above it isn’t right for everyone. However, it is an effective lifestyle strategy, which you can use to lose weight and boost your overall health. Of course, with any diet or lifestyle change, the key is in eating healthy food during your eating periods rather than binging to make up for what you missed out on during the fasting period.
Additionally, it is vital that you maintain a regular exercise regimen and ensure you are getting a good night’s sleep.
The most effective ‘diet’ is going to be the one that works for you so if Intermittent Fasting doesn’t work for you, don’t worry about it. There are plenty of other options out there for you – just keep going until you find the perfect fit.
The truly important thing is that you find something that is sustainable and fits easily into your lifestyle. You shouldn’t feel like eating healthily and looking after your health is a chore.