Intermittent fasting has been grouped together with many other fad diets and weight loss trends. However, intermittent fasting (IF) isn’t exactly a diet. Many fitness and health professionals have praised IF for its benefits and the results that it brings to the table. If you’re curious about this trend, here’s everything you need to know about intermittent fasting.
What is IF?
As previously mentioned, intermittent fasting isn’t a diet or meal plan. Intermittent is essentially a pattern of eating which allows a certain window of food consumption in a certain time period. In other words, it’s a schedule for eating which requires a long break from eating or fasting when your ‘feeding window’ has closed. There are a few different formats for intermittent fasting and it also varies according to what your main goal is for doing it. The hours of fasting are adjusted according to an individual’s needs. Intermittent fasting doesn’t specify what foods you should eat during your feeding window, which is why it can be appealing for those who want to avoid restrictive diets. During your fasting period, drinks such as water, tea and coffee without added sweeteners and cream are allowed. Of course, as with any health plan, it is recommended that the food consumed while on an IF program should be wholesome and balanced in nutrition.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
There are a few different formats to intermittent fasting. As a beginner, one may experience many trial and error attempts when figuring things out. The most popular IF formats are:
The 12/12 format means that you only fast for 12 hours a day. So for example, fasting from 7 pm to 7 am. It’s not as rigid as other formats because you don’t necessarily have to skip meals but it can help you to cut out late-night snacking or ease into the regimen of intermittent fasting.
The 16/8 method requires fasting for 16 hours per day. It is one of the most widely used formats that is also beginner-friendly. In the 16/8 fast, you can practice skipping breakfast and break your fast at 1 pm and have dinner at 8 pm. The fasting period then starts from 9 pm and continues into the next day when you have lunch at 1 pm.
The 5/2 method entails eating normally for 5 days and restricting calories for 2 days. You can choose which days to fast and they do not have to be back to back. On fasting days, it’s suggested that men should usually consume 600 calories and women should consume 500 calories. If you are on a fitness training program, you can fast on rest days or days with minimal activity to offset any discomfort.
There are a few alternative approaches to fasting which include fasting every other day (eat-stop-eat) or skipping meals. Depending on your goal or schedule a ‘freestyle’ approach may suit your lifestyle better. If you fast every other day, however, it simply means consuming fewer calories on your fast days in a similar fashion as the 5/2 approach. Skipping meals could relate to skipping breakfast or having late lunches to skip dinner.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has several health benefits. One major appealing factor is weight loss. IF can be viewed as a simpler way to lose weight without going on a specific diet. There are no restrictions on what you can eat. IF is also beneficial for losing fat instead of muscle mass because the body’s response to a fasted state is to tap into fat stores for fuel. When you fast, your body enters ketosis and produces ketones which are fuel, from stored fat. Ketones are used by your brain and body to maintain all functions and provide energy for activities in the absence of glucose or carbohydrates.
Other benefits of intermittent fasting include:
- Lowered risk of cancer
- Reduced blood sugar
- Reduced inflammation
- Lowered risk of heart disease
- General health and wellness
- Extended lifespan and anti-aging benefits
Cons of Intermittent Fasting
Most studies on intermittent fasting have shown great results in male participants. However, for some women, IF isn’t recommended. For instance, in one particular study, male participants displayed better or improved insulin sensitivity, whereas, in women, they experienced decreased levels of blood sugar control. Some evidence also revealed disruptions in the menstrual cycle as a side effect of fasting.
Disadvantages of intermittent fasting also include:
- Moodiness or feeling ‘hangry’
- Binge-eating junk food during ‘feeding window’
- Missing periods (in women)
- Brain fog or lack of concentration
Is Intermittent Fasting for You?
Intermittent fasting isn’t a trend to jump right into. It takes some degree of planning and consistency in order to see results. Studies have proven that some methods of intermittent fasting aren’t as beneficial to women, however, women can still reap some benefits by following a shorter fasting schedule. Supplements and foods which aid with hormonal balance are also a good option to keep any negative effects at bay.
If your goal is weight loss, it is important to choose foods that are rich in nutrients and are more filling. Complex carbs, protein, fats, and other foods which keep you feeling full for longer can be your go-to meals to keep you satiated, even when you are in your fasting period. It’s also important to stay hydrated during your fasting hours. This also deters you from giving in to cravings or binge-eating unhealthy foods.
If you are following a workout plan, you can schedule your workouts around your fasting. Some people enjoy fasted cardio or strength training and see great results. Others may require some fuel to get them through their workout and prefer to exercise in the recommended time after a meal (1-2hrs).
Ideally, you should stick with the method which makes you feel strong, healthy, happy, and energetic. At the end of the day, it is important to listen to your body’s cues and find a rhythm that suits you best.