You’ve probably heard of intermittent fasting. There is an increasing amount of research that backs its positive effects, from sustainable weight loss to increased insulin sensitivity, which helps with diabetes prevention.
We’ll examine some of the common questions about intermittent fasting, so you can decide if it works for you.
1) What is intermittent fasting (IF)?
Intermittent Fasting (IF) refers to the practice of abstaining from food for short periods of time. There are many ways fasting can be done, but they mainly fall into these two categories:
Time-restricted IF involves lengthening the overnight fast to 12- 20 hours and restricting eating to a compressed window of time, say 8 hours in the day. It usually involves skipping a meal such as breakfast or dinner. But you can eat as many meals as you like during the compressed time block.
A popular version of this is the 16:8 diet, where you fast for 16 hours and compress your meals into the eight-hour time block of the day.
Whole day fasts
This refers to fasting for 24 hours. It can be done once or twice monthly or weekly. The 5:2 diet is an example of this where you fast on two days of the week. On fasting days, calorie intake is limited to 500-600 calories, while you eat healthily on the other five days. There’s also the Eat, Stop, Eat diet that advocates alternate day fasting.
2) What happens to your body when you fast?
When we eat, food is broken down into glucose that our cells use for energy. When glucose is not used, it gets stored as fat. Insulin, the hormone produced by the pancreas, regulates the storage of glucose as fat.
For most, snacking and late-night suppers are a regular way of life. If we’re eating throughout the day, our bodies are constantly supplied with glucose (often times, in excess) that it doesn’t get the opportunity to burn off our stored fat.
When we fast, our insulin levels drop and the body burns fat instead of glucose for energy. That’s how IF contributes to weight loss. Recent research has shown that IF helps to reduce insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity, thereby lowering the risk of diabetes.
3) How does it change what I eat?
While fasting, you can drink water, herbal teas and other non-caloric beverages to curb hunger. Some diets also allow for snacking on raw vegetables and fruit.
When you’re not on a fast, you should be eating healthy. IF doesn’t restrict particular food groups, but more whole foods are encouraged and processed food should be avoided.
While the benefits of IF are promising, it cannot replace a bad diet or an unhealthy lifestyle.
4) Is intermittent fasting for everyone?
Intermittent fasting should be viewed as a lifestyle, rather than a diet. It’s important to be flexible and make it work for you. For example, you may feel like fasting after a period of festivities and heavy eating. Or you may decide not to fast as originally planned, if you’re feeling stressed out.
IF is not a one size fits all solution. In fact it’s not recommended certain groups of people, such as:
- pregnant or lactating women
- people with a history of eating disorders
- those with chronic fatigue or on medication
- during periods of stress at home or work
If you’re intrigued and want to try out intermittent fasting, do some research to arrive at the rhythm that integrates best into your lifestyle before giving it a shot! If you have pre-existing medical conditions, then always get the green light from your doctor before embarking on changes to your diet.
HIC’s 5:2 Plan
Based on the 5:2 concept of alternate day fasting, we provide 3 x 500ml juices for each fasting day, so you don’t have to count the calories.
Harvard Health Blog. Intermittent Fasting: Surprising Update. Published 29 June 2018. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156
Chris Kresser. Intermittent Fasting: The Science Behind The Trend. Updated 29 March 2019. https://chriskresser.com/intermittent-fasting-the-science-behind-the-trend