Intermittent Fasting: What is it and is it Right for You?
Intermittent fasting... I feel like this trend has popped up a lot in the health and wellness community over the last few years. You've probably all heard of it-if you haven't already tried some form of it- but if not, let's go over the basics!
Intermittent fasting (IF) , also known as intermittent energy restriction, is an eating pattern where you alternate between cycles of fasting and eating. It's really not a new concept as fasting is something that humans have been doing for millenia. Our bodies are fully equipped to fast because- at one point in time- the early humans needed to fast for long periods of time while they hunted and gathered food. Even just before the industrialization era, people would need to fast and lower their caloric intake during winter months in order to ration the crops from the summer and fall harvests, thus practicing a form of IF seasonally.
We all fast while we sleep, and if you skip breakfast you are actually practicing a form of intermittent fasting. Many people practice intermittent fasting and don't even realize it.
It's important to note that fasting ≠ starving. When you fast, you are using stored nutrients and energy forms to function. Starving means you have depleted the body of all other stored energy forms, forcing it to instead break down vital tissues for that same energy.
There are a variety of different ways to practice intermittent fasting. There is the 16/8 structure where you fast for 16 hours and eat in the window of eight hours; the alternate day fasting where you fast one day (this does not mean you do not eat at all, rather, just restricting the amounts you eat) and have a normal eating day the next; the 5 and 2 fast where you intermittent fast for five days of the week and eat normally the other two; etc.
There are a variety of proposed health benefits proven in animal studies and lab models- although it is important to note that these studies do not always have the same results as human studies. Some of the biggest benefits include: increased mental sharpness, optimized hormones, weight loss, decrease in inflammation, disease protection, increased autophagy (the removal of cellular waste), and increased neurotrophic factors (help protect the brain). Additionally, some anecdotal benefits noted by those who practice IF include: less bloating, aids in relieving jet lag symptoms, fewer cravings, and feeling more energetic throughout the day.
Though it is not technically a "diet" but rather a structure for your daily/weekly eating window, IF has been known to aid in weight loss. This is mainly attributed to the fact that because you are restricting your eating to a certain time frame, you are less likely to tack on additional snacks and overeat- especially later in the evening. In general skipping meals here and there each week, will likely lead to a reduction in caloric intake over the course of a day/week. Also, the optimized hormones that I referred to earlier also play a role in that weight loss for those practicing IF. It has been found that IF leads to a reduction in insulin levels and increased growth hormones, which both contribute to weight loss/gain.
We know that chronic stress is extremely harmful to the body and can have a variety of effects on the body; however, acute stress short term stress is actually very good for the body. Like exercise, IF is a form of acute short term stress that- in moderation- actually helps the body in terms of reducing stress levels overall, aiding in weight loss, and preventing disease.
It is important to note that IF is not a perfect solution. Because IF can be practiced in so many forms, there is not a clear answer on which structure is best. Most of the medical research has used lab models and that has its shortcomings. For one, there is not much guidance on how to eat; i.e. how many calories, which foods, what times of day, etc. Additionally, there are some side effects that come with fasting such as headaches, mental fog, and heartburn. Further, most of the trials have focused on short-term effects of IF, so we do not actually know how beneficial IF is for the body in the long-term- if at all. As with anything, talk to your doctor about IF if you're interested in its potential benefits and determine if it is right for you.
Overall, intermittent fasting is a great concept with some really promising medical research behind it. If you are struggling to stick to a diet or count calories, intermittent fasting may be a good option for you if you are seeking to lose weight, reduce inflammation, or even just feel a bit sharper during the day.
If you practice IF or have been thinking about it, let us know your thoughts! Do you enjoy it? Have you experienced any of the aforementioned benefits? Which fasting structure do you think is most beneficial? Tell us in the comments below!!