There are many methods of losing weight, but some are outright dangerous, and some of them are more effective than others. Intermittent fasting is touted by many as the best way to fast for weight loss. It's quickly becoming a popular way to get rid of excess body fat, but how safe is it?
This article examines intermittent fasting, its advantages, and how it works.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is not a diet in itself. It's actually a pattern of eating that cycles between periods of fasting and non-fasting. A typical intermittent fasting plan involves eating your calories during a specific time window, then fasting for the remainder of the day or beyond. You might have heard about this method as the 5:2 diet, but there are several variations on the theme.
People lose weight by fasting by limiting when they may eat, consuming all their calories in a short time each day, and not consuming anything outside that window. Intermittent fasting aims to optimize your body's ability to burn fat. By restricting your calorie intake on certain days of the week, you can tap into your body's "fat-burning mode." Intermittent fasting is when you give your body extended periods without food to digest, allowing for more time to burn fat instead of storing it.
There are many different variations on practicing intermittent fasting, so it's important to choose one that works best for you and as recommended by a weight loss doctor.
Time-Restricted Feeding (TRF)
This type of intermittent fasting limits feeding time to eight hours per day or less — like 12 noon until 8 p.m., for example. No food is consumed except water, black coffee, or green tea during this period.
-16/8 fast: This is the most common type of intermittent fasting and involves fasting for 16 hours and consuming food during an 8-hour window. For example, if you eat dinner at 7 p.m., you should stop eating at 1 a.m. and resume eating at 9 a.m.
-18/6 fast: 18 hours of fasting, 6 hours eating. The same as above, but with a longer fasting window — 18 hours instead of 16 — and a shorter eating period — 6 hours instead of 8. For example, if you eat between 7 p.m. and 1 p.m., you're following an 18/6 schedule.
The 5:2 fast diet involves eating normally for five days a week and less on two non-consecutive days. For example, you could eat 500 calories on Monday and Thursday and then eat normally on the other days. This type is a popular form of fasting and is not technically a form of intermittent fasting, but you can incorporate it into an IF plan.
Eat Stop Eat (E-S-E)
This type is another popular intermittent fasting schedule where you fast for 24 hours once or twice per week. For example, you can skip breakfast on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday but then eat normally on Friday through Sunday.
The Warrior Diet
For this type, you eat one large meal in the evening and then consume nothing else until lunchtime the next day. You can drink water and tea throughout the day, but no other food is allowed until your next meal.
Is Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss Healthy and Effective?
First, let's discuss what intermittent fasting is not. Intermittent fasting does not mean starvation or skipping meals. Intermittent fasting means restricting your eating window to just a few hours or days each week.
Fasting is considered safe if you're otherwise healthy and have no medical conditions like type 2 diabetes or hypothyroidism that require you to maintain a stable weight. If you have a condition like this, it's best to talk to your doctor before starting an intermittent fasting program.
The main reason intermittent fasting helps with weight loss is that it reduces your overall calorie intake. In the absence of meals or eating a small amount of food every meal, the body burns fat instead of glucose (blood sugar). As a result, there's less fat stored in your body, which leads to a lower body fat percentage and ultimately less weight gain over time.
To implement this method effectively, choose foods low on the glycemic index and avoid fast food during your eating window to ensure that you're burning fat rather than sugar. Moreover, you must still choose food from different food groups to achieve nutrient balance.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has some essential health benefits, including
Lose Weight and Gain Muscle Mass
Intermittent fasting can help shed extra weight, especially around your abdominal region. This enables you to burn fat, which tends to accumulate around your waistline. It also suppresses your appetite, which will prevent you from overeating. Furthermore, studies show that intermittent fasting increases human growth hormone levels (HGH), a hormone that promotes lean muscle mass development and fat mobilization.
May Help Improve Cognitive Function
According to a study of intermittent fasting on mice, intermittent fasting may improve cognitive function in certain individuals by increasing blood flow to the brain and increasing the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF). BDNF is a protein that plays a vital role in learning and memory by protecting neurons from degeneration and promoting their survival.
Improved Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin regulates blood sugar levels and helps with energy storage from food. When insulin levels are high, your cells become resistant to its effects, which causes diabetes and other problems with blood sugar control. Fasting can improve insulin sensitivity in your body by allowing it to lower insulin levels and reduce insulin resistance. Once insulin is regulated, this can also reduce oxidative damage and inflammation.
May Help Lower Risk of Heart Disease
Studies show that eating fewer calories increases HDL cholesterol (the "good" kind) and reduces triglycerides, two factors that lower your risk for heart disease. Intermittent fasting also improves blood pressure, lowers blood sugar levels, and reduces oxidative stress, all contributing factors to heart disease.
Better Sleep Quality and Hormonal Balance
Fasting help improves sleep duration, quality, and composition. This is mainly because when you're in a fasted state, your body releases more growth hormone (GH), which helps promote fat burning, muscle building, and even healing. GH also increases serotonin levels, which improves mood and decreases stress levels.
In addition to this, fasting can help balance out your hormones by decreasing estrogen levels in men (which can lead to fat storage), increasing testosterone levels in women (which can increase muscle mass), and decreasing cortisol levels (which is great for weight loss).
Important Note Before Starting Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting can be effective and safe for many people, but it's not a one-size-fits-all plan. Some people may experience side effects when they first start intermittent fasting. If you begin this type of diet, you could feel weak, dizzy, and irritable without understanding how it works and whether it will be safe for you.
All of these side effects are likely signs of dehydration. Dehydration is a common concern with dieting or calorie restriction because it reduces how much water is stored in cells and leads to low blood pressure (hypotension).
Intermittent fasting can help you lose weight, but it isn't for everyone. The following situations call for caution, avoiding intermittent fasting, or consulting your doctor before embarking on IF.
- People under the age of 18
- Pregnant women and nursing mothers
- People on medication, especially insulin and other diabetes drugs
- Individuals who suffer from an eating disorder like binge eating or bulimia
- People with diabetes or a family history of diabetes: fasting can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which can be dangerous in people with diabetes.
Safe and Effective Weight Loss With PHWC
Intermittent fasting has become increasingly popular and can provide excellent results, but you should implement it with care and caution. Intermittent fasting isn't for everyone, and some individuals have medical conditions that make it unsafe for them to try this diet.
If you're considering trying intermittent fasting, talk to our healthcare professional at Reclaim Health.