Intermittent fasting is one of the most commonly followed weight loss programmes. The diet plan was put forward by Michael Mosley and comprises long fasting hours and strict regulation of calorie intake. Over 24% of US citizens currently practice intermittent fasting for ultimate health and fitness, and many report effective long-term weight loss from the diet.
This article is what you need to get started with intermittent fasting. We cover the basics of the eating plan in the write-up, explaining what it is and which foods it allows and restricts.
We will then discuss its potential benefits, side effects, and risk factors in the light of medical research.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that involves fasting for long hours (16-20) at least twice a week. Although the diet plan is not very particular about food and nutrient consumption, it regulates calorie intake by specifying the time you should eat.
There are three common ways people practice intermittent fasting:
- 16/8 method. The 16:8 method limits the daily eating period to 8 consecutive hours.
- Eat-stop-eat. This involves 24 hours of fasting. Due to possible health complications, it is not commonly recommended by nutritionists.
- 5:2 diet. This method restricts your calorie intake (500 for females and 600 for males) for only two days a week.
During fasting, water and zero-calorie beverages are allowed unless the method you choose is dry fasting. Intermittent dry fasting is when you abstain from eating or drinking any liquids for a particular time. Even water is not allowed.
During the fasting hours, water and zero-calorie beverages are allowed.
Strictly adhering to fasting time is all you need to do in intermittent fasting. Contrary to other diet forms, the intermittent eating pattern does not exclude many food items from your diet. However, lesser use of processed red meat, refined sugar, and trans fats is recommended.
Benefits of intermittent fasting
Following are some of the potential advantages of intermittent fasting:
Improves insulin sensitivity
Intermittent fasting decreases insulin resistance in the body. During fasting, low energy levels reduce insulin production. On the other hand, starvation triggers the release of AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase), which improves insulin sensitivity.
High insulin sensitivity enables effective glucose metabolism, eventually helping to regulate sugar levels and maintain the energy required for the body to function.
Weight loss and Muscle Gain
After depletion of carbohydrate stores during intermittent fasting, natural metabolic mechanisms break down fat to release energy. Over time, this leads to significant fat loss.
On the other hand, the diet plan also enables muscle gain. Research suggests that fasting naturally boosts body levels of HGH (human growth hormone). Growth hormone helps build muscle mass and boosts metabolism (burns fats), ensuring healthy weight loss.
Enhances focus and improves memory
Studies suggest that practicing intermittent fasting for a few weeks improves focus and memory and boosts cognition.
Intermittent fasting serves as an effective remedy for brain fog. It leads to high production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), prompting mental clarity.
Better cardiovascular health
Fasting positively impacts health markers associated with cardiovascular diseases. It reduces cholesterol intake and fastens fat metabolism, consequently reducing the risk of heart diseases.
Apart from restricting cholesterol consumption, intermittent fasting also deals with other factors related to cardiovascular disorders such as blood glucose levels, obesity, and inflammation.
Reduces inflammatory markers
Inflammation implies an abnormal reaction to external environmental and pathological triggers and is responsible for the development of many chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart diseases, IBS, multiple sclerosis, etc.
Intermittent fasting leads to low numbers of monocytes (inflammatory cells) in the blood. This reduces inflammation and hence lowers the risk of chronic diseases.
Beginner dieter will probably fail to benefit from fasting diet, so it is recommended to use fast tracker. Apps as good as Dofasting are worth checking out.
Side effects of intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting poses certain side effects and risk factors that are crucial to know before starting the diet:
- Headaches. Many people experience headaches and dizziness during the first few days of intermittent fasting. The pain typically occurs in the frontal head region and is usually moderate in intensity. Caffeine withdrawal during fasting is one of the primary causes of headaches.
- Digestion issues. Constipation, diarrhoea, and bloating commonly present at the start of intermittent fasting due to a reduction in food intake. Inadequate dehydration and less fiber in diet worsen the symptoms.
- Fatigue and irritability. The body takes time to adjust to a new eating pattern. Low energy levels during fasting can contribute to feelings of tiredness and irritability.
Most of the complications associated with intermittent fasting resolve over time. Staying hydrated and ensuring a healthy intake of all essential nutrients is imperative to prevent serious side effects.
Risk factors of intermittent fasting
Here are some of the risk factors linked to intermittent fasting:
- Diabetes due to chances of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Low body weight
- Less than 18 years of age
- Pregnant and nursing women
Intermittent fasting is a widely-practiced eating pattern and is a great option to maintain health and fitness.
However, long fasting hours can be hazardous for certain people, and therefore, it is crucial to rule out the risk factors before starting the diet. Consulting a qualified nutritionist for a personalized diet plan is an effective approach to intermittent fasting.
Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.