Chances are you’ve heard of this popular health trend. And, no, it isn’t a fancy name for starving yourself! The truth is people around the world use intermittent fasting to improve their health, lose weight, and simplify their lifestyle. But for intermittent fasting to work, we need to understand what it is and how it’s done.
What is intermittent fasting? Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern or plan that rotates periods of fasting and eating. This means you have a planned time period of controlled abstinence from food followed by a time period of eating. There are different methods of intermittent fasting, but at its core it changes the way your body processes food and stores energy.
Fasting has been around for a long time, and throughout human history people have fasted for health, healing, and religious or spiritual reasons. Today, we have food readily available from grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers’ markets, so we aren’t required to fast for extended periods of time. However, intermittent fasting has been shown to have many benefits for health.
What are some benefits of intermittent fasting? Although research is still in its early stages, intermittent fasting can have the following benefits:
- Weight loss: At its core, intermittent fasting allows the body to burn off stored energy, and one source of stored energy is excess body fat. Since energy isn’t coming from food when you fast, your body will use its own fat for energy.
- Lower insulin: When you eat, insulin rises and helps the body make fat to store excess glucose. When you fast, the process works in reverse: Insulin levels drop, making energy stored in fat more readily available.
- Increased metabolism: Intermittent fasting changes growth hormone levels and can increase your metabolism to burn more calories.
- Restored balance: It’s easy to eat too many calories when you have three big meals a day. The problem is your body stores the food energy it doesn’t use. But intermittent fasting can reduce your calorie intake and allow your body to use stored energy.
- Simpler lifestyle: It can be hard to plan for and cook healthy meals, so intermittent fasting can simplify your lifestyle with fewer meals to prepare and clean up after.
What are the intermittent fasting methods? There are a lot of methods and eating schedules out there, and all of them split the day or week into eating and fasting periods. Try one of the three popular methods below:
- The 16:8 method: Skip breakfast and restrict your eating period to 8 hours (noon to 8 pm, for example) so that you fast for 16 hours in between eating periods. Many people find this method the simplest and most sustainable, so it’s good for beginners!
- The 24-hour fast method: Pick one or two days out of the week when you fast for 24 hours. For example, eat dinner at 7 pm and don’t eat again until 7 pm the next day. This means you are still eating daily but only once during your selected days.
- The 5:2 method: This method uses five days of regular eating and two days of fasting. During the two days of fasting, you only eat 500 calories each day—either spread throughout the day or in a single meal.
Is intermittent fasting safe? In general, it isn’t dangerous to have periods of fasting if you’re already well nourished. Intermittent fasting is meant to change the way your body processes food energy and stored energy—it’s not supposed to starve you! However, your body may take some time to adjust to a new eating pattern. You’ll probably be very hungry at first, and you may feel a little weak, but it is only temporary.
If you have any medical conditions, you should consult your physician before starting an intermittent fast. It may not be a good idea to change your eating pattern if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive. You should also be cautious if you have low blood pressure, are underweight, or have a history of eating disorders.
How do I get started?
If you want to try intermittent fasting, you can start small by fasting when it’s convenient; skip a meal from time to time when you’re not too hungry or you don’t have time to prepare a meal. Then you can move to one of the methods listed above when you’re comfortable. There’s no one-size-fits-all method, so find one that works for you!
Frequently asked questions:
- How do I manage hunger? If you are keeping up with your eating periods, hunger should never be intolerable. Hunger comes in a wave, and if you ignore it or drink a cup of tea or coffee, it will pass. Remember that you’ll be very hungry when you first start intermittent fasting, but the hunger will gradually recede when your body adjusts to using stored energy.
- Is it unhealthy to skip breakfast? There’s nothing wrong with skipping breakfast if you make sure to eat healthy foods the rest of the day. Also, you are the least hungry in the morning, so it is the easiest meal to skip.
- Can I drink liquids during a fast? You can drink water, coffee, tea, and any beverage that doesn’t have added sugar. A small amount of milk or cream in your coffee or tea is okay, but you want to keep the calorie count as low as possible.
- Can I exercise when I fast? Yes! You’ll have the opportunity to fuel for your workout during your eating period. Just remember to include a balance of protein and carbohydrates in your meals.
- Can I take supplements? You definitely can! Just keep in mind that some supplements may work better when taken with a meal.