Intermittent fasting, prolonged fasting, religious fasting … chances are you’ve heard of fasting before. The topic tends to spark a lot of confusion and perhaps may trigger images of emaciated individuals or yogis meditating on a mountain top in your mind when you think of it. So the aim of this post is to somewhat clear the confusion surrounding the topic, give you the top 5 health benefits of intermittent fasting and provide some solid reasons as to why I think you should try it!
What is intermittent fasting?
In very basic terms, fasting allows you to burn your own excess body fat. Intermittent fasting therefore refers to doing this at set recurring intervals. It is important to know that this is completely natural and that your body does this even without you being aware of it. When you sleep at night you are essentially fasting that’s why the first meal you have when you wake up is called breakfast, you are breaking your fast.
Body fat is merely stored energy from previously eaten food. So when you’re not eating, your body is “eating” its own fat for energy. You can probably already guess some health benefits associated with that! But more on the health benefits a little later, let’s first look at some different fasting styles.
Different intermittent fasting styles
Intermittent fasting is essentially a pattern of eating. The specifics of the pattern vary with each of the different forms however they all have one thing in common and that is a cycle of eating followed by a cycle of not eating. There are many different forms of intermittent fasting but here are a few of the most common ones.
The 16/8 Method: This is by far the most common fasting style. Essentially you have an 8-hour eating window followed by 16 hours of not eating anything (sleeping is included in the fasting hours). This is the method that I use most commonly although I alternate between the warrior diet and this method quite frequently. So, for example, what I do when I follow the 16/8 method is I stop eating at 9pm and have absolutely nothing (except water and black coffee) until 1pm the next day. So basically skipping breakfast. You can play this out however you want, you can skip dinner if you prefer. The key is to have 16 hours of eating absolutely nothing and eating all your meals within an 8-hour period.
For women, this is the preferred method of fasting as it has been shown that women do better on it when compared to the others. This is mainly due to women being more sensitive to ghrelin, the hunger hormone.
For people who are hungry in the morning, this may take some time to get used to while on the other hand, many breakfast skippers will find that this way of eating comes instinctively to them.
The Warrior Diet: This is my next favourite form of intermittent fasting. The warrior diet is basically eating one large meal a day within a 4-hour window. You can eat a small amount of fruit or vegetables during the day and you have one large meal in the evening.
The arrangement is essentially 20 hours fasting and 4 hours feasting.
What I love most about this style of fasting is the mental focus I achieve when I do it. You see, when you eat your body goes into “Rest and digest” mode which means that it’s expending a large amount of your total energy on digesting your food while only a small amount is left to perform other tasks. This is usually why many people feel less productive during the afternoon. So not eating anything, or just having one or two small fruits during the day means that you have the majority of your body’s total energy available to use in productive ways.
The 5:2 Diet: This is when you eat normally for 5 days of the week and fast for 2 days. In the 2 days of fasting, it is recommended that women eat 500 calories, while men 600 calories. This form of fasting was popularised by Michael Mosley, a British journalist and doctor. For example, this can mean that you eat normally on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday while on Tuesday and Thursday you have only two very small meals of 250 calories each.
Alternate-day Fasting: This is where you fast every other day. Some people either fast completely (i.e. eat nothing at all the whole day) while others choose to consume up to 500 calories on fasting days.
Eating nothing at all every other day is rather extreme so I would not recommend this form of fasting for beginners or for prolonged periods of time.
Eat-stop-Eat method: This method involves doing a 24-hour fast once or twice per week. The way you can play this out is for example by finishing your dinner at 7 pm on Tuesday night and eating nothing again until 7 pm on Wednesday night.
Top 5 Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
- Weight-loss and improved fat burning – When you don’t eat your serum insulin levels drop and when this happens your body can tap into your fat storages for energy. This means that you are using your own body fat for energy rather than the food that you eat. As you can imagine, this results in fat loss.
- Improved mental clarity and concentration – As mentioned previously, when your body isn’t using its energy to digest food you have access to a large amount of your body’s total energy to use for productive purposes. This for me is one of the most important reasons to fast as I love the feeling of mental clarity.
- Reversal of type-2 diabetes – This is major! Science is just beginning to recognise how important fasting can be in preventing and reversing type 2 diabetes.
- Increased growth hormone – Many people believe that if you fast you may lose your muscle mass and therefore think they need to eat every 2-3 hours. Research however, says otherwise. Scientific studies suggest that periods of fasting are followed by a surge of increased growth hormone.
- Lowered blood sugar and cholesterol levels – When you are in a fasted state your blood sugar levels are maintained at a low level and your cholesterol levels are also lowered.
If you’re new to fasting and want to give it a go I would recommend by starting with the 16/8 method listed above. Alternatively, you can start with a 12 hour fasting period and gradually increase it to 16 hours. This is the most gentle form of intermittent fasting which can be safely maintained over a long period of time.
Also, remember that this isn’t unnatural and you’re not starving yourself. Humans have evolved to thrive on periods of fasting. What’s unnatural is eating every 2 or so hours. Not only is it not good for your health but it also takes so much time of your day just thinking about food, preparing food and eating food that could be used for other purposes.
Give your digestive system and body a break to experience the healing effect of intermittent fasting.