Intermittent Fasting – The Basics (Part 1 of 2)

Intro

There’s a resurgent interest in the practice of intermittent fasting (IF) and its benefits—losing weight, reducing cravings, gaining muscle, and giving the digestive tract a rest. With a new year upon us, let’s learn more about IF in our “Based on Science” article from the January 2020 OHI Newsletter (digital version here). It’s packed with helpful tips…

Intermittent Fasting  – The Basics (Part 1 of 2)

Fasting has been a common practice for thousands of years. Fast forward to the 21st century, and there is tremendous interest in the practice of intermittent fasting (IF) and its benefits – losing weight, reducing cravings, accelerating fat loss, gaining muscle, and giving the digestive tract a rest – all resulting in being healthier overall. With a new year upon us, let’s learn more about IF…

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. There are different methods for intermittent fasting, but the overall approach is the same – you can eat what you want, but only during a specific time period.

Popular types of intermittent fasting programs

There are many variations of intermittent fasting. Here are four popular approaches to consider:

  1. The 16:8 Method (also known as the Leangains Protocol)

You eat over an 8-hour period in the middle of the day, and fast entirely for the remaining 16 hours.

  1. The 5:2 Program With this approach, you keep your calorie consumption to 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days a week, and eat normally the other five days. This calorie limit is separated by a 12-hour fast, so you consume 250 calories in the morning and another 250 calories at night.
  2. Eat-Stop-Eat Program You fast for 24 hours once or twice a week, and eat normally the other five or six days a week.
  3. The Warrior Diet You fast for 20 hours a day, and eat one large meal every night.

Many people find the 16:8 method to be the simplest, most sustainable, and easiest to stick to – which is why it’s the most popular of the four methods.

How Does IF Impact Your Body?

When you fast, several things happen in your body on the cellular and molecular level. First, fasting initiates cellular repair processes. This includes autophagy, where cells digest and remove old and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells. Second, when you fast your body adjusts the levels of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) to make stored body fat more accessible to be burned as fuel. Your insulin level drops, and lower insulin levels also make stored body fat more accessible. Fasting also increases the release of the fat burning hormone norepinephrine (noradrenaline). Because of these changes in hormones, fasting may increase your metabolic rate by 3%-14%.

A 2016 study done by the Journal of Translational Medicine found that people who practiced IF for 8 weeks lost more body fat than those in the control group. NOTE: The success of intermittent fasting is based on the premise that fewer calories are consumed overall. For those that binge during their eating periods, they may not lose any weight.

The Pros & Cons of Intermittent Fasting

Here are the pros and cons to consider when deciding whether IF is a good fit for you:

PROS:

  • You stick to one schedule.

With IF, you’re not as worried about what you’re “allowed” to eat. Instead you just concentrate on sticking to your fast schedule.

  • You savor your meals.

When food is not available to you all the time, you truly appreciate the meal in front of you, the enjoyment of eating, and the feeling of satiation.

  • You kick your bad snacking habits.

IF forces you to stop eating at a certain time, and control your grazing behaviors.

  • You may bust through a weight loss plateau.

If your weight loss efforts have plateaued, IF may kick-start your metabolism. Your body learns that there is no glucose available for fuel, so it burns fat stores instead.

  • You might get your pre-diabetes under control.

Every time you eat, your body releases insulin to shuttle sugar from your bloodstream to your cells for energy. But people who are pre-diabetic are insulin resistant, which means the cells don’t respond well to insulin and can’t take up glucose, so your blood sugar levels stay elevated. Going longer between meals may help because your body pumps out insulin less often.

  • You get an anti-aging boost.

IF creates a slight stress on your cells’ mitochondria (the energy powerhouses), which gives them a nudge to rev up their functioning, and promote cellular repair, which can lead to being more energetic.

  • You can reset your circadian rhythm.

Eating close to bedtime is a sure way to negatively impact your circadian rhythm. Conversely, practicing IF gets your body on a regular cycle of eating and fasting. Refraining from eating close to bedtime results in resetting your circadian rhythm and improving your sleep.

CONS:

  • You might feel irritated, tired, dizzy, or lightheaded.

When you skip a meal, your blood sugar drops, which can affect your mood and energy levels. You can combat this by eating more protein- and fiber-rich meals with some healthy fats when you are scheduled to eat so you feel satiated. At OHI, we recommend plant-based proteins like nuts, seeds, leafy greens, legumes and sprouts.

  • High-Blood Pressure and Diabetes medications may need adjustment.

For diabetics on medication like insulin or Glipizide, the fasting/eating cycle of IF could cause sharp drops/spikes in blood sugar, which makes their medications less effective. Additionally, IF can cause a rapid decrease in blood pressure, therefore people using high-blood pressure medication, need to be aware of this side-effect and consult their physician before participating in IF.

Bottom Line: Always consult your physician or health care professional before participating in an IF program.

Join us next Saturday for the second part of this article.

“What is Intermittent Fasting, and Does It Help You Lose Weight?”, by Tiarra Mukherjee, September 25, 2019, Prevention.com

“Intermittent Fasting 101 — The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide”, by Kris Gunnars, July 25, 2018, Healthline.com

“4 Ways Fasting Benefits Your Spiritual Health”, by Maria Walley, Grottonetwork.com

“What Is Intermittent Fasting, and Will It Help Your Sleep?”, by Michael J Breus Ph.D., Apr 11, 2019, Psychologytoday.com

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