Mar 26, 2021
Intermittent Fasting 101
If you’re considering intermittent fasting to improve your fitness, lose weight or find relief from a chronic condition, it's important to understand what you're committing to before you swear off your morning bagel or padlock the pantry after supper.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an approach to eating that involves restricting your food intake to a certain block of hours each day. Many individuals follow the 16/8 method, for example, wherein your limit the hours during which you can eat to a predetermined 8-hour period. Then, for the 16 hours that follow, you don’t eat anything. Others choose two times each week to not eat anything during a 24-hour window that starts after dinner on one day and concludes with dinner the following day. No matter what intermittent fasting method you use, research suggests that this approach to eating can provide numerous health benefits, provided you consume a well-balanced diet when you do eat, as well as maintain an active lifestyle.
What Does Fasting Do to Your Body?
The human body is built to fast. For centuries, men and women have gone for hours, sometimes days, without eating. After all, the fridge and freezer are relatively modern inventions. Ditto for supermarkets and corner stores.
It makes no difference if you’re traveling the Oregon Trail or trying to ditch some well-earned holiday pounds, either. Your body always does the same thing when you switch from feasting to fasting: It goes into self-preservation mode.
Fasting for Weight Loss
When you eat, your body breaks that food down into sugar that your cells use for energy. When you fast, your body taps into its fat reserve and burns that for fuel instead. This can lead to weight loss.
What’s more, intermittent fasting has also been shown to boost the body’s levels of human growth hormone, which is good not only for weight loss but also for muscle gain.
Weight loss isn’t the only way that intermittent fasting may improve your overall health. Some studies show it changes gene function in a way that increases longevity and guards against certain diseases. Research has also shown that intermittent fasting may:
- Boost metabolism
- Repair damaged cells
- Eliminate toxins
- Lower blood sugar
- Prevent prediabetes from becoming diabetes
- Reduce inflammation (and the symptoms of related conditions such as arthritis)
- Improve brain function
When Should You Eat?
It’s not enough to just place a moratorium on snacking after dinner. Following your body’s circadian rhythm is typically the best way to practice intermittent fasting. This entails limiting your food intake to an 8 to 10 hour period each day, say from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The earlier in the day that window starts and ends, the better: Research shows that a longer overnight fast is great for metabolic function.
What Should You Eat?
For best results, your periods of fasting must be followed by periods of feasting on a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, lean meats, lentils, beans and healthy fats. Avoid sugar and refined grains. It’s also important to resist the temptation to snack between meals. For fasting to achieve the intended result(s), your body needs time to burn fat. Staying active aids the fat-melting process, too, so for best results, keep moving. Before beginning any new dietary pattern, it’s best to speak with your physician. For many individuals, however, intermittent fasting is a winning approach to losing weight, keeping that weight off and feeling healthier from head to toe.