The Amazing Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

June 9, 2015
Single black olive and parsley on the middle of a plate, knife and fork.

If you’re a fitness or nutrition enthusiast, you’ll definitely known a little something about Intermittent Fating (IF). Intermittent fasting is a nutritional idea that has gained immense popularity over the years among those who are looking for a swift way to lose some extra pounds and lead a healthy lifestyle. The IF activists rate it far superior to the conventional ways, as it gives quick results with somewhat less effort.

The million dollar questions here are; what is intermittent fasting and why go for it? If you’re new to the concept of IF then this article is all you need! In this article we’ll walk you through the basics of intermittent fasting and will discuss in detail the health benefits of following this dietary regimen.

Intermittent Fasting Basics

Intermittent fasting, as the term suggests, is a type of fasting that is done at irregular intervals, but for extended periods of time. In simple words, it’s taming your eating routine such that your day comprises of alternate fasting and feeding phases. It is a form of caloric restriction, but not just because you’re skipping meals. Think of it as if you are not about to change what you eat, but when you eat.

The duration of fasting phase depends on your personal preference and the type of plan you’ve opted­ it can be 12, 24 or even 36 hours. The feeding phase, on the other hand, doesn’t involve hard­core dieting and is in no way a no­fat, low­fat or an all­fat diet. But, it doesn’t mean that you can eat anything you can get your hand on. You still need to follow some ground rules, which we’ll discuss later.

How It Works

Before we go about its numerous health benefits, let’s first see how your body is going to take this changed routine. The discussion now may sound like a scientific mumbo­jumbo to you, but digest it as you’re going to need this knowledge of your body metabolism for the things coming later in this article.

Your body takes around 4­5 hours to digest, absorb and assimilate the food that you eat during the feeding phase. The glucose from the food you eat goes into the blood and triggers the release of a hormone called “Insulin”. The effects of insulin on body metabolism are multi­faceted. It burns up glucose by increasing its entry into the body cells and turns it into the storage forms like glycogen and fats for later use. Not only that, but insulin also prevents the use of fat for energy generation, as per research 1) done at the Merton College, England.

Opposite happens when you’re in fasting state. Insulin levels drop and body calls upon its energy reserves to fulfill its energy demands, as the body is already running low on available glucose. First thing that is used up is the muscle and liver glycogen. Once the glycogen reserves have depleted, this is when the magic happens! According to research 2), the body starts to use its fat reserves for energy production in the fasting state­ which doesn’t ordinarily happen as we’re addicted to eating high calories and sugar-rich diet. Moreover, fasting increases body’s sensitivity to insulin. With heightened sensitivity and glycogen reserves used up, any meal following the fasting period will naturally be used to restore glycogen reserves and generate energy first rather than being stored as fat.

In a nutshell, you have now tamed your body to use the consumed food more efficiently since the food is not being stored as fat. Also, you now have a fair chance of increased life span with a reduced incidence of age­related diseases like type II diabetes. 3)

Intermittent Fasting Plans

Deciding to go for intermittent fasting is not the only decision you’re going to make. You now need to choose a method that suits you best. Small frequent meals or large infrequent meals? Fasting for a small period or for longer periods? Now this is something you’ll have to discover by giving different methods a shot, till you find the right fit. Each method has a set of pros and cons, you have to work through them to see which one suits you. Here are some suggestions for you.

Leangains: Fast for 14 (women) to 16 hours (men) and eat balanced for the remaining 8 to 10

hours of the day.

Eat Stop Eat: Fast for 24 hours straight once or twice every week. During the fasting phase,

you can have nothing but no calories (No energy drinks!) beverages. Rest of the week, you’ve

to eat balanced, low calories food.

The Warrior Diet: Fast for 20 hours every day and have one big meal­ preferably something

high in proteins, complex carbs and unsaturated fats.

Alternate Day Fasting: This is perhaps the simplest method. Eat nothing or very little one day

and eat normal the other day.

Why Intermittent Fasting? ­The Health Benefits

Now that you know, what intermittent fasting is and the mechanism behind, you obviously need reasons convincing enough to get you off the hardcore dieting bandwagon. Now that the myth of 5­6 small meals every day is busted, aren’t you happy that your routine has become simple? No more hassle of preparing food every 2 hours. No need to fret about the schedule of having a fair share of vegetables and fruits every now and then. No more interruption in everyday life to get something to eat.

If I told you that fasting once a while is offering you the same benefits as your current method of restricting calories on a daily basis and drooling over anything and almost everything you come across? Will you still stick to your old boring dieting routine? I don’t think so! Let us start with the most obvious health benefit of intermittent fasting, which is none other than weight loss­ your actual goal of going through the entire ordeal.

Lose Some Weight

While you enjoy your food (in moderation of course!), your routine does have a fasting window.Be it for 14 hours or for 36 hours, there is a period of time where you are restricting the caloric intake, which means overall the calorie consumption has been reduced. Isn’t this a perfect formula for losing weight and keeping it off? A trial 4) conducted on young overweight women proved that intermittent caloric restriction is as good as continuous caloric restriction, when it comes to weight loss and reduction of age­related diseases. The best part of this routine is compliance, which goes missing in the rest of the weight losing strategies after some time (a week in my case). You now have a routine that you can stick to. No more dieting failures!

Live Longer

Ever heard of something as simple as eat, fast and live longer? No? Well, with a couple of studies conducted, it has been proved that reducing food intake frequency, or simply intermittent fasting, has life­prolonging effects. Aging is slow poisoning your body with toxins­ thanks to our poor eating and lifestyle choices. Toxins, like Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), augment tissue damage, aging and disease progression. According to a study 5), the life prolonging effects of intermittent fasting are mainly due its ability to cleanse out body toxins, like ROS.

Take a look at yet another study 6) conducted back in 1940’s, which showed that intermittent fasting had the greatest life prolonging effects when compared to other methods.

Improved Quality of Life

Dr. Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer in their book ‘The fast diet’ say,

“There is nothing else you can do to your body that is as powerful as fasting.”

Intermittent fasting does not only help lose weight, but with this eating routine people who suffer from being overweight can improve their overall health as well 7) Intermittent fasting not only gives you a disease free, sleek body, but gives you the peace of mind too. A Malaysian Study 8) proved that intermittent fasting can be a mood booster and can help you fight against depression, anxiety, stress and other mood irregularities.

Reduced Risk of Age ­Related Diseases

Intermittent fasting improves insulin sensitivity and reduces the chances of diabetes mellitus. Tens of human studies 9) have conclusively proved that intermittent fasting is one of the most efficient ways to control metabolic syndrome, like type 2 diabetes mellitus. Intermittent fasting improves the uptake of glucose into the body tissues, improves the secretion of insulin and also boosts the sensitivity of secreted insulin. Intermittent fasting has a marked effect on cellular proliferation, which plays a central role in carcinogenesis. By reducing the rate at which cells proliferate, alternate-day fasting regimens may have anti­cancer effects 10) . Yes, you got that right! You can now starve the tumor cells to death!

Cardio­protective Effects

Conditions like heart attack, stroke and angina are the leading causes of death worldwide. We’ve overloaded our systems with so many toxins and harmful substances that our hearts are now fading away. If you’re following intermittent fasting regimens, you’re several times less like to face such life-wrecking disasters, says research 11) Intermittent fasting decreases body inflammation improves the functioning of heart and opens up your blood vessels by decreasing cholesterol and lipids. Moreover, intermittent fasting helps lowering blood pressure too.

Improved Lipid Profile

For those who are in their 30’s have already become familiar with the term ‘lipid profile’, either because of a family member or because of their own deranged reports. What makes a deranged lipid profile so dangerous is its ability to damage almost all the major body organs like heart, brain, eyes, kidneys, blood vessels and so on. While a majority of such people embark on a journey taking lipid-lowering drugs, there is another way of getting your lipids back on the track, and needless to mention, it’s intermittent fasting. According to a 10­ week study done on 16 overweight subjects following an intermittent fasting routine 12) , there was a considerable decrease in body weight, waist circumference, fat mass, leptin concentrations, triglycerides, and low­ density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol).

Improved Brain Performance

While almost any kind of fasting promotes neurogenesis (development of new brain neurons), it’s actually intermittent fasting that has had the greatest impact on neurological health. According to a study 13), dietary restriction has a protective action against susceptibility to diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and stroke.

Reduced Inflammation

Inflammation is a double edged sword. In moderation, it helps body fight against infections and diseases. But things take a drastic turn when inflammation goes out of hand. This is when one suffers from countless diseases like arthritis, leaky gut, poor performance, cancer and so on. A study 14) conducted at the University of Hail, Saudi Arabia showed that intermittent fasting helped individuals bring the level of inflammatory mediators within normal ranges.

The Decision is Yours!

Whether it’s about living longer and healthier; or fighting diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, intermittent fasting offers a solution to all these problems. Explore various ways through which you can tame your eating routine and eventually your body to have a healthier and better lifestyle. Isn’t intermittent fasting the magic bullet for all your health issues?

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