Intermittent fasting is a fairly basic concept. Set a certain time limit where you restrict your calories – more often than not, to zero. Follow that restriction consistently, so that it becomes a pattern. Although you can create whatever sort of pattern you want, there are a few different kinds of intermittent fasting patterns that are popular.
- Leangains is an intermittent fasting schedule where you fast for 16 hours and are free to eat normally for 8. This is a popular technique1 because a good portion of those fasting hours can be relegated to your sleeping hours.
- Eat Stop Eat is a 24 hour fasting period, once or twice a week. One of the best aspects about this type of fast2 is that it doesn’t drastically alter your daily diet (aside from the whole not eating part). Conversely, one of the most difficult parts of this fast is not bingeing when the 24 hour period is over. Overcompensating negates the point.
- The Warrior Diet involves eating a large meal at night and fasting for a 20 hour period in between those meals. That 20 hour period3 isn’t completely strict though; snacks of raw fruit, vegetables, fresh juice, and small servings of protein are allowed throughout.
- The Alternate Day Diet means intermittent fasting one day and a regular diet the next. In this fast4, the days of restricted calories are around the 500 mark, rather than nothing at all. Meal replacement shakes are an ideal go-to for the low calorie days because you can sip them throughout the day and they still leave room for another low calorie snack, like veggies.
Intermittent fasting is most popularly used as a weight loss technique. It forces you to drastically reduce your caloric intake and because your eating pattern is strictly regimented, doesn’t leave much room to deviate. It also allows your body to use excess fat as an energy source during fasting periods, resulting in weight loss. Intermittent fasting requires willpower but its highly effective if followed through with.
Additional health benefits of intermittent fasting includes:
- Boosting the human growth hormone, which allows for muscle gain and fat loss5.
- Improving insulin sensitivity, which allows for stored body fat to more easily be used as energy.
- Additionally, during nutrient deprivation, cells are able to repair themselves and get rid of old proteins, and also potentially resist6 various diseases.
The popular use of intermittent fasting is for weight loss, though. In addition to less eating which leads to less calories, it has been suggested that this sort of diet raises levels of norepinephrine, a hormone that among other things, can trigger the release of stored glucose7. In other words, it burns fat.
Intermittent Fasting Isn’t For Everyone
As helpful and effective as this diet may be, it’s still not for everyone. There are various studies and even personal testimonies that intermittent fasting has had negative side effects on women.
One study found that three weeks of intermittent fasting among men and women, women showed slightly impaired glucose8 response, meaning they had higher blood sugar. This is basically the opposite of what IF is supposed to accomplished. Further, they experienced no change in insulin levels at all, though men’s were significantly decreased. Emaciation, infertility, and missed cycles were also found in animal studies.
Women have reported missed menstrual cycles while intermittently fasting, only for their cycles to become regular again when they ceased fasting. Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should be cautious when considering this sort of diet, or avoid it altogether.
Other health concerns are heavily prominent among those who have pre-existing issues with eating disorders, as it can trigger unhealthy eating patterns. Those who have pre-existing issues regarding blood sugar regulation and low blood pressure should also be wary.
There are a few other side effects as well, like irritability and feelings of hunger (no surprise there). IF can be difficult to adjust to at first, but if it’s something that you want to try and believe you can benefit from, be sure to give your body a few weeks to adjust before determining if it’s worthwhile.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. The most straightforward formula any of us have is eat well, exercise, and get adequate sleep. The separate factors of each of these healthy lifestyle ingredients is up to you and what works best for your body. Intermittent fasting is beneficial both for weight loss and other health aspects, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you.
Then again, the only way to know for sure is to try it out.