What is Intermittent Fasting?

 In Family, Health and Fitness

By Janet M. Eagon, CPT

Intermittent fasting is quickly becoming one of the most popular health and fitness trends. People use it to lose weight, improve their health and improve quality of sleep. Fasting can have powerful effects on your body and brain and may even help you live longer, according to diet experts.

Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. There are six popular ways to practice intermittent fasting. The 16/8 method involves fasting every day for about 16 hours and restricting your daily eating window to approximately 8 hours. The 5/2 diet involves eating what you typically eat five days of the week and restricting your calorie intake to 500-600 for two days of the week. The eat-stop-eat method involves a 24-hour fast once or twice a week. Fasting from dinner one day to dinner the next day amounts to a full 24-hour fast.

The alternate day fasting method is a full fast every other day. This method can seem rather extreme, so it is not recommended for beginners. The warrior method involves eating small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables during the day and then eating one huge meal at night. The last method is spontaneous meal skipping. It is simply skipping meals randomly when you don’t feel hungry or are too busy to cook.

Fasting can be a very powerful weight loss tool. It changes hormone levels. Because of these changes in hormones, fasting may increase your metabolic rate. Intermittent fasting helps you eat less and burn more calories which causes weight loss by changing both sides of calorie equation.

What is happening during the fasting hours? Your body starts the digestion process immediately after food intake. This causes blood sugar levels to rise and produce insulin. After about 3 hours, your blood sugar levels drop again. Our body switches to energy production from fat once glucose in the blood is depleted. After about 9 hours, your blood sugar level settles down. The hormone glucagon is released, and blood sugar level remains constant.

After 11 hours, your body starts producing six different hormones that perform the same function of fat metabolism. After 14 hours, ketones are produced in the liver as a by-product of fat burning. Ketones provide energy to the heart, brain and vital organs. This is why you may feel particularly concentrated and productive during the fasting period.

After 16 hours of fasting, autophagy begins. This is a process where your cells begin to process or recycle themselves. They are completely renewed. Your body undergoes a big and proper cleanup and makes your cells more efficient. For optimal results it is recommended fasting for around 16 hours with occasional longer challenges.

In addition to weight loss, other benefits of intermittent fasting include reduction of inflammation which can lead to many chronic diseases. It increases the brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) hormone and may aid the growth of new nerve cells. Fasting may also help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and can add to heart health.

Some side effects of fasting are, of course, hunger and weakness. These may only be temporary as your body adapts to a new eating schedule.  If you have a medical condition, you should consult your doctor before trying intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting is a weight loss tool that works for some people, but it does not work for everyone. Remember, there can be too much of a good thing. The most important is that fasting works for you. Be sure to always listen to your body.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

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