One of the most prominent fitness and health trends nowadays is intermittent fasting (IF). It is used by many dieticians for weight loss, as well as for simplifying their lifestyles and improving their entire well-being.
Several studies have shown that intermittent fasting has various benefits not only on your body but also your brain. This diet can also help in making you live for longer periods (1). In this article, we will discuss intermittent fasting for beginners, its methods, and its benefits.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
It is a diet that follows an eating pattern, including fasting and eating. This diet does not specify the foods that you are allowed to eat. Instead, it encourages you when these foods shall be eaten. In the conventional sense, this is not considered as a diet, but more specifically as an eating pattern (2).
The typical methods used are 24 hours fasting twice a week and 16 hours of fasting every day. But it is worthy to note that there are still more methods that can be used and we will discuss it later.
During ancient times, hunter-gatherers have no refrigerators, supermarkets, or foods easily accessible throughout the year. That is the reason why, since then, people have been used fasting. But this is because they have nothing to eat (3).
And for this reason, humans are capable of functioning even without eating foods for a considerable period. Well, it is also considered more natural compared to eating at least three meals a day. Furthermore, it is done for spiritual reasons by various religious sectors, such as Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam, and it was found out how it is beneficial to human health (4).
Most Popular Methods of Intermittent Fasting
This method of intermittent fasting encourages you to fast 16 hours every day. You can tailor this to your individual needs with regard to fasting and eating windows, but you should fast for not less than 14 hours a day. This only means that the eating window is only from 8 to 10 hours a day (5).
During the eating window, you are allowed to eat three or more meals. This diet has been popularized by Martin Berkhan and is also known as the Leangains protocol (6). This diet is very simple, and it is better than cutting out entire food groups, as many modern diets do.
For women, it is suggested to fast for only a maximum of 15 hours since it was found that they do better in shorter fasts compared to men. Moreover, even if you are not allowed to consume foods, you can still drink sugarless coffee, water, and non-alcoholic beverages during the period of fasting so you can minimize your hunger.
The 5:2 Diet
This method involves the restriction of calories to 500-600 twice a week, while the remaining five days is the normal consumption of foods (7). This diet is typically called the Fast diet and is popularized by Michael Mosley.
While fasting, it is recommended that men should take 600 calories, while women only take 500 calories. For instance, you can eat two small meals, such that each meal contains either 250 calories or 300 calories twice a week.
This method involves fasting for 24 hours, either once or twice every week (8). This diet has been prominent for a few years and was popularized by Brad Pilon. For instance, you fast from dinner today until dinner tomorrow. More specifically, you cannot eat from 7 pm tonight until 7 pm tomorrow.
Anyway, you can also fast from breakfast to breakfast and lunch to lunch. Just like other methods of fasting, aside from water, you are allowed to drink coffee and other non-sweetened beverages, but you are prohibited from eating solid foods.
This method literally means that you should fast every other day. There are lots of versions of this diet. Some versions allow you to consume around 500 calories while fasting, while others do not (9).
Several studies have shown how this version of alternate-day fasting provides various health benefits (10). Since fasting every other day seemed to be extreme, especially for beginners, you might start with the ordinary method of fasting.
The Warrior Diet
This method is popularized by Ori Hofmekler and involves the consumption of fruits and vegetables during the day and a huge meal at night. This means that you should fast the entire day and eat at night, specifically during the 4-hour eating window (11).
This diet is quite similar to a paleo diet, which emphasizes that your diet should contain whole, unprocessed foods. The warrior diet also encourages you to make food choices to help you lose weight (12).
Spontaneous Meal Skipping
This method involves skipping meals whenever you are convenient. This method emphasizes that you don’t need to follow a certain plan of fasting for you to gain some benefits.
The only thing that you should do is to simply skip meals from time to time, whenever you feel like doing so. For instance, you can skip meals if you are too busy to eat or cook your foods, or maybe if you don’t feel like you are hungry (13).
Several studies have shown that it is not necessary to eat every after a few hours because it is a myth that you will lose a muscle if you starve (14). Do you know that your body can handle famine for long periods, so what if you miss a meal or two?
This diet is beneficial, especially if you cannot follow a specific intermittent fasting method. You simply have to fast every time it is convenient for you, say for instance, if you cannot find something to eat or if you are traveling.
Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
We already discussed that intermittent fasting has various methods. The main reason why we should follow a certain method of diet or eating pattern is because of its health benefits. And we have already learned that intermittent fasting is good for your body and brain, but there is more to this. In this part, we will understand the various health benefits of this diet.
It can change the function of your hormones, genes, and cells
Fasting can help improve your insulin levels, thereby facilitating weight loss (15). It can also help increase growth hormones capable of burning fats and gaining weight (16). It is also capable of repairing your cells, such as getting rid of waste materials (17). Moreover, fasting can make changes in your genes and molecules that promote protection against various diseases and longevity (18).
It can help in weight and belly fat loss
One of the greatest reasons why people try intermittent fasting is because of its benefit of losing weight (19). This is because this diet can make you eat fewer meals, which means that you consume fewer calories.
As mentioned above, intermittent fasting helps in enhancing the function of your hormones that facilitate weight loss. Increased growth hormone levels, lower levels of insulin levels, and increased noradrenaline have the effect of breaking down fats that helps in the production of energy.
Furthermore, it helps in increasing your metabolism by almost 14 percent, thereby making you burn more calories (20). This only shows that this diet or eating pattern can boost your calories out and reduce your calories.
In one study, people who follow an intermittent fasting pattern lost about 8 percent of their weight for almost 24 weeks (21). Aside from that, they lost about 7 percent of their waist circumference, which is an indication that belly fats are lost.
It can maintain on muscles even if dieting
One of the unfavorable side effects when your diet is the burning of muscles (22). The good news is that intermittent fasting can be good in maintaining your muscles even if you lose body fats.
In one study, it was found out that people who follow this kind of eating pattern lose weight while reducing smaller muscle mass. It was shown that 25 percent of the weight loss is muscle mass loss in other diets. But if intermittent fasting is followed, only 10 percent of the weight loss is muscle mass loss (23).
It can reduce insulin resistance
One of the most common diseases prevalent nowadays is type 2 diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes have high blood sugar levels. As learned earlier, intermittent fasting helps in reducing insulin resistance, thereby lowering your blood sugar levels and protecting you against diabetes.
Furthermore, it has been shown to protect you against kidney damage, which is one of the most serious complications if you have diabetes (24). This only implies that intermittent fasting is indeed a good diet or eating pattern not only for those who already have diabetes but also for those who are at risk of developing it.
It can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress
Several studies reveal that this diet can enhance your resistance to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is not good for your body because it is linked to aging, as well as various chronic diseases (25).
It involves free radicals that react with other crucial molecules such as DNA and protein and damage them (26). Furthermore, it was shown that intermittent fasting helps in fighting against inflammation that is usually a cause of common diseases (27).
It is good for your heart health
One of the topmost reasons for death throughout the world is heart disease. The good news is that intermittent fasting helps in improving various risk factors for heart disease, such as blood triglycerides, blood pressure, total, and LDL cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and inflammatory markers (28).
It induces cellular repair
Fasting promotes autophagy. This means that fasting encourages the cells in your body to remove waste products. The cells break down and metabolize proteins. Several studies have shown that increased autophagy helps in protecting yourself against various diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and cancer (29).
It can prevent cancer
Cancer is also one of the reasons for death throughout the world due to the uncontrolled growth of cells. But if you fast, you can take advantage of several benefits when it comes to metabolism, which can reduce your risk of cancer. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting helps in preventing cancer (30).
It is good for your brain
Intermittent fasting can help improve some metabolic features helpful to your brain health, such as by reducing inflammation, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, and blood sugar levels.
Furthermore, it helps new nerve cells to grow, which is beneficial for your brain function (31). It also aids in increasing brain hormones that can prevent depression and other brain-related health issues (32).
It can extend your lifespan
Studies have shown that intermittent fasting helps in extending your lifespan, which means that you will live longer (33). Those who follow intermittent fasting live around 83 percent longer compared to those who don’t.
This is because of the known benefits of intermittent fasting in your entire well-being. As we learned earlier, we already know that it helps in preventing obesity, heart disease, and cancer, which are the leading causes of death in the world.
There are various methods of intermittent fasting, including the 16/8 method, the 5:2 diet, the eat-stop-eat method, the alternate-day fasting, the warrior diet, and the spontaneous meal skipping method. These methods have one thing in common- fasting. Some of these methods may be good for you, but not for others and vice versa. Just try which method works for you best.
Intermittent fasting has various health benefits, and it is generally known for improving your body and brain. It promotes longevity, prevents cancer, diabetes, cancer, and obesity, induces cell repair, reduces oxidative stress and inflammation, and many more. But it is noteworthy that this diet or eating pattern is not for everyone, so check if it is good for you. You can get the utmost benefits of this diet if this is appropriate for you.