A few years ago, I worked at a residential boot camp in England (think of a gym where people come to stay for days or weeks at a time). As well as teaching classes and preparing healthy meals, part of my job was to give talks which would help visitors achieve their goals and maintain their new, healthier lifestyle when they returned home.
One of my talks centred around the principles of maintaining a healthy diet; one of which was to stay away from any crash diets. That, although they representing an enticing shortcut to weight loss, they’d leave them worse off than when they started in the long run. After delivering a few of these talks, I noticed a trend: “what about intermittent fasting?” someone would ask.
I’ll admit, at first, I was a little stumped. As intermittent fasting was just starting to gain popularity, I didn’t know much about it – so I told them I’d get back to them a little later when I’d looked into it.
So what exactly is intermittent fasting, and why did it have some of my clients jumping to its defence? This post will briefly answer those questions and explore its benefits.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is the practice of cycling between periods of eating and not eating. You simply eat at certain times and restrict or stop eating at others. This actually makes it more of a method or pattern of eating than a diet. It also differs from conventional ‘diets’ in that can be undertaken in different ways, such as:
- 5:2: This approach allows you to eat normally five days a week and fast on the other two. On the fasting days, you still eat but only 500 and 600 calories.
- 16/8: With this method, you only eat within a short period of the day, say 6 to 8 hours, then fast for the rest of the time. You can do this daily or just a few times a week.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: This approach sees you stop eating completely for a 24-hour period, once or twice a week.
What Are The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
The main reason for the growing popularity of intermittent fasting, and why my clients rushed to defend its reputation, is the range of benefits that it offers:
One of intermittent fasting’s main benefits, and the one which most causes people to give it a go, is weight loss. It causes weight loss in two ways: via calorie restriction and hormone regulation.
Weight loss via calorie restriction is straightforward: as fasts cause you to eat less food, you’ll take in fewer calories and lose weight. It’s the adjustment of your body’s hormones, on the other hand, that results in greater weight loss. All while benefiting your health instead of harming it as with other diets that only restrict your calorific intake.
The hormones affected by intermittent fasting include:
- Human Growth Hormone (HGH): HGH is instrumental in fat loss and muscle gain, and its levels within your body increase dramatically when you fast. This helps you burn fat while holding onto your muscle mass.
- Insulin: Insulin is one of the hormones responsible for storing body fat. As you fast, your insulin sensitivity increases and your body can secrete less of it. Not only will less fat be whisked away and stored by insulin but your existing fat stores will be more accessible.
- Norepinephrine: Fasting encourages a greater release of norepinephrine, a hormone which increases your metabolism and aids fat burning.
Another benefit of intermittent fasting is an increase in energy levels. For a start, you’ll avoid the lull that usually accompanies meals simply because you’re eating less. Digestion requires energy so the energy that’s usually reserved for digestion can be used elsewhere.
Fasting causes your body to undergo more extensive cellular repair than usual. A huge part of this is autophagy, where cells remove old proteins clogging up your cells. It’s the equivalent of a deep, spring clean for your body and results in greater vitality and overall health.
Memory and Brain Function
Hands up who couldn’t do with more brain function? Intermittent fasting is shown to improve brain health due to the cellular repair your body undergoes also extends to your brain neurons. When your brain is operating better, you’re less likely to forget things and make simple mistakes, which leads to less stress.
But Won’t I Feel Hungry?
As your body adjusts to the new pattern, it’s only natural that you’ll feel hungry – but persist and it will pass. Studies have shown, that ghrelin, your hunger hormone doesn’t actually increase as you fast, but actually decreases. This is why many people who’ve fasted for several days reported feeling less hungry as time goes on, instead of more so.
However, intermittent fasting does not require you to not eat for days at a time, so be assured of the fact it will get easier, especially as your body adjusts your hormone levels.
Keep your mind on the larger, longer-term benefits instead of your hunger in the short term.
To conclude, Intermittent is a good way to lose weight, even if you’re busy. It doesn’t involve lots of meal prep or specific ingredients; you just have to have the discipline to only eat at certain times or to eat less on particular days. Also, it doesn’t have to affect the eating patterns of your partner or children, if you have them. You might make their meals a little healthier in line with your eating times, but intermittent fasting calls for you to focus on your eating habits and can have a minimal effect on the rest of your family if you so wish.
In closing, if you have any existing health conditions or want to know if more about how intermittent fasting could affect you, please consult your doctor before getting started.