Intermittent fasting is a style of eating that’s become popular among many health communities in recent years, but it’s actually been around for centuries. The basic concept of intermittent fasting is simply purposefully going for regular periods of time without eating, and this is exactly how human ancestors used to live when hunting for food in the wild.
They had a feast or famine lifestyle that allowed them to adapt to long periods of time without food. In modern life, most people have 24-hour access to food 7 days a week, but there are benefits to be had from resisting the constant temptation to snack. When you take breaks from eating, you can improve your digestion, alleviate gut discomfort, clear brain fog, increase energy, lose weight, optimize metabolism, and more. Keep reading to find out if intermittent fasting is for you and why you should stick with it once you give it a try.
Intermittent fasting isn’t the easiest of diets to follow. It certainly takes some willpower, but it also has its perks. There are various forms of intermittent fasting, but it generally follows the pattern of an eating period followed by a fasting period with no food. There are generally increasingly positive benefits seen at longer periods without eating, but it takes some time to work up to this. 18 hour fast benefits, for example, are more potent than the benefits from a 12-hour fast.
Other variations don’t strictly eliminate food during the fasting period but instead, reduce calories. Whatever form you’re following, there is no restriction to the types of food you want to eat, there’s not even a limit to the amount of food you wish to eat in most cases. Intermittent fasting actually provides quite a lot of food freedom while reaping all the health benefits of a more traditional restrictive diet. Once you become accustomed to eating this way, it will involve less and less willpower and eventually become a simple habit rather than a burden.
Common Types of Intermittent Fasting.
- 12-Hour Fast: 12 hours fast + 12-hour eating window
- 16/8 Method: 16 hour fast + 8 hour eating window
- 24-Hour Fast: weekly 24-hour fast
- 5:2 Method: 5 days of regular eating + 2 days calorie reduced
- 18/6 Method: 18 hour fast + 6 hour eating window
- Alternate Day Fasting: every other day, calories reduced
- OMAD: one meal a day
The intensity of intermittent fasting can vary greatly depending on the version you choose to follow. It’s always best to start with modest expectations and gradually work your way up to more restrictive fasts if you so choose. Talking with a knowledgeable healthcare expert before beginning
Another important note is the difference between how men and women thrive with fasting. Men are more metabolically consistent, which means they can fast however they choose at pretty much any time. Women, however, follow a 28-day cycle of hormone levels that fluctuate according to what phase of their cycle they’re in. Because of this, women tend to do best with fasting on days 1-10 and days 17-21 and sticking to something easier to do, like a simple 12-hour fast on all other days.
The impressive benefits of fasting are exactly why so many people are keen to try the way of eating out. Many of the health benefits will take some time to take effect, so it’s important to stick with it for an extended period of time to make the effort worthwhile. Even following intermittent fasting a few days a week can be enough to make a difference as long as it’s done regularly and for a long period of time. Below are a few of the benefits you can expect to see.
Weight loss is likely the biggest reason why most people start fasting. Eating within a specified window of time often naturally reduces the amount of calories one eats, which results in weight loss.
Beyond this, fasting can also restore sensitivity to natural hunger and fullness cues, which allows for more intuitive eating in line with what the body physically needs for nourishment. Finally, fasting can improve metabolism and help put the body in an energy-burning state rather than an energy-storing state.
Poor gut health is incredibly common in today’s world. This is another major reason why so many people are turning to fasting to help. Intermittent fasting essentially gives the digestive tract a break which allows it to start to repair itself. This also helps to restore a favorable gut microbe ecosystem. The quality of the gut flora can play a role in determining metabolism, mental health outcomes, disease risk, and more.
Hormonal health has been long ignored in the mainstream health media until recently. Hormones are how the body internally communicates to affect several different bodily processes, including metabolism, mood, energy levels, digestion, sleep, growth, reproductive function, and much more.
Unfortunately, several environmental factors like pollution, household toxins, poor diets, and stress can dysregulate optimal hormone levels and result in a myriad of poor health outcomes. Fasting is an effective tool for restoring the production of beneficial hormones, reducing excess production of others, and even repairing cell sensitivity to certain hormones.
A final main benefit often seen from long-term intermittent fasting is a host of heart health effects. Fasting has the ability to help lower blood pressure, increase insulin sensitivity and therefore improve blood sugar regulation, as well as reduce the likelihood of heart disease.
Even just 3 months of regular fasting has been shown to help achieve these results. Part of the reason for this is that fasting can help reduce inflammation and allow cells to repair themselves. Inflammation is likely a big factor in determining the development of heart disease, and fasting can be an effective tool to help mitigate it.
Overall, though it may take some sacrifice and some time to get accustomed to, the benefits of fasting are more than worth it. Fasting can be helpful for most individuals—with the exception of children, teens, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and those who are seriously ill—but it may be especially warranted for those trying to lose weight and improve their metabolic health. Don’t hesitate to experiment with a few different methods to see what works best for you. Whatever you do, just remember to stick with it for best results.