“He that eats till he is sick must fast till he is well.” – Thomas Fuller
If you are chasing weight loss and better health, you must have come across intermittent fasting. If not, then we will help you understand what it is. Intermittent fasting is a diet that has done wonders to change people’s physical and mental health for good.
With more than 135 million affected by obesity in India, it is no surprise that intermittent fasting has become a buzzword over the last few years.
Fasting has been a part of Indian culture for centuries. It's an important part of many religions followed in India. Hindus fast during Navratri, Muslims during Ramadan, and Christians before Easter (Lent).
This familiarity with the concept of fasting has also made intermittent fasting popular in India. But Intermittent fasting is different from the kind of fasts we are used to. Let's see how.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Most diets have restrictions and a long list of things you can and cannot eat. However, intermittent fasting is a style of eating which focuses on when to eat instead of what and how much to eat. It divides 24 hours in a day into an eating and fasting period.
During your fasting period, you cannot eat anything except drinking water or zero-calorie beverages. There are no hard and fast rules for what to eat during the eating period. However, eating a healthy balanced diet is recommended if you want to see results.
There are many pieces of research on this subject and numerous anecdotes claiming the efficacy of intermittent fasting. Its benefits are not just limited to weight loss, but it also helps in maintaining blood sugar and lipid profile and can also make you more energetic.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
There are many different ways of doing intermittent fasting, but all of them work on the concept that if you eat fewer calories, your body will use (or burn) the fat stored for energy. When the body does that, it not only helps in weight loss but makes your overall health significantly better.
A study done on 15 men who were at the risk of type-2 diabetes showed that just one week of limiting the eating window to 9 hours caused a lower glucose spike after meals.
Another study done on 19 people who were on medication for cholesterol, lower blood pressure or diabetes, were put on a 10-hour eating window, and overall showed low cholesterol by 11% on average.
Methods Of Intermittent Fasting
Like any other thing, there is no one size fits all for intermittent fasting. Some people like to stick to one method, whereas others want to try different ones.
Some of the popular methods of intermittent fasting are:
- The 16:8 Method: This is the most popular one of all methods, also called Leangains protocol. In this, you fast for 16 hours, and the remaining 8 hours are for eating. You are only allowed to drink water and zero-calorie beverages during the fasting period.
There are no restrictions on how you can divide 24 hours into 16:8, which is why you might find this the most sustainable. You can choose the frequency as per your preference—do once a week or every day.
Most people prefer to eat from noon to 8:00 PM. That way, most of your fasting period will be covered in your sleep time, and the only meal you will skip is breakfast. However, you can experiment with the time and choose the window you are most comfortable with.
- The 5:2 Method: Know as the Fast Diet, the 5:2 method, was popularized by British journalist Michael Mosley.
In this method, you usually eat for 5 days a week, and for 2 days, you eat only 500-600 calories. You can choose the 2 calorie restricted days as per your convenience as long as there is one non-fasting day between them.
Since there are no complicated rules, you might find it easier to make this diet into a lifestyle.
- Eat-Stop-Eat Method: This method was developed by the author of “Eat Stop Eat”, Brad Pilon.
In this method, you choose 1-2 days (non-consecutive) in a week when you would keep a 24-hour long fast, and for the other 5-6 days, you can continue to eat how you normally would.
Many people tend to abuse the restrictions and load their bodies with too much food during the eating window. But that is not how you will result. You will only see the benefits if you eat a well-balanced healthy diet. Don’t expect miracles if you only eat highly processed, unhealthy food during the eating window.
Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
Now that you know what intermittent fasting is and how you can do it. To further help you make a decision, let’s discuss some benefits of intermittent fasting.
Accelerating Weight-loss: The most common reason why people even start intermittent fasting is to lose weight. Studies show that it is because of calorie restriction.
- Maintaining Heart Health: Heart health is directly linked to obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Research shows that intermittent fasting contributes to heart health by positively impacting these conditions.
- Reducing Insulin Resistance: Constantly eating throughout the day can trigger insulin production in your body. Too much insulin can make your cells resist it, and in its response, your body will produce it even more. Fasting allows your body to rest and lower the insulin in your body.
- Lowering Inflammation: During fasting, your body makes less glucose and ends up burning ketones for energy. When it uses ketones instead of glucose for energy, less inflammation is produced.
Can Everyone Do Intermittent Fasting?
Now that you know what intermittent fasting is and the benefits it has, it is equally important to know some side effects it can have. So, before jumping on this bandwagon, keep in mind that intermittent fasting, just like any diet, is not for everyone.
If you have had a history of disordered eating, you should not attempt this diet or any restricted diet, for that matter. Any diet that has a set of rules and requires discipline can trigger your eating disorder. It can also put a toll on your emotional well-being, so listen to your body and nourish it accordingly.
If you are pregnant, the thought of keeping your weight in check must have come to your mind. During your research, if you have stumbled upon intermittent fasting, please speak to your doctor before taking any decision.
While there are not many studies done to relate the risk of intermittent fasting on pregnant women (as it is not ethical), generally, intermittent fasting is not recommended during pregnancy because drastic changes in your eating habits can result in nutritional deficiencies in your body which can impact the growth of your child. Some other risks which are studied like pregnancy loss and other health risks the child might have after birth.
However, if you have PCOD/PCOS and are trying to get pregnant, research has shown some positive results for you. A study showed that obese women with PCOD who fasted had an increase in their luteinising hormone, which helps in ovulation. On the other hand, some women also experience amenorrhoea (loss of periods) due to a lack of energy supplied to their bodies.
Now that you know everything about intermittent fasting, if you are considering going on this journey, firstly, ask yourself why you want to do it. Will it be a short-term diet or a lifestyle? This WHY will help you stay consistent on your journey. If you are just starting, ease into the process slowly, start doing it only on weekends and then introduce it to your weekdays as well.
Everybody is different, and their reaction to different lifestyles is also different. Notice how your body feels, and if you see any unfavourable sign, it is better to discontinue it.
If you have any medical condition, talk to your healthcare professional before starting it. If it is difficult to incorporate into your daily life, then remember that intermittent fasting is not the only way to live a healthy life; it is just one of the many tools you can use.