Intermittent fasting is a meal consumption schedule where one voluntarily participates in periods of fasting and non-fasting. There are many ways to practice intermittent fasting. But before that, let us learn more about fasting.
History of Fasting
Fasting is forgoing food or drinks or sometimes even both for religious, ethical or health reasons. The period of non-consumption may be complete or partial, long or of short duration or intermittent. It has been encouraged all around the world and is a part of all cultures for various reasons.
Fasting can also be therapeutic for the body and mind. It has been in practice since at least 5th BCE when the Greek physician Hippocrates suggested refraining from food or drinking to people who showed the symptoms of an illness. Some physicians have also noticed how people with certain illnesses naturally experience a loss of appetite. They believed that one shouldn’t be forced to eat during such periods as it could be disadvantageous to the body and slow down the recovery process.
There was more understanding of the physiological effects of fasting by the end of 19th century where studies of fasting were done on animals and humans. In the 20th century, fasting became a form of allowing the body to absorb nutrients and meet the body’s nutrient requirements. It became more complex and many approaches to fasting were founded.
By the 21st century, fasting clearly became useful for some instances of diseases. Fasting also became a popular way to lose weight and body fat. There are many types of fasting. In this article, we will discuss about intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting is following a pattern of eating that is a cycle between time periods of fasting and non-fasting. This approach to fasting doesn’t focus on the types of foods that can be consumed but is concerned with when one should eat them.
So, typically it is not a diet but a pattern of eating. A common pattern of intermittent fasting involves daily 16- hour fasts or fasting for 24 hours, two times a week.
Fasting has always been a part of life throughout human evolution. Our ancestors, who were hunter-gatherers, did not have continuous access to food. As a result, the human body has evolved to continue its daily functions without food for a certain period of time.
It is natural and healthy to practice fasting than eat 3-4 meals in a day. Our bodies are made to function this way which is contrary to how eating patterns are treated in today’s society.
How intermittent fasting affects our body?
When you practice fasting, your body adjusts hormone levels to make body fat more accessible. This would ensure that more stored body fat would be burned. Your body would also start necessary repair processes and helps produce healthier cells.
Here are a few changes that occur in the body:
- Gene expression: Fasting allows for the genes related to longevity and protection against diseases function in a more beneficial manner.
- Cellular repair: When you fast, your body cells start the process of necessary repair. This includes autophagy where your body cells digest and destroy old and defective protein molecules that build up over time inside the cell body.
- Insulin: Your body’s insulin sensitivity improves and a drastic decrease in insulin levels is seen. This is beneficial because low insulin levels allow for stored body fat to become more accessible.
Methods of intermittent fasting
There are many ways to practice intermittent fasting. You can come up with your own schedule of eating too. The following are a few popular methods of intermittent fasting:
- Alternate-day fasting: In this method, you follow your usual pattern of eating and the next day, you can completely skip food or eat less amount of food (less than 500 calories)
- 5:2 fasting: In this method, you eat normally for five days a week and fast for two days in the week.
Daily time-restricting fasting: In this method, you eat normally but only within an 8-hour window each day. For example, you eat breakfast at 9AM, lunch at 1PM and snacks at 5PM. You don’t eat at other times but only within the 8-hours period. Advantages of intermittent fasting:
There are many benefits to intermittent fasting. The following are a few:
- Helps lose body fat: Losing unwanted fat has become one of the main reasons to intermittently fast. Since you won’t be eating too many calories, your body would start using up its stored fat to keep you going. Low sugar levels and high levels of norepinephrine would contribute to the breakdown of body fat and increase its utility for other functions. Studies show that when you practice intermittent fasting for a long time, your body’s metabolism increases which would allow you to lose more calories than usual.
- Reduces oxidative stress and inflammation: Oxidative stress and inflammation over a long period of time causes the body to age faster, develop chronic diseases and have lower resistance against infections and diseases. Intermittent fasting increases the body’s resistance to these harmful internal states.
- Encourages the production of new brain cells: Abstaining from food and drink for a while as practiced in intermittent fasting allows the brain to be in a better condition too. Intermittent fasting leads to having lower sugar levels, blood pressure and oxidative stress. This creates the perfect environment for the brain to make new neurons which improve brain function.
Disadvantages of intermittent fasting:
- Getting headaches and feeling light-headed: You might experience these during the first few days of your intermittent fasting schedule. Your low blood sugar levels may contribute to getting a headache.
- Stomach issues: Since you would not be eating food regularly, there is a chance for gas or acid to build up in your stomach which would lead to digestive issues like acidity, bloating, gastric pain etc.
- Hormone problems in women: Intermittent fasting or any other type of fasting may cause hormonal problems in women. Fat is the important factor in hormone production and so when there is less fat, the body doesn’t make normal levels of hormones.
Like a coin, everything has two sides, pros and cons. It is up to us to choose the best action for ourselves.