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Intermittent Fasting: A Beginner's Guide

Intermittent fasting is becoming increasingly popular. People are turning to intermittent fasting to lose weight, feel healthy, and to just look fit and trim. There are already studies to back up the benefits of intermittent fasting, and the health benefits are evident at least in people who are doing intermittent fasting correctly. But this trend may be something of a mystery to some of us. What is intermittent fasting? 

Beyond the obvious benefits of looking good, intermittent fasting has been linked to increases in brain function and improved mental health. It appears that intermittent fasting can benefit the mind, body, and heart. 

What is intermittent fasting, remains the question. Before we dive into the idea of occasionally starving ourselves, it makes sense to get the facts on intermittent fasting. There is much more to this than simply not eating for brief periods of time. And fasting of any kind needs to be taken seriously to make sure you are not actually starving yourself. 

What is intermittent fasting? How does it work? How do we try intermittent fasting safely and gain the most benefits? By looking at the methods of intermittent fasting and some of the science behind the process, we can find out just exactly how intermittent fasting provides benefits to the body and the mind. 

What is Intermittent Fasting? 

In the simplest terms, intermittent fasting is following a regimen of eating patterns that include periods of fasting and eating. You alternate between measured periods of fasting, abstaining in part or completely from eating, and periods in which you can eat. Intermittent fasting takes the focus off of what you can eat and focuses on when you can eat.  

Typically, the intermittent fasts last between 16 and 24 hours, twice a week. Fasting has been part of human culture and biology since the beginning. In pre-modern times, there were always periods when people simply could not find anything to eat. As a result, humans developed the capacity to cope without eating for periods of time. We have it in us to fast, but generally, do not have to. 

Rather than dieting, which regiments what you can eat and how much, fasting relies on these ancient biological mechanisms that respond to having no food at all. The idea is that fasting for measured periods of time can train our metabolism to process calories and nutrients in healthier and more efficient ways. 

How Does Intermittent Fasting Work? 

Intermittent fasting works for weight loss simply by limiting the number of calories you take in. All intermittent fasting schedules involved taking in fewer calories during the eating period than during the fasting period. The net result is that you always take in fewer calories while you are eating. Unless you make it a point to play catch-up, you always have a net loss of calories. 

Studies on intermittent fasting have shown that by sticking with the protocols, people can lose as much as 8 percent body weight in no more than 24 weeks.  

Intermittent Fasting Benefits

The first and most obvious benefit of intermittent fasting is weight loss. These protocols will help you shed pounds and reduce your waistline. People have documented significant weight loss in as little as 3 weeks. 

But it appears that intermittent fasting has numerous other benefits. Intermittent fasting has benefits on the level of cells and hormones:

  • Human Growth Hormone (HGH): Levels of HGH drastically increase during periods of intermittent fasting. This leads to both fat loss and an increase in muscle.   
  • Insulin: Intermittent fasting improves insulin sensitivity and levels of insulin drop drastically. With lower levels of insulin, stored body fat becomes more accessible and easier to burn. 
  • Cellular Repair: During periods of fasting, your body initiates cell repair. This includes the process whereby your body can process dead proteins stored in cells.  
  • Genetic Changes: Intermittent fasting even impacts us on the genetic level. It seems the fasting can initiate changes to genes related to longevity and protection against certain diseases. 

It is no wonder that intermittent fasting has taken on such popularity. It seems to benefit nearly every aspect of our health and well-being. What is more, all of these benefits impact each other. Intermittent fasting results in an immediate reduction in calories.

This translates into weight loss. The changes in hormone levels can reset your metabolism, and this means the lost weight stays off. You effectively change the way you metabolize fat in the future. The long-term genetic influences work with all physiological mechanisms toward better health, and this influences weight loss and hormone levels.  

Popular Ways to Do Intermittent Fasting

There are several intermittent fasting protocols, but the most popular and effective break down into three periods:

16/8 Method

You skip breakfast altogether. Then, eating is restricted to an 8 hour period, usually between 1 and 9 pm. Then you fast for the remaining 16 hours. 

Eat-Stop-Eat

This simply involves fasting for a 24 hour period twice a week. Most people go from dinner one night until dinner the following night. 

The 5:2 Protocol

This is not precisely fasting, but you do restrict your food intake to no more than 600 calories for two non-consecutive days during the week. You are allowed to eat on the other 5 days. 

All of these intermittent fasting protocols are effective. You will lose weight unless you end up compensating for the fasting periods by overeating.

The main thing to guard against is overcompensating for the fasting periods when you do eat. It can be tempting to overeat at any time we are hungry. The easiest way to say this is don’t pig-out when you finally get to eat. It defeats the purpose of intermittent fasting.  

 The most popular method is the 16/8 protocol. It seems to be the easiest to stick to and is the most sustainable over a long period of time. If you set your fasting period beginning at 9 pm, you will be asleep through 8 hours of your fasting time. 

Different Intermittent Fasting Schedules

As we said, there are numerous intermittent fasting protocols. It is easy to experiment and find the one that is most comfortable and suitable to your life. Here are some of the variations. 

Daily Intermittent Fasting

This would be the 16/6 fasting described above. You eat for 8 hours during the day, then fast for the remaining 16 hours. 

Alternately, you can fast for the entire day and then eat like a warrior at night. This why this protocol is sometimes referred to as “warrior fasting.” This is based on the idea that humans were once forced by necessity to go without food and our bodies will naturally adjust to this type of fasting protocol. 

Weekly Intermittent Fasting

This may be the easiest protocol to remember. You fast for an entire 24-hour period once or twice a week. It is best to monitor your health during these periods to make sure you are not suffering any complications during the fast. It can be a challenge to go an entire 24-hour period without eating.  

If you start to feel unsteady or light-headed with this kind of protocol it may not be right for you. We all respond differently to sustained periods without eating. You may also experience the phenomenon known as being “hangry,” the problem of becoming impatient and irritated from hunger. This happens largely because of the reduced levels of blood sugar. 

Alternate Day Fasting

This is exactly what it sounds like. You fast one day and eat the next. Some protocols allow you 500 calories during fasting days to make sure you do not give in. Beginners are advised to start with the 500-calorie option during fast days. 

This form of intermittent fasting is difficult. You will be going to bed hungry some night of the week. Alternate day fasting is not recommended for beginners. 

Is Intermittent Fasting Safe? 

Generally, intermittent fasting is considered safe provided you are a healthy person without any medical conditions. Medical conditions that are directly impacted by diet and food intake are obvious problems with intermittent fasting. But, as we have pointed out, our bodies are geared to go without food for periods of time. There are physiological mechanisms that compensate for fasting periods, and we do not suffer any ill effects from not eating from controlled periods of time.

But for the most part, there is nothing especially dangerous about not eating for measured periods of time. As we pointed out in the beginning, our bodies are made to withstand periods with no food. 

While fasting, you may find that you have difficulty concentrating and you may feel weak, depending on how long your fasting periods are. Both of these things are normal, and you will adjust as your body adjusts to fasting. 

If you have any of the following conditions, you should consult your doctor before taking on an intermittent fasting protocol.

  • Diabetes
  • Problems regulating blood sugar
  • Low blood pressure
  • Any medications you may be on
  • You are underweight
  • Have a history of eating disorders
  • A woman trying to conceive
  • A woman with amenorrhea
  • Are pregnant and/or breastfeeding

These things are fairly obvious, but you should be aware that any of these conditions can become problematic while fasting.  

Intermittent Fasting FAQS

What is intermittent fasting? Intermittent fasting is a protocol whereby you have periods when you eat nothing at all. This is balanced with periods in which you can eat in a healthy and normal way.

How does intermittent fasting work? You simply designate specific periods of time when you eat and other times when you do eat. These periods can be broken up into several categories. You can have a full 24 hours of fasting followed by a day of eating. You can also break up fasting within one day. 

What is the most popular intermittent fasting protocol? The 16/8 method involves 8 hours of healthy eating followed by 16 hours of fasting. You can break this up so that much of the fasting time is when you are asleep.  

What is the primary benefit of intermittent fasting? The main benefit is weight loss. Intermittent fasting, when done correctly, will always result in a net loss of caloric intake. This results in weight loss. 

Are there other benefits to intermittent fasting? Intermittent fasting has been shown to benefit hormone production, insulin sensitivity, cell growth, and even genetic factors that can increase longevity.

Is intermittent fasting safe? Yes. Our bodies are made to withstand periods with no food. Unless you have some specific medical concerns, intermittent fasting is safe. 

Wrapping things up

A quick search of the internet will show you that the topic of intermittent fasting is on a lot of people’s minds. It is trending everywhere people are talking about fitness, weight loss, or anything that has to do with health. The popularity of intermittent fasting should come as no surprise when you start considering how easy it is and the many benefits.  

As distinguished from regular dieting, intermittent fasting allows you to eat whatever you want within reason. Your calories are not limited by how much you eat. They are controlled by how frequently you eat. Intermittent fasting entails set times when you do not eat, and other times when you eat as normal. The benefit comes with a net loss of calories taken in. 

The benefits of intermittent fasting go beyond weight loss. It turns out that intermittent fasting stimulates hormones that are good for your mind and your moods. It can help balance insulin. And intermittent fasting can even help you live longer. 

Perhaps the most appealing thing about intermittent fasting is that it is so easy to do. There are numerous protocols that can suit just about anyone’s needs and limits. Whether you fast for one or two days out of the week, or for part of one day, you will get the results you are after. Experiment with the various intermittent fasting protocols, see which one is comfortable and gives you the results you want, and you will be on your way to losing weight, feeling better, and potentially longer life. 

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