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Intermittent Fasting: What to know before getting started

Intermittent Fasting: What to know before getting started

I've practiced intermittent fasting in the past (stopped after pregnancy) and I loved it! In fact, I'll probably end up doing it again in the future. But everyone is entitled to their own opinion: Some people love it, some hate it. 

Anyways, I'm not really here to tell you about my experience or why I personally love it. What I did instead is put together the research I did prior to joining the 'fasting' world to create a sort of beginner's guide to intermittent fasting - that way my research didn't go to waste and you can learn something new! 

It is a lot though, so buckle in and get ready to learn everything you need to know about intermittent fasting. Once you're done reading you'll be able to decide for yourself if it's safe and right for you! 

What is intermittent fasting?

The first thing that people think is that intermittent fasting is a form of dieting. Technically, it's not really a diet. Intermittent fasting is a timed approached eating pattern. It involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting. So it's not telling you what foods to eat, instead it tells you when you should eat them. Your diet is entirely up to you. But most people, like myself, prefer to stay on the healthier side of things because in order to reap the benefits of fasting you must eat relatively clean!

The fasting period is entirely up to you, but most health benefits occur if the fasting period is between 16-24+ hours. Some people are intimidated by this way of eating because of the thought of waiting a long period to eat - I was too! But it's actually easier than you think! Look at it this way, you're technically fasting the moment you have your last meal or snack before bed until breakfast. So you've most likely already fasted for a long period of time and didn't even know it! BUT, there are methods to intermittent fasting, especially for those wanting to lose weight, burn fat, and tone up. 

Methods

There are so many ways you can do intermittent fasting, but three of the most popular fasting methods are 16/8, Eat Stop Eat, and 5:2.

The 16/8 method: This method is actually known as the "Leangains protocol", popularized by Martin Berkhan (fitness expert). It involves fasting for 16 hours and having an 8 hour eating window. For example, one of the most common time frames is from 12-8 p.m. Essentially you skip breakfast and have your first meal at noon, then your last meal is at 8 p.m. That's just an example of one way to do it, the time frame can be adjusted to fit your lifestyle. So if you work overnight or super early in the morning, you can just adjust to a fasting period that fits your schedule better - Just makes sure to complete at least 16 hours of fasting.

Eat-Stop-Eat method:  This method is a bit more advanced, so if you're just starting out try the 16/8 method first. It involves fasting 24 hours at least once or twice a week. For example, if your last meal is at 8 p.m. then your next meal will be until the following day at 8 p.m. 

The 5:2 fast: This fasting schedule involves eating normally 5 days a week, followed by two days of eating a maximum of 500 calories. This can be one 500 calorie meal or two small meals broken into two. For this method, have at least one regular day of eating in between the 'fasting days'.

The 16/8 form of intermittent fasting is most commonly used by people wanting to get lean and/or gain muscle, it's also the easiest to fit into your daily schedule. The 5:2 fast works best for those who don’t feel comfortable fasting for an extended period of time, but still want to reap the benefits. The eat-stop-eat method is just as good, but it can be difficult for beginners. Luckily, there are no set rules for fasting. So if you can only do an 16-22 hour fast – that’s okay! Adjust with different time frames and see how your body responds.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Fasting has been practiced for hundreds of thousands of years. Ancient hunter-gatherers didn't have the resources we have now and sometimes would go long periods of time without eating! The human body adapted to this style of eating and to be able to function without food for extended periods of time. Fasting is actually more natural than eating several small meals throughout the day.

But to this day, people still think we can't function without food. In fact, people eat breakfast and prefer to eat several meals throughout the day to keep their metabolism boosted. There is no wrong way of eating, but if eating several times a day helps our metabolism, why do people still choose to fast and how could fasting benefit our health?

Well here's why...

Helps with weight loss

This is the most popular reason why people try intermittent fasting. In order to lose weight one must reduce their calorie intake and exercise regularly - everyone knows that. By having a fasting window of 16+ hours you automatically reduce your calorie intake. Of course, that only applies if you're not overeating during your feeding window. So keep in mind, fasting isn't going to make you lose tons of body fat if your diet consists of mostly junk food  - it all depends on what you eat. 

Aside from that, fasting actually changes your hormone levels that in turn help with losing weight. Here's what it does to your hormones:

Lowers insulin levels - Fasting can improve insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels. This makes it easier for your body to access and use stored fat. [1] For example, if you exercise in a fasted state the change in insulin levels signals to your body to go into fat burning mode. 

Increase growth hormone - Fasting immensely increases the levels of the growth hormone. High levels of these hormones has been linked to fat loss and increase in muscle mass. [2]

Increases the release of norepinephrine - Fasting helps release norepinephrine which is a fat burning hormone.

These hormonal changes caused by short-term fasting can increase your metabolic rate by 3-14%! [3] 

Can help reduce insulin resistance

Studies have shown that intermittent fasting has impressive benefits in terms of insulin resistance, like lowering blood sugar levels. One human study in particular, showed that fasting reduced blood sugar by 3-6% and fasting insulin had been reduced by 20-30%! [4]

This can be very beneficial to protect against type 2 diabetes. Now, this doesn't mean a few fasting days is going to stop you from having type 2 diabetes. It's all about balance - healthy diet, exercise, calorie restriction, and consistency. 

Activates cellular repair processes

Studies show that fasting initiates a healing process known as autophagy. Autophagy is “an important detoxification function in the body to clean out damaged cells.”. It simply means that when we take a break from eating the body has a chance to heal and digests/recycle old or damaged cells. So essentially, it prompts regeneration and healthy cells so they can protect your body from certain diseases! [5]

Can help reduce inflammation

Inflammation is linked to bad gut health and several many terrible diseases that you don't want! Animal studies have shown intermittent fasting can reduce inflammation levels, but there are very few human studies. 

One of the human studies conducted by researchers studied the effects of fasting on people during Ramadan. The study showed that during the fasting period there were low pro-inflammatory markers, along with low blood pressure. This is one of a few links between intermittent fasting and inflammation.

A few other health benefits intermittent fasting can have are:

  • Boosted brain function
  • Increased energy
  • May reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol levels (a risk factor for heart disease)
  • May help you live longer and extend your lifespan
  • Help you sleep better
  • Reduced sugar cravings
  • Strengthens your will power

The health effects of intermittent fasting can be wonderful! Just keep in mind, this is all based on early studies - everyone's lifestyle/diet affects them differently. And as always, a healthy diet and regularly exercising is needed in order to really get the most out of intermittent fasting.

Should I try it? Is it safe?

The answer to this is really based on what your intentions/goals are and your current health. A lot of people rave about intermittent fasting for weight loss and all the other benefits, but it might not be the best for you. If you're 100% healthy and are just looking to lose body weight and fat, then give it a try. Just be aware of the side effects of intermittent fasting before starting. The main one is hunger, obviously. You may also feel physically weak and your brain might be foggy and not perform as usual. These side effects don't normally happen, but if they do it's only when you first start - It normally takes at least two weeks for your body to adjust to fasting. 

If you have a medical condition, consult with your doctor before starting to fast. Intermittent fasting is not the safest for everyone, so I suggest to consult with a nutritionist or doctor - especially if you:

  • Have diabetes
  • Are pregnant or trying to conceive
  • Have a history of eating disorders
  • Are underweight
  • Are taking any medication
  • Have low blood pressure
  • Have issues with blood sugar regulation

The bottom line is, intermittent fasting has been proven to have various potential health benefits. That's why it increased in popularity so much in the last few years! But you have to be the one to find the balance between what works with you and your body. So I hope this gave you all the information you need to make an informed decision on whether intermittent fasting is something you want to try. 

P.S. If you want to try intermittent fasting, read my article about getting started, plus my personal tips that I used on my fasting journey!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I drink liquids while fasting?

Yes. Water, black coffee, tea and other non-caloric beverages are fine. I'd highly suggest just sticking to the first three, and sparkling water if you really need it!

Isn’t it unhealthy to skip breakfast?

No, it is not. If you make sure to eat healthy food for the rest of the day then the practice is perfectly healthy. If you don't want to skip breakfast then just adjust your fasting so it fits your schedule and personal preferences - or just eat your favorite breakfast foods later in the day. 

Can I take supplements while fasting?

Yes. Just keep in mind that vitamins may work better when taken with meals.

Can I workout while fasted?

Yes, fasted workouts are fine. They're actually great for burning fat, I'll write about it soon 😅

Will fasting cause muscle loss?

All weight loss methods can cause muscle loss, which is why it’s important to lift weights and keep your protein intake high.