The topic of intermittent fasting is rather intriguing because it is actually mentioned in the Bible a fair amount of times. People of Biblical times fasted in times of depending on God, in times of prayer and when serious decisions were called for. Today’s people also fast because they simply want to lose weight; some do it for medical reasons too. Intermittent fasting is quite a broad term that basically means that from time to time you don’t eat, usually lasting longer than the normal overnight fast.
Even though fasting goes back thousands of years, and practiced by humans through the ages, it is not so widely practiced today; what with all the new health fads around. But its methods and ways have stood the test of time and achieved amazing benefits – not only weight loss but more energy, diabetes reversal and much more. And it doesn’t require any time and certainly no money. It’s just a natural part of life.
People ask, “But, isn’t that starving yourself?” No, not at all. Fasting is different. Starvation is when you are involuntarily deprived of food for an ongoing time period whereas, with fasting, you voluntary decide not to take in food, be it for health or for spiritual reasons. You are choosing not to eat when you fast and it can last for hours, for days, for weeks – it is at your will. In fact, any time you don’t eat, you are actually fasting. That is where the word “breakfast” comes from – to break your fast, which you do on a daily basis. It’s really just a part of our everyday lives, but today, we have forgotten what a powerful and therapeutic tool intermittent fasting is all about.
Let’s look at how intermittent fasting actually works
At the very foundation, fasting is about your body burning off excess body fat. If you have body fat, you have food energy that is in storage and when you don’t eat, your body starts to ‘eat’ at the fat to get the energy it needs. Because our lives are all about balance, the same applies to our bodies – eating and fasting keep the balance.
We humans, when eating, sometimes ingest more food than can immediately be used for energy. Sometimes that energy gets stored as fat, to be used later. The key hormone in our body for the storage of food energy is insulin. As you eat food and increase the insulin levels in your body, so you store sugar which is converted to fat. This fat is often stored in your liver but can also be sent to other fat-depositing places of your body. We have two storage systems in the body for energy – glycogen and body fat. When you don’t eat, the above process goes into reverse, so instead of insulin levels rising, they now fall, telling the body to start burning up the stored energy as no food is coming its way.
Our bodies are constantly in two states, the fed state, and the fasted state – either storing food for energy or burning it. If each of us were to start eating food the minute we got out of bed in the morning, continuing to eat until we went to bed again at night, our bodies would spend all the time in that fed state. We would gain weight, not having allowed our bodies to burn any of that food into energy. To restore some balance and to lose weight, we need to spend that time exercising or fasting because these allow the body to use up that stored energy. Our bodies were designed to work like that. Look at dogs, cats, wild animals; that is what they do. If we constantly eat as sometimes it is recommended, our bodies aren’t going to get around to burning the body fat, instead; it will just store it.
Are there benefits to intermittent fasting?
y of other reasons:
- Intermittent fasting cleanses and detoxifies the body
- The body is rejuvenated as it gets rid of toxins
- Improved concentration and mental clarity
- A reduction in blood sugar and insulin levels
- You can reverse Diabetes 2
- More energy
- Increases growth hormones
- Lowers cholesterol
- Has the ability to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s
- You have the potential to live longer
- Fasting stimulates autophagy
- Inflammation is reduced.
Diets can complicate your life, but fasting can simplify it. When you start a diet, you need to go out and buy all the ‘right’ ingredients, but fasting is free. Dieting can take time, but fasting saves you time. Diets offer you a limited type of eating whereas fasting can be done anywhere, any time.
There are short fasts that last up to about 24 hours and then there are the longer fasts that last well over 24 hours. Those who go on the shorter fasts do them more frequently than if they went on a long fast.
- The 8-hour eating window fast
This is where you eat all your meals within 8 hours. The remaining 16 hours of the day you fast. This is usually done on a daily basis. It is basically eating all of the meals in 8 hours and leaving the other hours free, to fast.
- The 20:4 hour fast
This is where you eat your meals within a 4 hour period, leaving the other 20 hours to fast.
- The 24 hour fast
This involves fasting from lunch on one day to lunch to the next day, or from supper to supper. If for instance, you eat your lunch today, you skip your dinner and also your breakfast the next day, eating only again at lunchtime. When you eat only once in a day, it equates to eating around 3 times a week.
- The 5:2 day fast
On this diet, you eat regularly for 5 days in a row, and then you fast for 2 days. On the 2 fasting days, you are ‘allowed’ to eat up to 500 calories on each of the days, any time and spread out or eaten in one meal. This fasting method was made popular by Dr. Mosley in his book called ‘The Fast Diet’.
- The 36 hour fast
Look at it this way – you eat your dinner on the first day, on your second day you fast and on the third day, you eat breakfast. That makes 36 hours of fasting.
Longer fasting periods like the 48 hour fast
This type of fasting lasts longer than 48 hours. When you go on the more extended fasts, it is recommended that you take a multivitamin so that you don’t go without certain nutrients and develop deficiencies. Want to know the longest fast ever? 382 days. So if you believe that doing a fast lasting around 7-14 days is impossible for you, think again! However, in saying that, there are certain people who should not really fast for longer than 14 days because it is possible that after the fast, they get complications. Look here.
Some people shouldn’t fast for the following reasons:
- If you are underweight and you’re BMI (body mass index) is under 18.5.
- If you are pregnant – because your baby needs all the nutrients it can get and also if you are breastfeeding.
- If you are under 18 because you need the nutrients for growing.
For those who long to fast but you have the following conditions, you would need to be under supervision from your doctor in these instances:
- If you have types 1 & 2 diabetes mellitus
- If you are using prescription medicines
- If you have high uric acid in your body or suffer from gout. If you don’t get the necessary nutrients you could experience fatigue, constipation, dizziness and a hike in your uric acid levels
What about women fasting?
Women ask if it is OK for them to fast because studies show that intermittent fasting in female rats made them more masculine, emaciated and infertile, causing them to miss their normal cycles. These cycles are the estrous cycles where the endometrium is totally re-absorbed by the animal at the end of the reproductive cycle. There are plenty of report-backs from women who claim their menstrual periods stopped when doing intermittent fasting but which returned back to normal when they stopped fasting. It is for this reason women should be careful with intermittent fasting. They should ease into it, and if they do have problems such as amenorrhea, they should discontinue the fasting straight away. Amenorrhea is the name for when women experience abnormal absences of menstruation. If you are a woman suffering from fertility problems and you are trying to conceive, you need to think about holding off intermittent fasting for the time being.
Exercising whilst fasting
It is a good idea to continue exercising like you usually do while you fast. Food is not necessary to provide sufficient energy for doing exercises. You will be burning fat more than ever for the energy needed.
When you fast, your human growth hormones will go up and the insulin levels will go down. Fat burning hormones increase, actually increasing metabolic rates by around 3.6-14%. There is a study that shows that intermittent fasting actually causes less muscle loss than some standard methods of dieting or calorie restriction. Keep in mind though that the main reason intermittent fasting works is that you do take in overall fewer calories. This means that if you eat more or binge in your eating periods, you are not likely to lose weight at all.
Coping with side effects in fasting
It is possible that you will suffer from some side effects while you are fasting. Let’s look at what they are:
- Muscle cramps
Some registered dietitians have noted that you can’t just go from being a couch potato to an athlete overnight because the body needs time to get used to any extreme changes. It would make perfect sense to experience side effects when you stop eating all of a sudden over extended periods of time. The side effects might seem impossible or unbearable to deal with at the start, but if you know how to cope with it, you will find yourself able to stay with intermittent fasting and reap in the benefits.
How to cope with the all-consuming hunger
Apparently, when you are fasting, the hunger pangs pass over. A lot of people fret that they will find fasting intolerable because the hunger will be too hard to manage. You will experience waves of hunger, but if you choose to ignore it and drink a cup of tea or coffee, it usually passes on. When fasting, water, tea and coffee are fine, and other non-calorie beverages as well. Preferably try not adding sugar to your tea and coffee; adding some milk or cream is OK. In fact, coffee can be quite beneficial to you when you are fasting because it has the ability to blunt the hunger pangs.
If you undergo an extended fast, hunger can usually increase in the beginning but gradually recedes so that by days 3 and 4 you are not really hungry at all. It is because your body is being driven by the fat, kind of like ‘eating’ the fat on your body.
Muscle also does not waste away. When you fast, your body is breaking down glycogen, turning it into glucose for the energy it needs. The body doesn’t burn its muscles to get the necessary fuels to operate. Fasting is not a new fact, it has been around and practiced for thousands of years and never are there any records of any muscle loss during fasting.
If you are keen to fast, here are a couple of tips to help you along the way:
- Keep on drinking water to stay hydrated
- Keep busy so that you are not concentrating on your fasting as much
- Drink coffee or tea to help you ride out the pangs of hunger
- Don’t let people know you are fasting if you know they will be disapproving
- Time yourself – give yourself a goal, like a month
- In-between fasting periods, follow the low carb diet because this kind of eating reduces your hunger and makes the whole fasting process easier.
- Remember – don’t binge after fasting! The way to break a fast is to start off gently. The longer you were on the fast, the more gently you need to introduce foods to your body. If you have been on short fasts and then eat a huge meal afterward, you will end up with a sore stomach which is not serious but unpleasant – just eat gently and normally after a fast.
Can’t I just reduce calories – isn’t that the same as fasting?
Actually not. Fasting is reducing the time you eat and calorie reduction is deciding what to eat and when. They are really two different decisions and issues, not to be confused. Yes, sure, fasting does reduce calorie intake but it has benefits to your body that reducing calories does not offer.
People also ask, “How do I get started with a fast?” but it really is so easy – look at these steps that you can follow:
- You need to decide which type of fast you want to embark – decide on how long you are going too fast for.
- Then you just start – if you aren’t feeling well on the day you start, or you have any medical concerns, you should seek help and advice from your medical doctor.
- You may also continue with your usual way of life whilst fasting; it is best to keep busy
- Remember when you to break your fast, do it gently
Fasting is not “dieting” in the conventional methods. You could more describe it as an eating pattern. When you really get down to thinking about fasting, you have to realize that it came about because the ancient people did not have grocery stores to buy food or refrigerators to store food. Often they had to function without food for extended periods of time. In fact, the Bushmen people of Southern Africa still follow that ancient way of living to this day. They often endure long walking stretches or even running to find food, carrying it on their backs to their abodes. You never really see “obese” Bushmen because their bodies are “ripped”, lean, and in the right proportions. Their constrained lifestyle does not stimulate the massive muscle growth sought after by people today, beyond what the body requires. Their energy goes towards maintaining their strength, their endurance, and their tenacity.
It’s that simple
A real major benefit of intermittent fasting is that if you are a healthy eater and watch your diet and weight, it makes your healthy eating lifestyle even simpler – fewer meals to prepare and cooking and cleaning up afterward.
Most intermittent fasting plans don’t tell you what to eat; they rather tell you when to eat, making them very customizable. So if you want to eat a high-protein diet, then you can and if you want to eat a moderate-carbohydrate plan, you can do that too. Maybe you want to rather go for eating less processed food, which you can do too. It doesn’t mean to say that it doesn’t matter what you eat. Naturally, common sense will tell you that it is a good practice to get good nutrients into your body and this should really be your practice when you are involved in an intermittent fasting pattern.
Some of the different types of intermittent fasting have had research studies aimed particularly at them, whereas others lack scientific support – this also doesn’t mean to say that the less-studied concepts are useless – it’s simply too early to say.
When all is said and done regarding intermittent fasting, the fact is that in this instance there isn’t a one size fits all solution here. The best diet for you is the one you can stick to and which benefits you and your health in the long run. Intermittent fasting certainly is ideal for some people, whilst not for others. Find out for yourself whether it suits you or not – but it sure seems to have had its benefits on those who lived in ancient times.
Don’t gain weight by ‘snackcident’ – by not worrying about overeating and eating the wrong foods. Give your body a break – it deserves to be looked after to the best of your ability so that you can reap the benefits that intermittent fasting brings – try it yourself – it is certainly is a powerful tool for healing and vibrant healthy living.