Intermittent Fasting is an age-old concept that has been handed down to us even as we evolved as humans. As hunter-gatherers when food was likely not available around the year and without the provision to grow or store food for long stretches of time, Intermittent Fasting was a necessary means for survival. Look at the major religions of the world – Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam – all of them incorporate Intermittent Fasting as an essential religious exercise. Even today we practice Intermittent Fasting without realizing it when we ‘break our fast’ at ‘breakfast’ time every morning.
Lately, Intermittent Fasting (IF) has gained widespread popularity amongst the health-conscious lot. And there are extensive benefits to the practice. As a health coach and mentor, I have experienced dramatic and awe-inspiring transformations in some of my clients who have undertaken Intermittent Fasting under my guidance. From controlled weight loss to greater vitality and enhanced longevity, there is immense value. Simultaneously there are things to consider. Intermittent Fasting may not be the best solution for everybody. And following it as a fad without working out the specifics, or simply because others at the gym are doing it or without first engaging a health professional whom you trust, may cause your body some serious damage.
This is why, in this post I draw an outline that introduces IF as a program in a scientific manner, keeping the myths aside. I highlight the nutritional and health benefits as well as some of the challenges. I convey the key concepts that will accelerate your learning and will help you in bringing in some of the changes to your own lives.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is different from dieting. It refers to the cycles where there are alternating periods of fasting and non-fasting. The focus is on ‘when’ to eat rather than ‘what’ to eat.
Who should not practice Intermittent Fasting?
While there are abundant benefits to Intermittent Fasting, it is not recommended for everyone. Hunger and fatigue are some of the unwholesome side effects that are usually temporary. If you are underweight, suffer from eating disorders or have diabetes or heart disease, you must consult with a health professional or coach before undertaking IF. Further, IF has been known to impact some women and disrupt their monthly menstrual cycles completely. It is therefore wise to be cautious and take the time and initiative to understand your body before commencing on the IF journey.
What are some popular methods?
Here are some of the more popular, tried and tested methods that you could follow. A number of these methods are too drastic and do not work for me personally. Again, I would strongly advise against trying them out on yourself without proper initiation and supervision.
The Leangains Method: This model of daily Intermittent Fasting was popularized by Martin Berkhan of Leangains.com. It stipulates a 16-hour long fasting period, followed by an 8-hour long non-fasting period in which to restrict the daily eating. For this reason, it is also known as the 16/8 method.
The Eat-Stop-Eat Method: This method requires you to fast for 24-hour long stretches once or twice every week. Although you can decide when it is recommended that the periods of fasting be between dinner on one day to dinner on the next day.
The 5:2 Plan: Pick out any two non-consecutive days of the week. Consume 500-600 calories worth of food on each of these days. On the rest of the days of the week, you are free to eat normally.
Alternate Day Fasting: This method requires discipline, will and mindfulness, and is not recommended for beginners. By alternating fasting and non-fasting days of the week and limiting the consumption of calories on fasting days, we bring about a change in our eating pattern.
The Warrior Diet: This method involves eating nothing apart from small amounts of fruits and vegetables during the day, and then feasting on a huge meal during the night. The diet involved in this method focuses on unprocessed whole foods that enhance our nutritional intake.
While all these methods are time-sensitive and focus solely on the time frames within which one should fast and eat, and sometimes the type of food one should consume, it is critical to not binge eat or over-eat during the non-fasting periods. It is also important that you intake a good amount of fluids and water to complement your efforts.
What are the benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent Fasting comes packed with a whole bunch of benefits that research has confirmed and studies have documented.
1. There are a number of changes that occur at a cellular and molecular level when you fast. Your cells shed the old, bad and dysfunctional proteins, there are changes in the hormonal levels, the body initiates repair processes, and there are significant changes in the gene expression that activate the body’s immunity against diseases.
2. The level of insulin drops and the stored fat in the body is made accessible. IF also triggers healthy weight loss.
3. IF is known to reduce LDL cholesterol, blood sugar and triglycerides. There is a reduction in the markers of inflammation.
4. IF can enhance longevity, lower mortality and extend the lifespan. There is an improvement in brain health as well, where IF may prompt the growth of new nerve cells and increase the production of a brain hormone – BNDF.
Like many things in life, Intermittent Fasting too requires that we take a step back and contemplate how it brings balance and moderation to our lives. We check with our bodies and listen to what it is saying. And our focus on health remains holistic.