Throughout history, many periods are documented as utilising the practice of fasting for various reasons. In fact, intermittent fasting has been used by virtually every religion and culture on earth.
If we look far back into history, to the Paleolithic era, intermittent fasting was naturally a regular occurrence due to seasonal changes and availability of food supply. Life was very much about feast and famine, as our ancestors most certainly did not have access to grocery stores, fridges or microwaves. Ancient tribes, therefore, ate when food was available and fasted when it was in short supply.
Interestingly, our bodies are still very capable of fasting when necessary. Proof of this is that we naturally store fat as fuel for ‘just in case’ we face a famine. In Western society, this is obviously not likely but think of it as a throwback to when we were ‘cavemen.’
Is intermittent fasting an effective and underutilised weight loss technique? Or is it just another health fad?
What Exactly is Intermittent Fasting?
The name is quite self-explanatory. Intermittent fasting is a pre-determined period, in-between regular meals in which you make the decision not to eat.
The rules are not hard and fast, and there are a few different varieties of intermittent fasting. Some people fast intermittently on a daily basis by only eating once or twice per day, and others may fast for entire days in-between days in which they do eat.
Is intermittent fasting a fad? By its definition, the answer is no as there is no cutting out of food groups or incorporating strange health foods into your diet. It is simply a way of structuring time periods in which you eat, and other times in which you are fasting. Additionally, intermittent fasting does require calorie counting. Instead, weight loss is said to happen naturally as you take in less food over a period.
Of course, as with any health practice, there are advantages and disadvantages involved:
Advantages of Intermittent Fasting
- Intermittent fasting assists with fat loss and decreased belly fat (2)
- Intermittent fasting can reduce insulin resistance and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Intermittent fasting may be associated with decreased neuroinflammation (inflammation in the brain)
- Intermittent fasting is highly beneficial for cardiovascular health (3)
- Intermittent fasting can reduce overall inflammation in the body (4)
- Intermittent fasting may help you live longer (5)
Disadvantages of Intermittent Fasting
- Psychologically speaking some people might be able to handle fasting, in some cases fasting leading to serious binges after the fast is over (6)
- Not appropriate for highly active lifestyles or professions
- Not suitable for individuals with diabetes
- Can initially result in undesirable symptoms such as bad breath, low energy, and headaches
So how Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
The good news is that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the practice of intermittent fasting.
Here are a few guidelines to get you started:
- Choose a time frame: Daily intermittent fasting/ weekly 24-hour fasting/ weekly 36-hour fasting
- Choose an appropriate time to start a fast, around a holiday is not a good idea
- Ensure that you get adequate amounts of sleep especially before you begin a fast
- Make sure you stay well hydrated with water, herbal teas, and even black coffee if you need
- Remember that you do not need to launch straight into a full blown 24 hour fast, there is nothing wrong with easing into this lifestyle by gradually increasing the hours you choose to fast.
Example of Intermittent Daily Fasting
Eat dinner, and do not eat again before you go to sleep
On the day:
Wake up and have black coffee, and some water
Continue your day, as you would, do not eat until much later such as 2 pm.
Example of a 24 hour fast
Eat your last meal at 5.30pm, fast until bedtime and throughout the night.
On the day:
6 am: Wake up and have black coffee, and some water
Continue your day, as you would, do not eat.
6 pm: Eat dinner as you normally would
Repeat once or twice per week as desired.
It’s good to know before hand that intermittent fasting is far from being a walk in the park in the beginning, and you will more than likely experience discomfort. If you can prepare yourself by keeping busy and hydrated, you can teach yourself to get used to the feelings of hunger. What is important is making sure you have a consistent routine so that your body will get used to when it will be fed again.
Can I exercise during Intermittent Fasting?
It is easy to assume that it would be difficult to take part in exercise whilst fasting.
If you think about it, intermittent fasting is no different from delaying eating breakfast after you wake up. Many of us naturally fast for 12-14 hours by eating dinner at a reasonable time, going to sleep, and then not eating breakfast until a bit later the following day.
Should you try Intermittent Fasting?
The only way to find out whether intermittent fasting will work for you is to try it. Start slowly by fasting for a couple of hours at a time. It will give you an indication if it feels good for you and it cannot do you any harm.
It certainly isn’t for everyone, and if you have any health concerns, it is best to consult with your doctor before trying it.