Successful diets are not solely focused on calorie restricting and eliminating foods. They can involve timed eating windows and/or daily eating cycles. This is better known as intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting can offer many health benefits. If not more than traditional dieting methods. It can aid weight loss, control diabetes and prevent health conditions. It has taken time for people to catch on. More people are now, more than ever, trying to diet due to its abundance of impressive results from scientific studies.
Intermittent fasting is now the number one fasting technique. In 2019 it was the top dieting method searched on Google. Since 2010, it has popularised in the Google search engine by over 10,000 per cent. Exceeding other popular and more traditional calorie restricting diets.
Find out more about why it’s so popular, how it works and the numerous health benefits it offers:
- What is Intermittent Fasting?
- History of Intermittent Fasting
- The 14 Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
- 1 – Weight Loss
- 2 – Anti-inflammatory properties
- 3 – Slows down aging
- 4 – Increases fat burning
- 5 – Possible reversal of type 2 diabetes
- 6 – Improved mental concentration
- 7 – Increases brain function and health
- 8 – Increased energy
- 9 – Activation of autophagy
- 10 – Helps improve heart health
- 11 – May prevent high risks of cancer
- 12 – Increases growth hormones
- 13 – Improves gut health
- 14 – Extends lifespan
- Side Effects and Risks of Intermittent Fasting
- Tips To Maximise the Health Benefits
- Advice to Avoid
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a dieting technique. It is often abbreviated to IF. It involves meal timing cycles and schedules which restrict energy. As opposed to restricting food and calories.
Many people assume that fasting is starvation. That assumption is incorrect. Starvation is an involuntary uncontrolled period without food. Whereas fasting is voluntary and controlled. Fasting, especially intermittent fasting, is for health, religious and spiritual reasons.
Eating cycles involve fasting for a period of time and fasting for the rest. These periods can be aligned to a person’s lifestyle, dietary requirements or health conditions. There are many intermittent fasting techniques, which allows everyone to have at least one that could work for them.
The most popular intermittent fasting method is 16:8. This is a schedule that involves 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating. Those hours can be down to preference. Other timed intermittent fasting similar to this include 12:12 and 14:10. The first number always indicates the hours you fast for. During fasting a person must not consume any food or calories. Calorie free drinks are allowed such as water, black coffee and tea.
Other methods include alternate day fasting. This is where a person fasts for 24 hours every other day or two days. For the other days a healthy nutritious diet should be consumed.
Another intermittent fasting method is 5:2. This involves eating healthy nutritious non-calorie restricting 5 days a week. The other 2 days a person should consume 600 calories or less.
The no fasting days diet involves no calorie or food limitations. A person should sustain nutritious balanced meals to ensure you do not overeat and reverse weight loss results. Additionally, balanced meals should include all essential nutrients and vitamins. This helps a person attain all key nutrients for a well functioning body.
Each technique offers different health benefits. This is due to longer fasting periods offering more and/or different health benefits to shorter ones.
Faster longer periods can result in autophagy. This is a state a body reaches after fasting which allows the body to remove dysfunctional cells. When the body goes through autophagy, more health benefits can occur here. Yet, this article is about intermittent fasting.
Thus, let’s discuss its history and more:
History of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is assumed to be a new dieting technique. Although its health benefits have only recently been discovered, fasting has been around for centuries. Fasting dates back to as early as to the Middle Ages.
Throughout its early years, it was solely used for religious practice. Then, throughout war times and pandemics it was used to help with rationing and plagues. It was used to help people limit food and ensure supplies did not run out.
Now, it is still used for religious purposes. But, it is also used as a dieting technique by millions across the world. Once people saw real results from studies, the demand for information and guides increased rapidly.
Non-religious people that use intermittent fasting for its health benefits use it for weight loss, to improve gut health, reduce heart conditions and much more.
Although intermittent fasting is essentially nothing new, it is now used more than ever. Let’s find out more about the health benefits of intermittent fasting:
The 14 Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is typically associated with weight loss. But, it offers more than just that. Fasting can improve your overall health as much as it can aid weight loss.
The modern diet industry is now crowded with new methods for losing weight and body fat. Yet, there are only a select few that people stick to. This is usually because of the various other health benefits they offer. Also, there are only several diets that actually work and can be sustainable.
Diets are now often used as a lifestyle rather than just a weight loss tool. Intermittent fasting being a method many intervene with their current eating habit and lifestyle. The fasting methods involved with intermittent fasting can offer 14 incredible health benefits:
1 – Weight Loss
Intermittent fasting is primarily used to aid weight loss. The eating cycles allow people to control their appetite, eat less each day and track their eating habits better.
Generally, fasting helps people eat less meals because of the small eating window. Eating during a specific time period mixed with fasting successfully, increases metabolic rate. One study found that fasting can increase metabolism by up to 14%. Metabolism increases more with frequent fasting.
Because of a quicker metabolism, intermittent fasting increases the leptin hormone. This hormone facilitates weight loss and increases due to the change in eating habit.
Overall, intermittent fasting enhances metabolism which helps burn calories quicker. Then, it controls your eating which makes you consume less calories. Combined, this encourages quicker and sustainable weight loss.
2 – Anti-inflammatory properties
Studies show that intermittent fasting can help fight inflammation, which is a key instigator of common health conditions. This includes asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and autoimmune diseases.
The reason for IF promoting anti-inflammation is due to several factors. Intermittent fasters often drink more water, especially to control hunger during fasting periods. Hydration aids anti-inflammation and helps fight off free radicals that cause the inflammation.
Eating less, losing weight and controlling your appetite are also key for reducing inflammation.
Anti-inflammatory benefits are often increased in overweight individuals, studies suggest. This is because those who are overweight or obese see more changes to their hormones when switching to a restrictive diet. The bigger change in diet will result in bigger and more obvious health changes.
3 – Slows down aging
Similar to anti-inflammation, fasting promotes reducing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a key driver of aging. New research found that fasting increases a molecule which slows the aging of arteries and skin.
Fasting produces beta-hydroxybutyrate, which is a ketone that encourages multiplication of youthful cells. It does this during fasting when glucose storage runs out and ketosis begins.
This multiplication overrides old cells and replaces them with youth cells. The increase of the beta-hydroxybutyrate ketones can therefore delay both vascular and cellular aging.
4 – Increases fat burning
As much as people look for diet techniques to help them lose weight, fat burning is also essential for some.
During weight loss control studies, scientists found that fasting also enhances fat burning. Especially around the waist.
Scientists were aware of the ketosis process where the body burns fat after a certain period of time without food. Yet, there is new found evidence that shows belly fat can reduce by up to 7%, or sometimes more, during fasting.
An eight week fasting study on 34 average weighted males saw a higher decrease in body fat than those on a normal diet. Men find fat mass to reduce on their arms and thighs. Whereas for women, fat mass typically decreases around the waist. The difference in fat mass placement is due to gender hormones.
5 – Possible reversal of type 2 diabetes
Evidence shows that IF can help with insulin resistance and sensitivity. The food control which is encouraged by fasting helps to reduce blood sugar levels, which is helpful for controlling insulin. More evidence suggests that intermittent fasting may be able to reverse actually developing the diseases.
One study involved type 2 diabetic patients using fasting as a therapeutic technique for reducing insulin resistance as opposed to medication. The results demonstrated that fasting can be as effective as medication. Fasting helps control blood sugar levels, which helps control and improve insulin complications that diabetic patients suffer with. Thus, suggesting that fasting may lower the risk of developing diabetes.
This study also resulted in these patients losing weight, reducing their waist circumference and improving their blood sugar levels.
6 – Improved mental concentration
Often, a spike in blood sugar levels can cause concentration to deteriorate. But when done right, fasting can control or reduce blood sugar levels. Many people claim that their mental clarity and concentration is better during fasting.
Studies found that during fasting our brain produces more brain hormones which are good for mental functioning. This hormone is a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). An increase in BDNF helps improve focus and mental flexibility.
Scientists review BDNF as an essential protein for improved mental health and concentration. A low count of BDNF is associated with depression and poor brain health.
7 – Increases brain function and health
There is more to brain function than mental health and concentration. Improved cognitive, memory and learning functioning is essential for good brain health.
Studies display how intermittent fasting improves metabolic processes which aid better brain functioning. The timed eating restrictions encourage new cells to produce more regularly and induce BDNF expression.
Intermittent fasting helps the brain reproduce cells and remove old cells. This improves overall brain health. Better brain functioning helps better memory, learning ability and cognitive functions.
8 – Increased energy
Many studies share the efficacy fasting has on energy endurance.
One study in particular focused on 32 healthy males to discover the effect fasting has on their energy levels. 31 males completed the study and all saw significant improvements to their total mood. All found themselves more motivated with improved vigor. All saw reductions in weight and fat mass.
An increase in energy also comes from the ketosis process. When the body starts to burn fat instead of glucose, it provides both the brain and the body with energy. This blood-brain barrier is not something that occurs without ketosis. Thus, when ketosis begins, the brain will signal more energy to the body.
Increased energy coincides with the increase in human growth hormones. HGH enhances energy also.
9 – Activation of autophagy
When the body fasts and goes without food for an extended period of time, it begins a waste removal process. This is better known as autophagy, which we touched on briefly earlier.
Autophagy is a cellular process where the body removes old cells and replaces them with new healthier cells. Replacing old cells with new ones help the body fight disease and cancers.
Studies show that the autophagy process begins with long term fasting over short term fasting. Autophagy can only begin when glucose and insulin levels are low. It is a healthy process for cells and tissue to repair.
The study suggests that autophagy begins after 24 hours of calorie restrictions. It can increase with exercise during periods of fasting.
10 – Helps improve heart health
With heart disease being the number one cause of death worldwide, it is important to find ways to reduce the numbers and ultimately lower the risk of heart conditions.
Intermittent fasting has been studied for various heart health benefits. Fasting has been shown to lower blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation, as mentioned previously. Yet, there are many other factors fasting can improve.
Studies display that intermittent fasting methods can lower blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol and LDL. All of which are key drivers of heart conditions such as strokes, heart attacks, cardiovascular disease and cholesterol. Reducing these factors can lower the risk of heart disease and improve heart health.
11 – May prevent high risks of cancer
The main risk factor of cancer is the growth of tumours. Managing to reduce or treat tumours is a breakthrough for preventing cancer.
Intermittent fasting has been studied for its effect on reducing tumour and limiting their growth. Results found that fasting cycles can not only reduce tumours, but also aid in the same way chemotherapy can.
Evidence does not yet verify which cancers intermittent fasting can prevent or reduce the risk of. However, these are results which signal fasting can have great significance for cancer treatment.
12 – Increases growth hormones
Fasting enhances the growth of hormones. During fasting, human growth hormones (HGH) increase exponentially. Research demonstrates how the process of excelled hormone secretion contributes to numerous health benefits such as cellular repair, fat burning and increased metabolism. It can also aid weight loss and improve muscle growth and strength.
One study shows that HGH can increase by up to 300% after 3 days of fasting. Then after 7 days, it can increase by up to 1250%. Thus, demonstrating how effective fasting can be for the human growth hormones.
13 – Improves gut health
As intermittent fasting can decrease blood pressure, reduce inflammation and encourage fat burning, these are all indicators for improved gut health.
Low blood pressure and reducing inflammation is key for maintaining a healthy gut. Along with the right foods, the microbes in the gut enhance immune intolerances and tissue repair. Fasting rids the body of unwanted cells and old proteins, which flushes away the bad stuff and makes room for the good stuff.
Drinking lots of water during fasting enhances this benefit. Hydration helps flush away dysfunctional cells and clears the gut of bad bacteria. Studies suggest that water fasts are the most effective for improving gut health and increasing gut microbiome resistance.
14 – Extends lifespan
With the abundance of health improving, disease reducing benefits fasting offers, there is much to say that it could extend lifespan. If fasting can limit disease, help treat conditions and slow down the aging process, there’s no reason that it cannot improve life longevity.
Studies showed that fasting can increase lifespan by up to 83% over diets that do not involve fasting.
So far these tests have only been complete on laboratory rats. However, this does signal encouraging effects for the ability to extend human lifespan.
With these health benefits in mind, let’s discuss the risks intermittent fasting may induce:
Side Effects and Risks of Intermittent Fasting
Although there are health benefits for everyone to enjoy, this does not mean intermittent fasting can help everyone. Fasting methods, like any dieting technique, are not suitable or achievable for all people.
Intermittent fasting can induce a few mild side effects:
- Slow reactions
If any of these side effects occur, it is normal. But, if they persist and do not decrease after a day or two, it is best to stop the fasting method you have chosen and consult your doctor. There may be underlying health issues.
Fasting in general is not suitable for everyone. It depends on their person’s current lifestyle and health conditions. Anyone with underlying health conditions or concerns should avoid fasting and not start without consulting a professional. Intermittent fasting can pose risks for a number of people:
- Diabetic patients
- Anyone with a current or past eating disorder
- Low blood pressure
- Underweight individuals
- Women trying to get pregnant
- Women with current or past amenorrhea
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women
If you wish to try fasting but have any of the above concerns, you should consult a doctor first. Fasting can cause severe impact to your health and in some cases, worsen your current condition.
For those who do wish to try intermittent fasting, there are a few tips that can help maximise the benefits and results:
Tips To Maximise the Health Benefits
If you want to maximise the health benefits intermittent fasting has to offer, there are a few things to know. These tips are typically for the lifestyle health benefits such as weight loss, fat burning, concentration, autophagy and energy. Integrating all tips into your fasting routine will help you achieve the most out of fasting:
- Exercise whilst fasting: for maximum weight loss and fat burning results, exercise will help excel this. Exercise will be better improved due to higher energy levels that fasting offers. Use this energy to exercise regularly. Not only will it increase weight loss and fat burning for the short term, it will encourage your metabolism to speed up which is a longer term benefit.
- Avoid snacking and stick to nutritious meals: if you want to utilise your eating window to maximise results, the best advice is to avoid snacking. Substitute snacking for healthy nutritious meals. Meals that include all essential nutrients and vitamins will maximise your overall health and encourage you to lose weight quicker.
- Have your eating window earlier: try to avoid eating late at night if it suits your lifestyle routine. Eating late will impact your results slightly. Your digestive system has to work extra hard over night if you eat just before bed. This is because your metabolism slows down due to lack of movement. Try eating between 9/10am to 5/6pm. This will allow your body to rest overnight.
To maximise the benefits fasting offers, try using these tips during periods of fasting. Although it may not suit your current lifestyle, eating earlier and regular exercise will excel results.
Whilst there is plenty of advice to abide by to sustain fasting as a lifestyle and get the most out of it, there are a few myths you should avoid:
Advice to Avoid
There are many myths to be aware of to understand what it is and is not true. Like any dieting technique, there are many myths surrounding intermittent fasting:
MYTH 1: You can eat as much as you want.
This is the number one myth many people believe is true. It is far from the truth.
Intermittent fasting is like any other diet.
Meals should be satisfying yet healthy. During eating windows, you should eat balanced meals. These meals should include limited carbs and saturated fats. Overeating is counterproductive and is not the way to fast.
MYTH 2: Fasting for weight loss is better than other diets.
Intermittent fasting can encourage weight loss. Yet, it is not the only diet that helps a person lose weight. There is no evidence to suggest that fasting is better than other dieting methods.
MYTH 3: Fasting increases hunger.
When a person begins fasting, hunger will occur. But, overtime the body adjusts due to the release of the cortisol hormone. This hormone helps control appetite and curb hunger. The release of cortisol increases during fasting.
Hunger will decrease if a person eats enough protein and healthy fats. This is because these foods digest slower and can be a source of energy for longer.
MYTH 4: You’re going to lose weight no matter what.
Fasting should be strict to be successful and beneficial. If a person does not stick to the fasting windows or eats unhealthy meals, weight loss may not occur.
It is a common misconception for people to believe fasting is the key to weight loss success. If you eat balanced meals and exercise, weight loss will improve.
MYTH 5: Fasting is better than snacking for weight loss.
It is important to know that intermittent fasting and snacking are different. Neither is better for weight loss than the other. Fasting is healthier and more sustainable. But, each involves decreasing calorie intake which results in weight loss.
Calorie deficit is the key to success for weight loss. No matter if you are eating less meals or less food, both involve a calorie deficit. This means both can result in weight loss.
With those tips, there may be more queries you have. If so, find below the answers to the most frequently asked questions about intermittent fasting:
Can you drink during intermittent fasting?
Yes, you can drink during fasting. You should only consume calorie and sugar free drinks. This includes water, black coffee and black tea. Hydration is key to control hunger and also maximise the health benefits,
Is intermittent fasting healthy?
Intermittent fasting is healthy and comes with limited side effects and risks. So long as you choose to eat healthy balanced meals during eating windows and ensure you get the right nutrients. Avoid overeating and consuming too many carbs and saturated fats during eating windows as it can decrease the health benefits.
Can I drink lemon water whilst intermittent fasting?
Lemon water is fine to drink whilst fasting. Lemon water is actually beneficial as it can aid better digestion for when you break your fast. It is also a great option for anyone who struggles to drink enough water.
What are the negatives of intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting only comes with very limited risks and mild side effects. Some people with certain health conditions should avoid fasting. This can be frustrating if they wish to try it to attain the health benefits.
Then, the other negatives include the mild side effects such as fatigue, weakness and hunger. Yet, these are typical of any diet and are simply due to the change in eating routine.
Does intermittent fasting work with exercise?
Exercising is highly encouraged during fasting. When the body is fasting, exercise can promote increased fat burning as the body will be in a state of ketosis where it is burning only fat.
With those FAQs and summary of the top concerns about intermittent fasting, let’s share our final thoughts:
To maximise your intermittent fasting health benefits there are a few things we can suggest. Keeping track of your routine with a journal can help you see progress and encourage you to exercise, avoid snacking and eating at appropriate times. It can also encourage you to make a habit or lifestyle of fasting.
It also helps to be mindful when fasting. Take time to exercise and energise your body to help you stay active and on track with the food cycles. This can maximise benefits, prevent weight gain and control your food consumption.
Make your intermittent fasting routine personal to you. This will help you be active and maintain fasting as a lifestyle. It offers so many health benefits that can be beneficial for a lifetime. If you are safe to fast, it is definitely worth partaking in intermittent fasting to reap its incredible health benefits.
If you have any more concerns or feedback, please do share them with us.