Updated: Feb 14
Intermittent fasting is currently one of the most popular health and fitness trends globally. Many people have become interested in it as a way to lose weight, simplify their lifestyles, or generally improve their healthspan. Many studies have shown that intermittent fasting can have positive effects on the body.
In this blog post, I'll discuss the basics of intermittent fasting: how to do it, what happens to your body when you do it, and the science behind the trend.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (also known as IF) is simply a cyclical eating pattern that shifts between periods of eating and fasting. You could describe intermittent fasting as an eating pattern rather than a diet, as it doesn't specify which foods you should eat. Instead, IF focuses on when you should eat.
Humans have practiced fasting throughout evolution. After all, ancient hunters and gatherers did not have access to food all day long, or year-round. As a result, humans developed to go long periods without food.
Reasons People Practice Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is so definitely more than just a health trend, even though the most common reason that people practice IF is for weight loss. With fewer meals and less time during the day to consume meals and snacks, IF can often result in an automatic reduction in your calorie intake.
But many purposes drive the desire to fast other than losing weight, and these might include developing spiritual strength, religious reasons, or self-mastery. In fact, most religious traditions incorporate fasting as part of their yearly cycle (think of Ramadan in the Muslim faith, or Yom Kippur in Judaism). One theory as to why it’s so prevalent in religion is that fasting might help focus one’s mental and spiritual clarity.
It's important to note that fasting should not be about deprivation but what we gain from the process. For some people, it's growing spiritually, and for others, it's all about the health benefits.
What Happens When You Fast Intermittently?
In short, fasting cleanses the body and forces our cells to use other means of energy production other than glucose, as we are not providing a constant fuel stream. The body will begin the process of gluconeogenesis, which is the name for the natural method of producing its own sugar.
Your liver will help, turning materials like amino acids, lactate, and fats into usable energy. This makes our basal metabolic rate, or the calories we burn during rest, more efficient and potentially lowers your heart rate and blood pressure.
Later on, in the fasting cycle, your body will enter ketosis. Ketosis happens when the body begins to burn stored fat as a primary source of power, and it's ideal for weight loss and balancing blood sugar.
The Science Behind Intermittent Fasting
Available research shows that intermittent fasting does more than burn fat. A range of health benefits come with practicing regular IF, including longer life, a sharper mind, and a leaner body.
Many things happen to the body during regular intermittent fasting that has the potential to protect your organs from chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, age-related neurodegenerative disorders, certain cancers, and IBS. Intermittent fasting can make a significant positive difference in many lives, from thinking and memory to heart health and physical performance.
The Methods of Intermittent Fasting
There are various ways to practice intermittent fasting, and your primary care or integrative health physician can help you figure out which method will work best for you. These include:
The idea behind the 5:2 method is that you'll eat normally for five days and then restrict your calories to 500 (for women) or 600 (for men) the other two days. This method is a fantastic way to stay compliant with your fasting, as you don't have to cut calories every day.
Possibly one of the easiest ways to fast while still experiencing mild cellular benefits, overnight fasting asks that you stop eating for 12 hours, most of which you will spend sleeping.
When you choose alternate day fasting, you'll eat as you usually would on one day, but the next, cut your calories to 25% of your typical intake.
During a water fast, you'll consume nothing other than water. Before you begin this fast, you'll want to ensure you're healthy enough to do so. Water fasts can last anywhere from 24 hours to three days.
Whole Day Fasting
With whole day fasting, you'll fast for 24 hours, typically eating dinner one night and then not eating again until dinner the next night. This fast is challenging, as you'll have to consume an entire days' worth of calories in one sitting.
Trying Intermittent Fasting
If you're new to IF but want to try it, consulting a physician is the key to success. First, you'll have to make sure fasting is something your body can handle. Second, you need to find the right type of fasting for you. We can easily tailor IF to fit many lifestyles, so if you’re interested please feel free to sign up for a free, 15-minute consultation.