While almost every diet and nutritional program focuses on “what” you should eat, intermittent fasting primarily focuses on “when” you should eat. That is, with this program, you only eat during a specific period of time during the day. The remainder of the day is your fasting period. Due to the fact it focuses on “when” and not “what”, intermitted fasting is more of an eating pattern than a diet itself.
Before beginning an intermittent fasting program and deciding on which structure makes the most sense for you, it is important to speak with your physician.
Eating & Fasting Windows
There are multiple ways to create an intermittent fasting program. One of the most popular regimens is the 16/8 fasting window. This program indicates that an individual would consume their food only during the specified eight-hour window, while fasting for the complete remainder. This plan typically is one of the easier regimens to follow as the pattern each day is the same and it is easier to stay on track with your window timeframes. There are programs with longer periods of fasting such as 24, 26, and 72 hours however, these can be more dangerous and may have some adverse effects. Another popular method is the 5:2 approach. With this regimen, an individual would eat regularly for five days, and be restricted to one low calorie meal per day for the two remaining days.
It is important to note that it can take a few weeks for your body to adjust to these new patterns of eating and so feelings of hunger and agitation can be quite normal in those early weeks of the plan’s adoption.
What Can You Eat?
One of the common misconceptions is that during the fasting periods you must stay abstinent from everything however, this is untrue. While fasting, you are still permitted to have low-calorie beverages such as water, tea, and coffee.
On the flip side, your eating window does mean it’s time to pig out and eat everything. The food you’re consuming should still be healthy and nutritious options. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your food and have to be ultra restricted however, you want to be mindful of your ultimate goals and eating accordingly.
What are the Benefits?
There have been countless studies done to investigate the effectiveness of intermittent fasting and its potential benefits. Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Mark Mattson, PhD., illustrated many of these benefits in “Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease” in which he states research has revealed improvements in:
- Thinking and memory
- Heart health
- Physical performance
- Diabetes and obesity
- Tissue health
One of the biggest reasons people decide to give intermittent fasting a try is weight loss. With its structured periods of fasting, you are naturally reducing your caloric intake. Along with this, studies show that it can also alter your hormone levels to facilitate weight loss, and the release of fat burning hormones norepinephrine. Some of the effects on hormones also include lowered insulin levels and increased growth hormone levels, which in turn have been shown to increase your metabolic rate by 3.6-14%. Another advantage of intermittent fasting when compared to other dietary restrictive plans is that it has been shown to cause less muscle loss when in a caloric deficit.
It is important to note that intermittent fasting can have many different effects on different people, and it is not for everyone. It can however be a complete lifestyle change for the better and help you live a happier and healthier lifestyle.