“Intermittent fasting” may seem like a newfangled term to young people today, and you may have heard of it only recently in relation to health, fitness, dieting, and weight loss methods. However, the fact of the matter is that the method of fasting and even the science of calorie restriction are nothing new.
Centuries prior to where we are now, people didn’t have the technology to keep food for very long, and thus had to cycle between periods of eating and not eating. In addition, humans have practiced fasting for ritual, as well as health-related purposes, since the ancient times. For example, during the month of Ramadan, Muslims practice fasting from dawn to dusk every day. In their religious tradition, fasting is part of the process of “cleansing” the soul, and after the daily hours spent fasting, a delicious meal is to be shared among loved ones. People from other religions observe fasting rituals as well, and these include those belonging to the Bahá’í Faith and those who practice Hinduism and Christianity.
Not surprisingly, something similar could be applied to your daily health and fitness regimen. Intermittent fasting need not be looked at as a passing fad for quick weight loss. Rather than a “diet” per se, intermittent fasting is considered by many as an eating pattern—one that can limit your daily food intake in a healthy manner without depriving you of much-needed nutrients.
Interested in learning about how intermittent fasting works, how it could help you lose weight, and how to easily adapt to the discipline of fasting? Here’s everything a guy needs to know, including a set of FAQs containing some of the most common questions on intermittent fasting.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
The “intermittent” in intermittent fasting, or IF, means that the eating pattern is based on stopping or ceasing for a time, and then beginning again. In other words, intermittent fasting involves switching between periods of fasting and eating.
The “fasting” part refers to the period of voluntary food restriction. Outside of a religious context, fasting may involve consuming all the day’s calories within one short time window, or alternating days of drastically reduced calorie restriction (typically less than 25% of the energy a regular person would need) with days of normal or high-calorie restriction.
To be clear, intermittent fasting is NEITHER of the following:
- It is not a diet, which limits food intake to a particular selection of foods or restricts one from consuming certain foods. Intermittent fasting is a little less about choosing which food items to eat, and more about when to eat.
- It is not starvation, which by definition is the involuntary absence of food. Fasting involves control, and agency over which food items to consume and when to consume them.
These two notes are pretty important to the process. If you start doing intermittent fasting, you may feel a little freer and more empowered over your eating habits than, say, if you were forced to eat within a predictable (oftentimes downright boring) subset of foods. Those additional comforts to the psyche might be part of the reason why intermittent fasting appeals to a big crowd—and why participants in the fast don’t seem as miserable as their dieter counterparts.
The Science behind the Practice
Another good thing that intermittent fasting has going for it is widened interest among health practitioners and the scientific community. In 2005, an important study was released by the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry by Mattson and War measuring the health benefits of fasting on rodents. The results suggested that fasting improved biomarkers of disease and enhance learning and memory facilities, in addition to reducing the oxidative stress of the subjects.
Of great interest is the science behind fasting’s physiological benefits, and one of them has to do with stress. Mattson and War’s study, titled “Beneficial Effects of Intermittent Fasting and Caloric Restriction on the Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Systems,” posited that fasting incites mild stress for the cells in the body. In this context, “stress” is not actually a bad thing—after all, stress is also what the human body experiences when one does taxing exercises like cardio workouts. The researchers of this study deduced a similarity between the stress of intermittent fasting and the stress of vigorous exercise, saying that the cells respond in the same way. As long as the body is given enough time to recover, it will likely grow stronger.
Mattson, who is a member of the US National Institutes of Health’s own National Institute of Aging, enjoined the rest of the scientific community to push for further well-controlled research on human test subjects, and across a range of body mass indexes (BMIs). And luckily, a study conducted by Patterson and Sears was released in the Annual Review of Nutrition in August of 2017. Patterson and Sears’ research confirmed the improvements in biomarkers for diseases and concluded that intermittent fasting may be a viable method to improve human health.
The caveat is that research on intermittent fasting has yet to grow; future research must include larger sample sizes of human subjects, more diverse test groups involving individuals with varied responses to fasting interventions, and sufficient follow-up after studies are conducted. But it’s safe to say that that the science behind the practice of intermittent fasting isn’t a bunch of hooey—something we can’t say the same for other up-and-coming health fads.
The Unique Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
So, what exactly is the upside to intermittent fasting? What happens to your body on the cellular and molecular levels when you start going through this process?
The following improvements can be traced to intermittent fasting:
- Enhancement of growth hormone secretion. Intermittent fasting will oversee an increase of human growth hormone (HGH) levels as much as five times over. HGH is what compels your body to burn off its fat reserves instead of energy from glucose, and it will do this even in the fasting hours when you will be asleep.
- Increased insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels. Your body’s blood sugar and insulin levels will benefit greatly from intermittent fasting. On the one hand, your insulin sensitivity (or the responsiveness of your cells to insulin) will improve; on the other, the lower levels of insulin will make your body fat more accessible for burning.
- Instigation of cell repair processes. Fasting facilitates cellular repair processes such as autophagy, where cells “clean out” the old and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside of them.
- Resistance to harmful metabolic conditions. In a 2013 study released by Zhu, Yan, and Vassilopoulos for the Current Opinion in Oncology, there’s some evidence that fasting can counter against metabolic conditions that harm the body, as well as decrease the incidence of carcinogenesis (the formation of a cancerous tumor).
In other words, your weight loss from intermittent fasting will be caused by the reduction of calories, and the optimization of the body’s hormonal and cellular processes that have to do with weight control.
This a process that can be adapted by almost anyone, regardless of whether you’re overweight and out to shed a few pounds, or of a normal body type and wishing to look just a bit leaner.
What Are the Possible Methods for Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting constitutes more than one method. The following are the options that you can explore:
- Daily window fasting schedules. This method involves having a “window,” or a limited time period to consume the day’s calories before stopping. The most popular window among intermittent fasters is the 16:8 window, or eating for a period of 8 hours within the day and stopping for the next 16 (this may seem long, but this also includes the hours that you’re asleep).
- Skipping meals. Intermittent fasting could also involve skipping meals on the fasting day, such as breakfast or lunch.
- Fasting on alternate days. This is when you adopt an intermittent fasting method for some days (MWF, TThS, or whatever works best for you), and go by your regular habits of eating three square meals a day for the remaining days.
- Fasting two times a week with drastic reduction of calories. Intermittent fasting along this method may involve only consuming a total of 500-600 calories on two fasting days, and the normal amount of about 2500-3000 calories on the remaining days.
- 24-hour fasting, or Eat-Stop-Eat method. As the term implies, this method will involve eating a substantial meal and then fasting for 24 hours until it’s time for the next one—for example, eating your day’s meal at 6PM, and only eating again at 6PM the next day. Take note, this is a pretty difficult method to choose, and you’ll be able to survive it by consuming zero-calorie substances like water.
How Should One Prepare to Undergo Intermittent Fasting?
Though this practice is very adaptable, you need to do some physical and mental prep work before you try it out in earnest. Here are the things that you should have covered.
- Weigh yourself. Get your feet on that weighing scale, and take down your body weight before you start on intermittent fasting. You’ll be comparing this to any weight loss incurred in the succeeding weeks.
- Get a blood test. Go to the lab, and have some blood work done, just to get an accurate picture of what your blood sugar, high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good cholesterol”) levels, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, “bad cholesterol”) levels are like.
- Verify with your doctor. Get a checkup as soon as possible with your family doctor to ask if intermittent fasting will be wise, practical, and beneficial to your body. Fasting may not be advisable if you have certain medical conditions like diabetes, as it might destabilize your blood sugar. Don’t do anything drastic to your body without knowing if it will make things better or worse.
- Imagine the possible scenarios affecting your fasting regimen. The mental preps before intermittent fasting will involve noting down the factors that affect your eating habits, where you source food, and what events might change up your fasting routine. If you work in an office, take note of when you can open your baunan, or how it will take to buy food from an outside establishment. Also, calendar the events in which you know you’ll eat a lot more for. You’ll be “hangry” as hell if you’ll need to fast during a wedding or a Christmas party!.
- Do the planning. Before you go on your fast, make a meal plan for healthy, hearty baon that you can take anywhere, or fast-prep meals that you can assemble and consume immediately when you get home. You should also make a shopping list for the foods you’ll be eating over the week, which you can adjust according to your budget.
How to Keep Track of Progress
When it’s finally time to fast, here are the ways that you can track your daily, weekly, and monthly progress.
- Weigh yourself weekly or daily. Remember your base weight before you started fasting? Weigh yourself in the days or the weeks after, and note down how many pounds you might have cast away. Don’t get mad at yourself if you see small gains instead of losses, because you might be building up muscle as well.
- Keep a “food-and-mood” diary. It will probably help to keep track of the foods you ate, what time you ate, and how many calories you might have consumed (you can find this information in apps like MyFitnessPal). One chief concern you’ll need to address is getting ENOUGH calories during your window, lest your blood sugar and energy levels crash and you end up feeling weak, dizzy, tired, or irritable.
- Set alarms on your gadgets. If you have a hectic schedule and you feel like you might not instinctively remember to eat, set alarms on your phone or your watch that will go off when it’s time. Remember: you shouldn’t forget to eat at all—you’re not supposed to starve!
- If you need to, let the people in your life know that you’re fasting. Outside influences could also affect your fasting routine. So, if someone prepares your food, or will be sharing meals with you in some capacity, then let them know you’re following a schedule. The good people in your life will be happy to adjust, or even remind you of your commitment.
Frequently Asked Questions on Intermittent Fasting
Now that intermittent fasting has become pretty popular, people ask about it a lot. You, too, might be curious about a timeframe for fasting, how this will affect the rest of your daily life, and what you can or can’t do when you’re fasting. Here’s a list of five frequently asked questions about intermittent fasting, and our answers based on our research.
- How long should I keep fasting? The continuity of your fasting regimen really depends on many factors. But if you’re new to fasting, you should try it out slowly, perhaps for a period of a week, every other week, or every three weeks. See what works for you, and give your body some time to adjust to the new pattern.
- How many days of fasting will it take until I see results? This also varies per person; it could take anywhere between 3 to 24 weeks to see a 3-8% drop in body weight. Most people will be able to perceive a big change at the 10-12 week mark, although in a matter of days, you might already feel a change in your mental alertness.
- How should I pattern my exercise routines to my fasting regimen? When you’re exercising, your body draws from its reserves of glycogen, or stored carbohydrates, to fuel your energy. So, if your glycogen reserves are severely depleted—i.e., if the gap between when you eat and exercise is too big—then that’s a bad thing. You’ll risk your body breaking down its essential proteins instead of carbohydrates. Thus, the best way to align your eating and exercise regimens is to schedule your workouts around your meals. It’s good to do only low-intensity cardio workouts when you’re fasting, and save the high-intensity workouts for after you eat. Eat hearty and substantial meals that go heavier on veggies and proteins.
- Is water the only thing I can consume during my fasting hours? During your fasting hours, you can drink plain black coffee and/or green tea, which will have zero calorie consequences. Don’t drink too much though, because both coffee and green tea are diuretics. It’s best to stay hydrated by drinking a lot of water.
- What are some no-no’s if I start practicing intermittent fasting? Well, don’t cheat! It will only be effective if you follow the rules. Also, don’t binge-eat on the bad stuff (desserts, sweet drinks, fatty foods) during the window period, just because it’s the only time you can. Take these things in moderation, and eat to be full and satisfied, not just to satisfy any amplified cravings.
Though intermittent fasting is proven to facilitate weight loss, you shouldn’t be relying on this system as a quick fix. Again, sustained weight loss could take weeks, and it will likely not catch up with your shift in mental alertness. Some additional big don’ts to this process are: don’t skimp on your nutrition and the need to nourish yourself, and don’t be too hard on yourself and give up on everything if you make a mistake.
Your weight loss journey should be anchored on loving your body throughout the different shapes and forms that it will take—being kind to it, listening to it, and finding the right balance. Without overindulging, take pleasure in eating the things you enjoy, whilst starting on a new daily pattern that advocates discipline.
Who knows? Intermittent fasting may help you not only in shedding physical baggage, but the emotional baggage about what your body’s like right now—and, just like how it’s used for spiritual reasons, it may be a way to “cleanse” your overall being.