Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting – Get The Best Results
More than two-thirds of the adults in the US now overweight, along with millions of others all over the world. This obesity epidemic is the source of so many potentially serious medical conditions, and the chubbiness isn’t exactly considered attractive as well. That’s why it’s easy enough to understand the lengths that people will go through to lose weight and get the slim figure they want. It also explains the continuing rise in popularity of intermittent fasting (IF).
Since eating too much contributes to obesity, it seemed inevitable that someone would figure out that not eating at all can be a solution to the problem. Of course, it’s not really that simple —people still do have to eat — but weight loss experts and scientists have unearthed compelling evidence that fasting for certain periods of time can help with weight loss efforts without endangering people’s health.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
What you first need to understand about IF is that its first focus is in when you eat. It doesn’t really emphasize what you should eat, although variations of this method do sometimes recommend certain foods and drinks (such as juices). So it’s not exactly what you might call a diet.
Instead, it’s more properly regarded as an eating schedule or pattern. Consider your normal day, when you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The time period between dinner and breakfast does seem long since this time frame also includes your sleeping time.
In some ways, this long break between meals is also a type of fasting. It’s just that you’re called on to extend this time frame just a little bit more.
For example, some people can extend this fast simply by not taking any breakfast. It’s just that simple. The simplicity of the rules means that you don’t really have to obsess on calorie counts and the numbers of grams of carbs, fats, and protein in your diet. You only need to know the time frame for when you can eat, and when you have to fast.
Fasting means different things, depending on what method you adopt. Usually, there’s really no food involved, but other methods let you eat tiny amounts of low-cal food. In most cases, though, you can just fill yourself up with water.
Acceptable water substitutes include various low-calorie drinks including tea, coffee, or even juices. Since this can leave you deficient in some essential nutrients, you’re also allowed to take dietary supplements as long as they don’t contain calories.
The lack of calories during this period is the point. It may seem difficult to go hungry, but actually, this is only a problem at the start of a fasting period. Eventually, you get used to it and it’s not much of a problem anymore.
Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
If you’re overweight and intrigued by the idea, then right now you may be wondering about just how effective intermittent fasting for weight loss really is. But it does work, and it’s not exactly a novel idea. The very idea of fasting has been around for thousands of years.
Of course, it probably started because, at the time, the people had no choice. When you’re a member of a society of hunter-gatherers, fasting is the only choice sometimes when it’s winter and there are no plants and fruits to gather, and no animals to hunt. People just learned to make do with their meager stores during the lean seasons.
People who underwent fast also tend to experience unusual mental and spiritual processes. Soon fasting also became part of religious and spiritual ceremonies. Fasting became popular among ascetics who practiced self-discipline and abstention from pleasures and privileges.
What really got the attention of the world today is that it seems like an obvious way to lose weight. Most people who tend to fast are generally slim. As a weight loss measure, it really does work.
- The first reason why it works seems apparent enough even at first glance. With fasting comes a resulting limitation on your calorie intake. Since you don’t consume too many calories, your body is then forced to burn fat cells to obtain the energy it needs.
- This also boosts your metabolism so that your burn off calories at a faster rate. This increase can be anywhere from 6% to 14%. This makes it also more likely that you’ll run out of dietary calories and you’ll burn fat for energy.
- The fact that IF works has been confirmed by various studies. One 2014 study revealed that the resulting weight loss can range from 3% to 8% of your original body weight. If you weigh 200 pounds, that’s a weight loss of 6 to 16 pounds. In addition, people who go on intermittent fasting showed a 4% to 7% reduction in their belly circumference.
- Another reason why it works is that when you lose weight, you don’t lose all that much muscle compared to other weight loss diets that involve lower calories. Maintaining your muscles is important, and not just because it makes you look better. Your metabolism is better when you have muscles.
- It works because it’s simple. There’s no fastidious looking at labels, no consulting charts about calorie content and fat content. You just don’t eat at certain times, and on other times you can eat normally. You should just avoid obviously unhealthy foods and you don’t binge-eat, and you’re good. There’s really not much confusion about what you’re supposed to do.
- Since it is simple, people have an easier time sticking to this diet, or rather this eating pattern. It can also be implemented not only as a one-time measure but as a total lifestyle change. You can go on intermittent fasts every now and then and you can enjoy the weight loss and slimmer figure you’ve always wanted.
- It saves you effort and money too. Look at some of the diets you can find online, and you’ll be amazed at how much effort it requires to prepare a “healthy” meal. Often you’ll even be asked to do 6 small meals a day. Sometimes you even have to pay up so that you can have these special meals delivered to your door. But with IF, you don’t have to do much because you actually cut down on the meals you take. You also don’t have to spend more money along the way.
How to Do Intermittent Fasting?
There are several ways of going about with IF these days, since “experts” like to broadcast their opinions and variations online. However, if you’re determined to learn how to intermittent fast you should start with the 3 popular methods:
1. The 16/8 Method:
These numbers refer to fasting for 16 hours, and to eating during an 8-hours window of opportunity. However, you can amend this to 14 hours of fasting with 10 hours during which you can eat 2 or 3 meals. This method is also known as leangains protocol.
The simplest way to do this is to just skip breakfast altogether. So if you finish your dinner by 8 PM, skip breakfast, and start eating lunch at noon, that’s already 16 hours of fasting. For breakfast, you can just drink water or coffee and other low-calorie beverages. During the eating hours, you just need to keep in mind that you should eat healthy food, so no fast foods, processed foods, or deep-fried dishes.
2. The 5:2 Plan:
Now, these numbers refer to the days of fasting. You eat normally (and healthily) for 5 days. Then for 2 days, you fast. You don’t go without food totally though. You can still get about 500 to 600 calories per day. For women, it’s better to limit the calorie intake to 500 calories while for men it should be 600 calories.
Again, the scheduling here is simple. On weekdays you eat normally, which is great since you have to work. In weekends, you relax by fasting with 2 meals of 250 or 300 calories each.
This method requires you to go a fast one or two days a week. The fasting days don't have to be consecutive, and in fact, you’re better off if you start with just one day a week. It’s just that for this day of fasting, you can’t eat anything solid for 24 hours.
This is a rather advanced method, and it’s better for those who have tried the other methods first. That’s because it’s one thing to miss breakfast, but it’s another thing entirely to miss both breakfast and lunch so that you can eat only at dinner time.
If you want, you can also start the fast after eating lunch, and then you miss dinner and then breakfast. This can be a problem since you may not be able to sleep easily when you’ve missed dinner.
The key to all these methods is that you cannot compensate for all the missed meals by binge eating during the times you’re allowed to eat. You have to eat normally and preferably with healthier meals too.
Multiple Health Benefits
We’ve already mentioned that this type of fasting can lead to weight loss. What’s more, you reduce the size of your belly and yet you’re not excessively counting calories for every meal.
But there are other benefits of intermittent fasting as well:
- This reduces insulin resistance, so it lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Aside from lowering insulin resistance and blood sugar, fasting also reduces blood triglycerides, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, and inflammatory markers. These are all contributing factors that increase the likelihood of heart disease.
- The reductions in inflammation markers also help reduce the risk of other chronic diseases.
- It helps with your brain health too. It can help stimulate the growth of new nerve cells, increase particular brain hormones, and even help fight off Alzheimer’s disease.
- It can help increase your lifespan, as this effect has been shown in studies involving lab rats. In these studies, the rats which underwent fasting lived up to 36% to even 83% older.
- It can even prevent cancer too.
Is Intermittent Fasting Safe?
When you consider everything, IF can be regarded as safe, as long as you’re one of the candidates who are allowed for this measure. This means you don’t have any pressing and serious medical conditions to worry about.
If you’re generally healthy, there’s really nothing inherently dangerous in not eating for such a short period of time. You won’t actually die of starvation, and you won’t do any sort of irreparable harm to your health. In fact, it’s meant to improve your health.
The most obvious discomfort here for you will be about the feeling of hunger. This can be a very frustrating feeling when you’re hungry and you’re not supposed to eat.
This hunger can then lead to some physical weakness and you may become lethargic. Working out very hard during fasting days won’t be easy at all. Even your mental functions may lessen as a result, and you’ll be less alert and not quite able to do complex mental tasks.
However, all these side effects are commonly just temporary. Your body is highly adaptable, and soon enough it can get used to this feeling. When you take up IF as a lifestyle change, you won’t feel as weak and as mentally “off” when you’re on your fasting periods.
Cautions and Side Effects: Who Should Not Try This
In general, it is safe, but it’s really not suited for everybody. The people who shouldn’t go through with intermittent fasting include those who are already underweight. This is a weight loss measure and lifestyle habit, and your problem is that you need to gain weight if you’re already underweight.
It’s also not recommended if you already have a history of eating disorders. This can affect you in unexpected ways, and the intermittent fasting results may be harmful to you instead. You should at the very least consult with a doctor first before you change your eating habits in such a dramatic fashion.
But is it safe for women? Even this issue of gender is quite troubling. It’s been shown that the benefits for women are less compared to what men get with IF. A study revealed that men had their insulin sensitivity improved with this process, but for women, the blood sugar control worsened.
Lots of anecdotal reports from women have surfaced online regarding various issues and side effects of intermittent fasting. Some reported that their menstrual period stopped when they underwent this type of fast, and this even happened during the periods when they were allowed to eat. But once they abandoned the eating pattern and resumed normal eating habits without any fasting periods, their menstrual periods went back to normal.
Studies involving lab rats tend to support these reports. Female rats which underwent fasting periods became infertile and they missed their cycles. Other female rats became masculinized, while others became emaciated.
If you’re a woman and you still want to try, you should really ease into it. You can fast for 14 hours but then you shouldn’t do this every day. When you take it easy at first, you can watch for side effects and they shouldn’t be all that severe. Your body can get used to the sensation of hunger and weakness. If you have problems with your period, you can just stop.
The people who should perhaps consult with a doctor first before trying IF are those who fit the following profiles:
- You’re pregnant.
- You’re breastfeeding.
- You already have a history of amenorrhea (abnormal absence of menstruation).
- You’re a woman who’s trying to have a baby.
- Your medical history already includes eating disorders.
- You don’t weigh as much as you ought to.
- Your blood pressure is low.
- There are problems with your blood sugar regulation.
- You’re a diabetic.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Many people have lots of questions regarding intermittent fasting since it’s markedly different from most other diets. We’ve compiled the most common ones and supplied the answers:
1. Can children go on intermittent fasting?
The safest answer here is no. Children need food to grow, though they should learn about avoiding junk food. If you’re a parent, forcing your children to go on fast can even get you into legal trouble for child abuse.
2. Which is the easiest IF method to try?
If you’re a newbie, your best bet is to try the 16/8 method and just miss breakfast. The advantage here is that for the most part, you’re asleep for a long chunk of time when you’re fasting.
3. Isn’t skipping breakfast supposed to be unhealthy?
Not really. Missing breakfast is regarded as unhealthy simply because it’s one of the most common practices among people who live unhealthy lifestyles. These are the people who drink the whole night or don’t sleep properly, or they miss breakfast so that they binge eat for lunch.
You can skip breakfast and remain healthy, as long as for lunch and dinner you take nutritious meals.
3. What can I take during a fast?
Water is always a good idea. After all, quite a lot of people these days aren’t drinking enough water. If you don’t urinate often (6 times a day is normal) and your urine is dark yellow, then these are signs that really need to increase your water intake. You’re dehydrated.
Another good substitute for food (especially for breakfast) is coffee. Just don’t put in sugar, though you can add a tiny amount of cream or milk. Coffee is a great way to start the day as it wakes you up and it combats the lethargic feeling. It can also counteract the feeling of hunger in the morning, so it’s as if you feel full.
Tea is fine too, though again there should be no sugar and just a bit of milk or cream. As long as the beverage doesn’t contain lots of calories, it’s a good drink during a fast.
4. Are vitamins a good idea?
Yes, they are. You need a certain amount of vitamins each day, and the supplements can compensate for the vitamins you’re missing from food during a fast. Just don’t get the supplements that you’re supposed to take with meals. You can take those supplements later when you’re allowed to eat.
5. Can I workout when I’m fasting?
You can, but you really should consult with your doctor first. You should stick to less vigorous workouts, and you need to stop if you feel any discomfort or pain. You can try moderate walking, light yoga, or Tai Chi. You can also do some yard work or putter in the garden.
If at any time you feel dizzy while doing some activity, you have to rest immediately. A drink of water would be good at this point. If the feeling persists, you should break your fast and eat a small meal.
On non-fasting days, you should compensate for your fast by including more protein in your diet.
6. Doesn’t fasting slow down my metabolism?
Yes, this is an evolutionary response when the human body doesn’t eat. The body slows down the rate at which it uses up calories.
However, this only happens when the fast is extended to 3 days or more. For fasts with shorter durations (2 days or less), the metabolic rate actually gets a boost.
Perhaps you’re thinking that depriving yourself of food, even for just 16 hours, can be too much of a hardship. That’s true, but only if you look at it from this perspective of deprivation. Your mindset should instead be about taking a break from eating. Now you no longer have to worry about what to eat and how many calories are with your meal. It’s a type of rest.
If you’re going to start with intermittent fasting, you should start it when you have some work to do. This gets you to focus on your work and not on your hunger. Try it out — the results can really improve your health and help you lose weight. You may even find that it’s not all that and after all!