The last decade has been all about going harder and faster all day, every day. We saw the rise of high-intensity interval training, and the adoption of restrictive diets such as keto. But there’s a new method that’s been taking the world by storm – Intermittent Fasting. It is less restrictive than some of the other diets, but still comes with all the benefits. And chances are you’ve probably already done it, without even trying too hard. So, what is this health and wellness trend all about and how does it work?
WHAT IS INTERMITTENT FASTING?
Intermittent Fasting (IF), also known as intermittent energy restriction, is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. It doesn’t focus on which foods to eat, but when you should eat them.
TYPES OF INTERMITTENT FASTING
This is probably the most popular type of Intermittent fasting. 16:8 is where you have a restricted window for eating, such as 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating. Following this method of fasting can actually be as simple as not eating after dinner and skipping breakfast.
In the 5:2 diet, you choose 2 non-consecutive days within the week where you restrict your daily calorie consumption to 500 calories for women and 600 for men. The rest of the 5 days you can eat pretty much what you like.
EAT STOP EAT
As simple as it sounds, it involves a 24-hour fast, either once or twice a week. This method was popularized by fitness expert Brad Pilon and has been popular for the last few years. Water and coffee are allowed during the fast, but no solid foods are permitted.
Alternate-day fasting (ADF) means fasting every other day. There are different versions of this method. Some allow 500 calories during the fasting day. Meanwhile, a full fast every other day can seem rather extreme, so it’s not recommended for beginners.
THE WARRIOR DIET
This involves eating small portions of raw fruits and vegetables during the day and eating a big meal at night within 4 hours. This was popularized by fitness expert Ori Hofmekler.
WHY INTERMITTENT FASTING?
Clearly, there is nothing “unnatural” about fasting. Our bodies are very well equipped to handle extended periods of not eating. When we are fasting, it allows our bodies to thrive during a period of famine. It has to do with hormones, genes and cellular repair processes. Some people do Intermittent Fasting in order to lose weight, as it’s a simple and effective way to restrict calorie intake.
WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR BODY WHEN YOU FAST?
“When we apply intermittent fasting (IF) we naturally shift our body into a fat burning state, which consequently increases insulin sensitivity and reduces cravings for fast-release starchy carbohydrates and processed/ hyper-palatable foods,” says Priscilla Soligo, Clinical Nutritionist, PT & Chef. “Research suggests it takes approximately 10-12 hours for our body to metabolize and use up all of its blood sugar and stored glycogen in the liver after a meal has been consumed. Once glycogen stores are used up, then our body will naturally shift from burning sugar for fuel to burning fat for fuel whilst retaining lean muscle mass, and hence, Ketosis will occur.”
KETOSIS THROUGH INTERMITTENT FASTING
Ketosis is a metabolic process that kicks in when the body begins to burn fat for energy when it doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to burn. During this process, the liver produces chemicals called ketones.
There are plenty of ways to ignite ketosis, in general, lower carb intake and higher activity will allow you to enter ketosis faster, and Intermittent Fasting might be the most effective way. This practice can effectively reduce blood glucose, glycogen and insulin levels throughout the body.
HOW LONG DO WE NEED TO FAST IN ORDER TO REACH KETOSIS?
After fasting for around 48 hours, ketone body concentrations can reach about 1-2mM, and after 5 days, levels might reach 7-8mM. Ketosis can be achieved after a few days of fasting or a ketogenic diet, keto adaptation can take up to a few weeks or longer. In keto adaptation, the metabolic machinery of your body changes, your body is able to efficiently burn fat and utilize it for fuel. You become a “fat burner”.
WEIGHT-LOSS AND RESTORING THE CIRCADIAN RHYTHM THROUGH INTERMITTENT FASTING
Given the great benefits of Intermittent Fasting, it has now also become part of certain wellness programs. Medical retreats at Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence in Switzerland (famous for its Waldhotel Colour Cuisine) offer regular “desert fasting” workouts within their wellness programs, where guests don’t have their breakfast until about 9 o’clock, after a rigorous fitness class.
According to Prof. Dr. Verena Briner at Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence, Intermittent Fasting improves weight-management and metabolism, by reducing blood glucose and reducing ectopic fat. Fasting also affects hormones such as cortisol, melatonin and leptin production. All physiologic systems and all cells in the body have a physiologic pattern of a circadian clock, and studies have shown that Intermittent Fasting is a powerful tool to synchronize and restore the physiological circadian rhythm.
CELL AND BRAIN HEALTH THROUGH INTERMITTENT FASTING
As Ketosis helps to increase fat burning, leading to a reduction in stored glucose in the body (known as glycogen), it produces more ketones for the brain. Soligo also emphasizes that ketones play a role in ramping up apoptosis, which is a form of programmed, or regulated cell death that allows cells to self-destruct. The cell self-destructs without causing any harm to its surrounding environment. This process aids in disease prevention, skin renewal, fat loss, and longevity.
Soligo also goes on to say that research shows that ketones stimulate the brain’s production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is responsible for the production of new neurons and prevents brain cells from dying. BDNF has been shown to increase alertness and brain activity, whereas low levels of BDNF are linked to Alzheimer’s, obesity and accelerated aging.
INTERMITTENT FASTING STRENGTHENS THE MIND
Fitness Trainer and Lululemon Ambassador, Avey Cortes, who is well experienced in the 16:8 Intermittent Fasting method, says that apart from the health benefits we can get from fasting, it also changed his relationship with food in that he was no longer a slave to hunger, constantly thinking about the next meal and counting down the minutes, hours until he could eat. In the modern world, hunger can develop a phobia of having an empty stomach. He used to overload on the next meal when he missed a meal. “But amazing things happen in the body when your stomach is empty,” says Cortes. This has nothing to do with starvation, in fact, it is about giving your body what it needs when it needs it. “Just by pushing that first meal later into the day, you can optimize virtually every system in the body. Most importantly, it’s not a crash diet, but a way of life that can be central to your health and fitness journey.”
While fasting brings great health benefits, it is also great training for us to learn to control our mind. You may face a lot of temptation in your daily life while fasting, so you have to have a strong mind in order to commit to the whole method. It’s also your journey that leads to an overall balance of your mind, body and soul.
WHO SHOULD NOT TRY INTERMITTENT FASTING?
IF is not recommended for children and adolescents who have crucial nutritional requirements for growth and development. Also, women who are trying to conceive, are pregnant, or lactating should not engage in IF as the nutritional requirements for pregnancy and milk supply to the baby is critical. Also women who have had problems with their menstrual cycles, or have absent menstruation should not participate in IF. Also, for those who have had an eating disorder in the past, IF could act as a ‘trigger’ and send them backwards.
Every human body is different, we recommend you seek a doctor or nutritionist’s advice before you start Intermittent Fasting.
See also: Top 10 Fitness Retreats in the World