Intermittent Fasting

What is intermittent fasting and how can it work for me?

There are more diets available than you could shake a stick at but one of the more promising  and most recent ones is intermittent fasting. On an intermittent fasting eating plan, as the name suggests, you would alternate between eating and fasting following a schedule.

Research has been done that has shown this to be a useful way to manage weight and it can also prevent some types of disease.  The question is, how do we do it and is it safe to do it?

What is involved with intermittent fasting?

If you have dieted  in the past you will know that calories and food groups feature highly. With intermittent fasting, however, it’s not so much about what you eat it’s about when you eat it.  With this type of dieting you will be eating only at a specified time and will be fasting for a specified number of hours every day or perhaps eating one meal each day on a couple of days each week which has proved to help stimulate the body to burn fat.  In particular, by Mark Mattson has made a study of this type of intermittent fasting diet over a period of 25 years.  in the work that he did Mattson tells us that the human body has evolved to be able to go without food for several hours at a time, even several days or longer.  Our prehistoric ancestors, before farming was developed, worked on a hunter gatherer basis and were able to survive and even thrive for very long periods between meals.  Just like animals in the wild they had to, because it was very time consuming to gather up or catch the food that they relied on.

Even as recently as some 50 years ago it was not nearly as difficult to maintain a healthy weight.  That was because any TV watching ended at 11 at night, there were no computers to plant yourself in front of for hours on end. People stopped eating at night because they were going to bed, there was nothing else to do!

Today however, the TV and Internet and many other forms of entertainment are available to all of us, 24 hours a day.  We stay up to play games to stream our favourite TV shows and chat to other people online.  As we do all of this, we’re snacking so that we could be snacking all day and for a large part of the night!

Being inactive and taking in more calories is an obvious road to obesity which in itself can lead to heart disease type 2 diabetes and other illnesses. The research that’s been done on intermittent fasting has shown that there is hope that this form of dieting might be able to reverse these trends.

How does dieting with intermittent fasting work?

There are a few different approaches to intermittent fasting but all of them will centre on choosing a regular time in the day to fast and to eat.  One popular approach is to limit eating to a period of eight hours every day and then fast for the remaining time. Another popular approach would be to eat just one meal a day on two days of the week. There are many  and varied intermittent fasting approaches.

From his study Mattson has observed that when the body goes without food for many hours it will first use sugar stores and when those are exhausted it will start to burn fat in a process that he calls metabolic switching.

This, Mattson comments, is in contrast to the normal pattern of eating for most Americans which consists of grazing throughout the entire day. Dieting with the intermittent fasting approach will prolong the time when the body burns through the calories from the last meal you ate and begins to burn fat.

A choice of Intermittent Fasting Plans

Before you try any diet, including intermittent fasting, you should always check with your doctor to make sure that it is safe for you to do that. Once you have the green light then putting intermittent fasting into practise is quite easy.  You could choose the daily approach, and restrict yourself to eating food within a six- or eight-hour window each day. For instance fasting for 16 hours a day and then eating within the other eight-hour period.  This is quite a popular way of approaching intermittent fasting and people who have been on this regime for some time say that it becomes quite easy to follow.

The 5:2 approach is another popular approach a match involves eating normally for five days each week and then on the other two days limiting yourself to one meal of not more than 600 calories.

Some people like to fast longer, for instance for 24,36,48 or 72 hours although it should be said that this type of fasting shows no evidence of being better for you and also may be dangerous because if you don’t eat for a really long your body might start to store fat as a response to the threat of starvation.

In his research Mattson discovered that it could take between two to four weeks for our bodies to get used to the idea of intermittent fasting.  Before that time a person may feel cranky or hungry as they get used to their new routine.  for those who make it through this period of adjustment however they find it easy to stick to the plan because they feel a lot better.

What can I eat while I am intermittent fasting?

Let’s start with the periods when you are not eating during which time you can have black coffee or tea or any beverage that is zero calorie.  During the time that you are eating, although it may be tempting, don’t go crazy.  You will be making life harder for yourself if you use your eating time to eat junk food and foods with very high calories and very little nutritional value.  However, it is true that intermittent fasting means that you can eat a full range of food and enjoy them. Often it will be the restriction in what they can eat that people get fed up with and that makes them abandon their diets. Eat a normal range of food but being mindful of the health benefits of certain foods and the opposite effect of others will make the process quicker.  Following a Mediterranean diet is always a good plan whether or not you are following an intermittent fasting diet because it relies on whole grains which are unrefined carbohydrates, healthy fats, leafy greens and lean protein.

The benefits of intermittent fasting

The research that is being done around intermittent fasting shows that as well as burning fat this form of dieting with the metabolic switch element can affect the body and the brain and deliver a leaner body and mind that is sharp and can ultimately offer a longer life.  Intermittent fasting can offer protection to the human organs, according to Mattson’s studies, offering them protection against common chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders that are age-related. The benefit also extends to many cancers and inflammatory bowel disease.

These are some of the benefits that research has identified in those who have tried intermittent fasting:

  • Memory and thinking studies done have discovered that this form of fasting has the ability to boost animals working memory and adult humans verbal memory.
  • A healthier heart: Studies have shown that blood pressure responds well to intermittent fasting giving more healthy resting heart rates along with other measurements of heart function.
  • Improved physical performance: Young men on intermittent fasting diets and who were fasting for 16 hours at a time were shown to maintain their muscle mass while losing fat. In experiments on mice, where they were fed every other day those mice showed most stamina in running tests.
  • Obesity and type 2 diabetes: In studies on animals intermittent fasting was shown to prevent obesity. A further 6 shorter studies showed obese adult humans lost weight through intermittent fasting.  Additionally people suffering from type 2 diabetes may also benefit from this form of dieting.  It is true to say that the majority of the research points to the fact that intermittent fasting can help people to lose weight and will also lower levels of fasting insulin and glucose, also reducing resistance to insulin decreasing leptin and increasing adiponectin  Some diabetic patients who had been undergoing intermittent fasting under the supervision of their doctors have been able to reverse the requirement for insulin therapy


Is it safe to undertake intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is not only undertaken for weight management purposes as some people will use it to try to control the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome arthritis or high cholesterol.  However, this form of dieting is not suitable for everybody.  If you are considering this form of dieting you should always check with your doctor first. This is a list of people who should not attempt this type of diet:

  1. Children and young people who are under 18
  2. Pregnant or breastfeeding women
  3. Anyone suffering from type one diabetes who is taking insulin to control their condition. Sudies have shown this form of dieting to be very safe for people with type 2 diabetes but no study yet has been done on intermittent fasting and people suffering from type 1 diabetes
  4. Those who have a history of an eating disorder

For anyone who is not in any of the categories mentioned above then intermittent fasting should be perfectly safe and can be continued as a regime for an indefinite time.  It is definitely a lifestyle change, but it will have benefits for those who can do it successfully.

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Of course this type of diet like any kind of diet will affect people in different ways.  If you are intermittent fasting and you start to have feelings of anxiousness, nausea or headaches, then you should speak to your doctor.  Good luck!