Intermittent Fasting: The Complete Introduction

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Intermittent fasting has been linked to improved heart and brain health as well as weight loss, according to some research. However, there are a few different ways to do it, so it’s important to choose the right option for you.

One of the most well-liked health and fitness fads in the world right now is intermittent fasting (IF).

It is being used by people to simplify their lives, reduce weight, and enhance their health.

Numerous studies indicate that it may even lengthen your life and have profound impacts on your body and brain.

This is the best intermittent fasting guide for beginners.

What is intermittent fasting (IF)?

Intermittent fasting (IF) is a pattern of eating in which periods of fasting and periods of eating alternate.

It outlines when you should eat certain foods rather than which ones.

In this way, it’s better to refer to it as an eating pattern rather than a diet in the traditional sense.

Two common strategies of intermittent fasting are to fast for 16 hours every day or for 24 hours twice a week.

During human evolution, fasting has been a habit. The hunter-gatherers of ancient times did not have year-round access to food, supermarkets, or refrigerators. There were moments when they had nothing to eat.

Humans thus evolved the capacity to go for extended periods of time without eating.

Actually, intermittent fasting is more physiologically normal than consuming three to four (or more) meals a day.

In many religious and spiritual traditions, such as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism, fasting is also practiced for these reasons.

Intermittent fasting methods

Intermittent fasting can be done in a variety of ways, but they all entail dividing the day or week into eating and fasting times.

You either eat nothing at all or very little during the fasting periods.

These are the most popular methods:

  • The 16/8 method: Also called the Leangains protocol, it involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 1–9 p.m.You then observe a 16-hour fast in between.
  • Eat-Stop-Eat: This is depriving yourself of food for a full day, usually once or twice a week. For instance, you could skip dinner one day and not eat anything till the next day.
  • The 5:2 diet: With this method, you consume only 500–600 calories on two nonconsecutive days of the week, but eat normally the other 5 days.

All of these strategies should help you lose weight by cutting calories, provided you don’t overeat during mealtimes to make up for it.

Many people find the 16/8 method to be the simplest, most sustainable and easiest to stick to. It’s also the most popular.

How it affects your cells and hormones

Your body experiences a number of cellular and molecular changes during a fast.

For instance, your body modifies hormone levels to increase the accessibility of stored body fat.

Additionally, your cells alter gene expression and start critical repair processes.

Your body goes through the following changes when you fast:

  • Human Growth Hormone (HGH): Growth hormone levels soar, sometimes multiplying up to five times. This has advantages for gaining muscle and losing fat, to mention a couple.
  • Insulin: There is a sharp decline in insulin levels and an improvement in insulin sensitivity. Reduced insulin sensitivity increases body fat storage accessibility.
  • Cellular repair: Your cells start the process of repairing themselves when you fast. Among these is autophagy, a process by which cells break down and eliminate accumulated, faulty proteins from within their own bodies.
  • Gene expression: Genes linked to longevity and immunity to disease have altered functions.

The advantages of intermittent fasting for health are caused by these modifications in hormone levels, cell function, and gene expression.

A very powerful weight loss tool

The most frequent motivation for people to attempt intermittent fasting is weight loss.

An automatic reduction in calorie intake might result from intermittent fasting, which forces you to consume fewer meals.

Intermittent fasting also modifies hormone levels to promote weight loss.

It also raises growth hormone levels, decreases insulin, and boosts the production of norepinephrine, or noradrenaline, a hormone that burns fat.

Because of these changes in hormones, short-term fasting may increase your metabolic rate by 3.6–14%.

Intermittent fasting alters both sides of the calorie equation, assisting you in eating less and burning more.

Research indicates that sporadic fasting can be a very effective strategy for losing weight.

A 2014 review study found that this eating pattern can cause 3–8% weight loss over 3–24 weeks, which is a significant amount, compared to most weight loss studies (1).

According to the same study, people also lost 4–7% of their waist circumference, indicating a significant loss of harmful belly fat that builds up around your organs and causes disease (1).

Another 2011 study showed that intermittent fasting causes less muscle loss than the more standard method of continuous calorie restriction.

But remember, the major reason it works is because intermittent fasting makes you consume less calories overall. You could not lose any weight at all if you binge and eat a lot throughout your eating times.

Health benefits

Intermittent fasting has been extensively studied in both humans and animals.

According to these research, it can have significant advantages for maintaining your bodily and mental health as well as controlling your weight. It might even prolong your life.

Here are the main health benefits of intermittent fasting:

  • Weight loss: As mentioned above, intermittent fasting can help you lose weight and belly fat, without having to consciously restrict calories.
  • Insulin resistance: Intermittent fasting can reduce insulin resistance, lowering blood sugar by 3–6% and fasting insulin levels by 20–31%, which should protect against type 2 diabetes.
  • Inflammation: A number of chronic diseases are largely caused by reduced levels of inflammation, which is indicated by certain research.
  • Heart health: Blood triglycerides, insulin resistance, inflammatory indicators, blood sugar, and “bad” LDL cholesterol may all be lowered by intermittent fasting. These conditions are risk factors for heart disease.
  • Cancer: Research on animals suggests that fasting occasionally could help prevent cancer.
  • Brain health: Intermittent fasting may promote the development of new nerve cells by raising the brain hormone BDNF. Additionally, it might guard against Alzheimer’s.
  • Anti-aging: Intermittent fasting can extend lifespan in rats. Studies showed that fasted rats lived 36–83% longer.

Remember that research is still in its infancy. A large number of the research were tiny, had short durations, or involved animals. Extensive unanswered questions remain in higher quality human research.

Makes your healthy lifestyle simpler

Eating healthy is simple, but it can be incredibly hard to maintain.

The amount of work involved in organizing and preparing nutritious meals is one of the biggest challenges.

Since you don’t have to prepare, cook, or clean up after as many meals as you used to, intermittent fasting can make life easier.

This is why intermittent fasting is so well-liked by the life-hacker community, since it simultaneously simplifies life and enhances health.

Who should be careful or avoid it?

Intermittent fasting is certainly not for everyone.

You should always get medical advice before beginning a fast if you are underweight or have a history of eating issues.

In certain situations, it may even be dangerous.

Should women fast?

There is contradictory research suggesting that women may not benefit from intermittent fasting as much as males do.

For instance, a 2005 study revealed that while it decreased women’s blood sugar control, it increased men’s sensitivity to insulin.

Numerous anecdotal accounts exist of women whose menstrual cycles halted when they began conducting intermittent fasting (IF) and restarted normally when they resumed their usual eating schedule.

On the other hand, research on obese or overweight women has demonstrated that IF can really aid with hormone levels and fertility, as well as improve metabolic health markers in PCOS participants.

However, studies have shown that IF can negatively impact reproductive health and performance in athletes and normal-weight women. This is primarily because of inadequate caloric intake.

These factors make women cautious when it comes to sporadic fasting. Overall, there is a dearth of long-term data and relatively little research. Before we truly comprehend the ramifications, more investigation is required.

Women should adhere to different rules, such as starting slowly and quitting right away if they experience any issues, such as amenorrhea (lack of menstruation). Consult a physician or dietician if you’re thinking about IF to determine if it’s a good fit for you.

Safety and side effects

The primary adverse effect of intermittent fasting is hunger.

Not only could your brain not function as effectively as it used to, but you can also feel weak.

Your body may need some time to adjust to the new eating plan, therefore this can just be a temporary situation.

Before attempting intermittent fasting, you should speak with your doctor if you have any medical conditions.

This is particularly important if you:

  • Have diabetes.
  • Have problems with blood sugar regulation.
  • Have low blood pressure.
  • Take medications.
  • Are underweight.
  • Have a history of eating disorders.
  • Are a lady attempting to become pregnant.
  • Are a woman suffering from amenorrhea in the past?
  • Are nursing or expecting a child.

Having said all of that, intermittent fasting has an excellent safety record. A temporary fast does not pose any risk if you are generally well-nourished and in good health.

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