“It’s not what you say, but how you say it that matters.”
You’ve likely come across this quote while struggling to find the right words for a difficult conversation.
Now, here comes intermittent fasting with the tantalising promise that what you eat doesn’t matter as much as when you eat it.
But, if you’re anything like myself, personal experience has taught you that you can be unpleasant to be around when you’re hungry… a state that has an official name and is backed by research: Hangry!
So, what is intermittent fasting? And what’s so beneficial about it that would make people forfeit the other two meals in a typical 3-meals-a-day system most of us are used to?
Let’s dive in…
What is intermittent fasting?
Unlike most diets that focus on what you feed your body, intermittent fasting is about when you eat.
People who perform intermittent fasting eat during a specific time then abstain from eating any other meal.
This method of fasting for a specific number of hours daily or eating one meal a day on some days of the week can help you burn fat.
Mark Mattson is a neuroscientist at John Hopkins and has been studying intermittent fasting for over 25 years. According to Mattson, the human body evolved to go many hours or several days without food.
Back in the days, when humans didn’t know how to farm, our ancestors were hunters and gatherers who evolved to survive for extended durations without food. If you think of it, they had no choice – gathering nuts and berries or hunting game took a lot of time and energy.
Some 50, 70 years ago, maintaining a healthy weight was easy. There weren’t any TVs, computers, or anything else to keep one awake after 10 p.m. And, most people ate their last meal earlier than we do now because they went to bed earlier too.
Fast forward to today, we have the entertainment to keep us up at odd hours. We stay awake longer, sit and snack all day.
These extra calories intake versus the little physical activity most people get can mean a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, becoming obese, and developing other illnesses.
So… how does intermittent fasting work and what’s the best plan you can start today?
The Science Behind Intermittent Fasting and How You Can Apply It.
There are many ways you can perform intermittent fasting. However, they all involve picking specific intervals to eat and fast.
For instance, you might set an eight-hour period for your daily meals and fast for the remainder of the day – this is known as the 16/8 intermittent fasting.
Or, you could decide to follow the 5:2 approach, which involves eating regularly 5 days a week. But limit yourself to a single meal daily for the remaining 2 days of the week.
What happens to your body after hours without food?
When your body has used up the glucose in your bloodstream, it switches into a catabolic state. In this phase, glycogen stored in the muscles and liver cells is broken down into glucose.
When that is depleted, the body switches from glucose to a compound known as “ketones” – the liver makes ketones from fatty acids.
This process is known as metabolic switching.
And the goal of intermittent fasting is to extend the period when your body has used up the calories contained in your last meal and begins burning fat.
But, you might be asking yourself, “why would someone give up 3 meals a day for this?”
Well, here are 5 benefits of intermittent fasting that might convince you to get started today.
5 Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting.
Alters the function of hormones, cells, and genes – for good.
We’ve already seen how your body’s metabolism switches from using glucose in the bloodstream to burning fatty acid stored in the body for energy.
When you don’t eat for a while, the metabolic switching also affects your hormones and initiates important cellular repair processes all over the body.
Here are a few changes that take place in your system during intermittent fasting:
- Insulin levels drop, which increases the conversion of fatty cells to energy.
- Noticeable increase in the synthesis of human growth hormone (HGH). Higher levels of HGH promote fat burning and rapid muscle gain.
- Deep cellular repairs and gene expression. During intermittent fasting, the body performs important cellular repairs such as eliminating toxins and other waste products from body cells. And also ramps up the production of genes that increase longevity and build strong immunity.
Many of the health benefits of intermittent fasting are the result of these changes in insulin levels, hormones, the function of cells, and gene expression.
Intermittent Fasting Lowers the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease.
The drop in insulin level that occurs during intermittent fasting reduces the risk of deadly cardiovascular events, such as congestive heart failure.
This is beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes since they are 2–4 times more likely to die from heart disease compared to adults without diabetes.
There aren’t extensive human studies on intermittent fasting to confirm this benefit.
However, the changes to the body’s metabolism, such as lower levels of triglycerides and a decrease in blood sugar levels are the result of weight loss.
And weight loss delivers both cardiovascular and metabolic benefits. Benefits that are independent of how the weight was lost, whether through intermittent fasting or going on a low-carb diet, for example.
A number of animal and rodent studies have shown that intermittent fasting may extend life span.
Researchers believe this is possible because intermittent fasting improves the body’s resistance to age-related diseases such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s Disease, and kidney disease.
It has to be noted that while these findings are promising, they’re hard to replicate in human studies.
Intermittent Fasting Improves Sleep Quality.
Do you remember falling into a coma-like state after downing a big meal?
Our diet plays a huge role in our wakefulness and sleepiness. Anecdotal evidence from people who practise intermittent fasting often mentions the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep for long as one of its benefits.
But, how do intermittent fasting and meals influence our sleep patterns?
According to Nature and Science of Sleep, intermittent fasting may regulate circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm regulates when and how easily we fall asleep as well as how refreshed we feel on waking from sleep.
Another theory suggests that the digestion process has enough time to run its full course when your last meal comes earlier in the evening.
If your last meal comes right before you hit the sheet, then the process isn’t as effective which can lead to reflux and heartburns – both of which prevent deep, rejuvenating sleep.
Lowers the Effects of Oxidative Stress and Inflammation.
Aside from poor genetics, an increase in oxidative stress is one of the leading factors that contribute to rapid ageing and many other chronic diseases.
It’s a damaging reaction that occurs between unstable molecules known as free radicals and other important molecules, such as DNA and proteins.
Studies show that intermittent fasting improves the body’s resistance to oxidative stress. But that’s not all.
Intermittent fasting can also help the body reduce inflammations, another key player in many common diseases.
After going through the benefits that I’ve just listed, intermittent fasting looks more enticing than a glass of cold water on a sunny day.
But before you run off and start skipping meals…
Is Intermittent Fasting Safe for You?
Some people use intermittent fasting to address chronic conditions such as high cholesterol, irritable bowel syndrome, or arthritis. Most people try intermittent fasting for weight management.
However, as beneficial as it seems… intermittent fasting is not for everyone.
Before you put your body through intermittent fasting (or any diet), ensure to discuss with your doctor.
Here is a list of people who should steer clear of intermittent fasting – at least, not without a doctor’s approval:
- Children and teenagers below 18 years.
- Pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers.
- People who have a history of eating disorders.
People not in these categories can do intermittent fasting indefinitely provided they do so safely.
But have it in mind that the effects of intermittent fasting vary from person to person. Consult your health practitioner if you start experiencing unusual headaches, nausea, anxiety, or other symptoms after you start intermittent fasting.