It’s not that hard to explain the growing popularity of intermittent fasting, or 'IF' for short. It’s bursting with advantages and is very easy to follow compared to other diets. But in case you’ve never heard of it, the gist of IF is to eat your meals only within a certain eating window, which I’ll go into more detail later. It is thought to help with numerous health conditions, reduce inflammation and sugar cravings, boost energy levels and so much more. I’ve collected main science-backed health benefits of intermittent fasting and some of the possible downsides to it. But first up, here’s a quick glance at how exactly this diet works.
What is intermittent fasting?
It’s there in the name. The main idea of the fasting is to eat during a specific period of time and refrain from food during the other. For example, is you follow a 16:8 routine, you must fit in your food intake (and this includes snacking) within 8 hours and fast for the rest 16. Some people can even skip a sit-down breakfast and have their first real meal at 1 p.m. They still have some morning snacks, just not a real meal. Others think it's too extreme.
It helps to start out slow, with 12:12 plan, where you fast for the same amount of time as you eat. In this case, the breakfast can start at 7 or 8 a.m. with the last meal scheduled for 7 or 8 p.m. Then you can move on to 14:10 and gradually make your way to 16:8.
And while there are no rules to what you should and shouldn't eat during that restricted time, you’ll still want your food to be healthy. Opt for clean protein, healthy fats and carbs easily found in whole foods. Don’t fill in the gaps between food intakes with happy meals and sodas.
Is it wrong to eat whenever I want?
The answer is yes, even if your menu consists entirely of whole foods. Catching a break from food for a steady period of time helps reduce inflammatory processes in the body, lower cholesterol levels and reap some more health benefits that increase life expectancy to a significant degree.
Health benefits of intermittent fasting
1. Helps with weight loss
Intermittent fasting is the ultimate diet for fat burning. And here’s why. Fasting expends the main source of energy you get from food – glucose. But the body still needs fuel, and so it shifts to the next best thing which is fat. Such process of fat burning is called ketosis. In this respect, it’s somewhat similar to a keto diet where the body undergoes a similar process. But weight loss isn't the only benefit of fasting.
2. Boosts metabolism
The diet has the ability to affect our biological clock which helps speed up metabolic processes. It happens due to the reorganization of our genes in the way that they respond differently to the upcoming food intake. Not only does it cause weight loss but also helps bring down inflammation and insulin resistance. It sounds exciting. But don’t rush into things – start small with 12:12 plan and see how your body reacts to it.
3. Dials down inflammation
IF has a positive impact on gut microbiome, reduces insulin resistance and inflammatory markers. This way it effectively calms the ongoing chronic inflammation - the main culprit for various autoimmune conditions, cancer, Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes and other serious conditions.
4. Reduces the risk of heart disease
IF lowers the risk of heart diseases thanks to its ability to decrease bad cholesterol levels and blood pressure and raise the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.
5. Suppresses cravings
There is a two-way link between the gut microbiome and the brain function. A reward-seeking behavior born in no other place than our brain causes us to crave food. Intermittent fasting, in its turn, has the power to drive down a hunger-induced hormone called ghrelin. It also spares people the burden of emotional eating by transforming inconsistent glucose burning into the steady burning of fat. So, contrary to what you might have expected from this diet, you crave food to a point of starvation.
6. Promotes gut health
Reduced inflammation helps relieve the symptoms of ulcerative colitis, autoimmune Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal conditions.
7. Helps with autoimmune conditions
Following research IF has shown promising results when it came to improving symptoms associated with such autoimmune conditions as lupus, sarcoidosis and multiple sclerosis.
Are there any pitfalls?
Regardless of its many benefits, there’s a chance that intermittent fasting might not be right for you after all. While its anti-inflammatory and gut-healing qualities are undeniable, it can still mess with female hormones, experts say. Women’s system is much more complicated than men’s. So, if we are to speak about reproductive health of women, food deprivation for a certain time period does raise some concern.
Let me explain. Women possess innate mechanisms that have helped their bodies regulate the reproductive function for thousands of years. For example, when the body lacks food (read: vital nutrients) for a long stretch of time it stops ovulating to protect the life of both mother and her future child. The said mechanisms help future mothers have babies at the appropriate time. To ensure that the body seizes to produce fertility hormones if the woman’s food intake is insufficient.
However, at the moment it’s just a theory, because there’s still not enough information to support the negative outcomes of IF on the reproductive function. As far as the research goes now, a short-term fasting seems to enhance and even reset the reproductive system. This is exactly why you need to check in with your doctor for advice. Especially if you already have irregular cycles, thyroid problems, feel constantly tired or have other health issues.
And even if you’re good to go but plan on getting pregnant in the nearest future, it’s not recommended to go overboard with something other than 12:12 or 14:10 IF plans.
The bottom line
Intermittent fasting has been shown to positively impact our health and is particularly effective for weight loss. Apart from promoting weight loss, it lowers the risk of a number of ailments, such as type-2 diabetes, various autoimmune diseases and even cancer. It plays a major role in driving down chronic inflammation and curbing high blood pressure. However, despite of its multiple benefits, it’s important to treat it just like any other diet: talk to a professional to make sure it’s the right choice for you personally.