Intermittent fasting is a great way of managing weight loss. This diet regimen requires the individual to cycle between periods of feeding and abstaining from any significant sources of calories and macronutrients. Although fasting practices have been employed throughout antiquity as well as various religious groups; the science of fasting has only emerged in recent decades.
Fasting ranges can vary from daily periods of time restricted feeding – 16:8 and the warrior diet are popular among fitness enthusiasts – to clustering three to seven days of water fasts every quarter or month. Unlike other traditional diets, intermittent fasting (or IF for short) doesn’t space out meals throughout the day; nor does it exclude any particular food groups unless the individual has any underlying intolerances (dairy, eggs and gluten come to mind). The individual’s feeding period can be as regimented or as intuitive as they like, some fitness enthusiasts or ‘biohackers’ have even opted for combining IF with other diets, although the sustainability of this practice comes into question.
So, what can I possibly gain with intermittent fasting?
- Weight loss and improved body composition
- Improved brain health
- Increased insulin sensitivity
- Improved cholesterol
Intermittent fasting sets up the conditions for weight loss via restricting calories (less time to eat = less food eaten). By reducing one’s calorie intake through time and not increased meal frequency, there is a better chance of preserving more lean mass. In other words, you’re more likely to keep more muscle during your dieting phase.
The hormonal changes during a fast have been shown to enhance body recomposition. Higher amounts of norepinephrine and growth hormone, as well as lower insulin levels, accelerate lipolysis to maintain the body’s energy requirements. Therefore, intermittent fasting or time restricted feeding has been shown to speed up one’s metabolism.
Animal studies have shown that intermittent fasting increases the amount of BDNF – brain-derived neurotrophic factor – which has been linked to cognitive health problems such as depression when its levels become too low.
Food restriction also induces autophagy, a mechanism of the body’s cells essentially recycling their old parts and keeping what’s useful. This process occurs throughout the body and its benefits go beyond just fat loss. Autophagy in the brain Is neuroprotective and fasting has even been shown to limit the damage caused by strokes.
Time-restricted feeding has also been shown to modulate one’s cholesterol ratio (LDL: HDL) to more favourable levels; the bad cholesterol – LDL – gets reduced and the good cholesterol – HDL – goes up. HDL protects the body from heart attacks and strokes by carrying excess cholesterol back to the liver where it can be metabolized away.
By design, intermittent fasting acts against and lowers the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Too many cheat meals and excess snacking between cheat meals raises the body’s blood sugar and increases the risk of becoming resistant to high insulin levels. In a human study, intermittent fasting reduced both blood sugars and insulin levels. One potential concern about fasting and insulin sensitivity is that these results haven’t always been consistent and could be gender dependent.
As with all lifestyle changes, please consult your physician and seek advice from qualified professionals before making any adjustments to your dietary habits.