A Look at Intermittent Fasting: What is it? (Part I)
Fasting is a concept that’s been around for centuries. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, recommended fasting as a method of treating illness as far back as 460 BC and it’s been well-documented since then, throughout cultures and religions all over the world.
Today—aside from religious practices—fasting is generally viewed as a form of weight control. People effectively fast to lose weight or maintain weight they’ve previously lost through dieting and exercise. When you think about the math behind weight loss—burning more daily calories than you take in—fasting makes sense as a way to dramatically cut back the number of total calories your body takes in each day.
But fasting is about more than just eating fewer calories. In fact, today’s preferred method of fasting is intermittent fasting: a style of fasting that places just as much emphasis on when you fast as how long you fast.
Intermittent fasting explained
Intermittent fasting is the practice of fasting for specified intervals on a routine schedule, rather than not eating for an extended period of time. Or, conversely, you might only eat during specified intervals, maintaining a fast outside of these intervals. For example, a person might only eat from the hours of 8-9am and from 6-7pm, fasting at all other times throughout the day.
When it comes to intermittent fasting specifically, there are actually 3 recognized types of fasting to understand:
- On-off-on: This method is the most severe, wherein a person will fast for 24 full hours once or twice per week. This method is generally not recommended for beginners, due to the physical strain it puts on the body without prior fasting experience.
- Leangain’s protocol (16/8): This involves fasting for 16 straight hours and allowing yourself to eat for 8. Generally, this type of schedule allows for eating between 10am-6pm, restricting eating in the evenings.
- Modified eating schedule: This option restricts eating to twice per day, with strict fasting in between. A person might eat breakfast between 9-10am and dinner between 5-6pm, with aren’t fasting outside of these times. Calorie restriction is often part of this method.
The key factor behind all of these methods is the controlled approach to when food is consumed. By eliminating snacking or sporadic meals, intermittent fasting forces the body into a pattern that allows it to expend more energy burning calories more effectively.
More of a lifestyle, less of a diet
While intermittent fasting is commonly lumped in with dieting, it’s so much more. Because there’s often no restriction to what you eat or how much of it you consume, fasting is actually closer to a lifestyle decision than it is a diet. While some people may restrict calorie consumption as part of their efforts to lose weight, intermittent fasting actually does this by nature, since your body can only process so many calories in a single sitting.
The reason intermittent fasting has become so popular and such an asset for those looking for effective weight control is because of its ability to change a person’s perception of food. Instead of dictating what you can or can’t eat or making you count calories, fasting simply limits the opportunities you have to eat. In this way, dieters learn self-control and discipline. These traits prove more effective for weight control in the long-term, more so than just being able to follow dieting directions.
Other health benefits
More than just for weight loss and weight control, intermittent fasting is currently being studied for its correlation to more than a few health-related benefits. Some of the science currently points to intermittent fasting’s ability to:
- Improve production of human growth hormone (HGH)
- Reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar
- Reduce LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers and more
- Aid in the growth of nerve cells by increasing the brain hormone BDNF
There’s also evidence to suggest fasting can help mitigate your risk of cancer and provide the body with anti-aging properties! All of these reasons—combined with the anecdotal accounts of simply feeling better during a controlled fasting cycle—make intermittent fasting something many people should take a closer look at in their own lives.