Some diets like the 8 Hour Diet advocate the concept of Intermittent Fasting (IF) – we tackle the issue to find out is this just stupid, or is there something to this?
The concept of fasting isn't’t a new idea, by any means: it’s even referenced in the Bible and other ancient texts as a helpful practice for both health and spiritual reasons. In recent decades, however, fasting has fallen out of practice for the most part in the west. In fact, contrary advice seems to abound: we hear that in order to maintain a healthy metabolism and have enough energy, eating small meals frequently throughout the day is ideal.
A recent trend in the bodybuilding and weight loss community, however, is pointing back toward fasting as a helpful way to maintain fitness and even increase longevity. Modern scientific studies don’t contradict this viewpoint: in fact, certain types of fasting are shown to impart these benefits. Fasting is gaining popularity among those looking to lose weight, and has especially been found beneficial to those who experience a weight loss plateau. Because there are a lot of ways to experiment with intermittent fasting, there’s definitely a smart way to go about it – and a stupid way. Here, we’we'll explore some of the trends in how some are choosing to fast as well as the science behind how it all works.
Intermittent Fasting Patterns
The basic concept of intermittent fasting (IF) is not to restrict calories, but to go without eating for a longer stretch of time, consuming more calories in one or two meals or in a certain window of time. IF can be a daily practice, where one takes in all of their calories (for example) in a 4-hour window. It can also be practiced more irregularly. There are several ways this can be done, so as to work with varying schedules.
Regular IF – daily fasting with a short set of hours in which one eats all of their daily calories. For example, one might fast for 20 hours from 8PM until 4PM the next day, consuming a larger amount of food between 4PM and 8PM until the cycle begins again. Other timeframes are common, as well: success with a 16/8 or 18/6 schedule is reported as well.
Frequent IF – eating “normally,” with the exception of 1 or 2 days a week, in which one fasts for 24 hours.
Occasional IF – fasting occasionally as it’s convenient, rather than as a regular part of the schedule. This type of intermittent fasting obviously offers the most flexibility as there are no clear guidelines. Occasional IF can be as simple as skipping a meal when healthy food options are not available or be more planned – a 24-36 hour fast once a month, for example.
How Does it Work?
The principles behind intermittent fasting are based on the science behind how are bodies use energy. Fasting puts the body in the position of pulling energy from fat stores rather than burning up food. There is also the compounded effect of taking in fewer calories overall when intake is reduced to a shorter period of time, but this isn't’t universal. Fortunately, this factor is not the sole indicator of success with IF.
Fasting makes our bodies use the food we eat more efficiently by taking advantage of the way insulin works.
When we eat, our bodies respond by producing insulin. In a nutshell, the more sensitive the body is to insulin, the more efficiently those calories are used for energy and building muscle as opposed to storing the calories as fat. The body is most sensitive to insulin after a period of fasting.
You’we'll often hear breakfast being touted as the holy grail of healthy eating – the same concept is in play here. The food we eat after sleeping for 8-9 hours is used more efficiently than a bunch of snacks throughout the day. In recent years, the weight loss advice to “Never eat after 6PM” and other variations have surfaced, which have grounds in the same principle. While the advice isn't’t explicitly linked to IF, the science and principles are the same.
Safety Tips & Precautions
Intermittent fasting can be an effective fat loss and muscle building tool, but it’s not for everyone. There are also a few precautions to consider when deciding how and if experimenting with IF is a good idea.
Those with blood sugar issues due to diabetes or hypoglycemia should take further precaution before experimenting with IF by speaking with a medical professional familiar with their history.
Women who are pregnant or nursing should wait until their child is fully weaned before experimenting with fasting.
A period of fatigue when first starting out with IF is possible, especially for those used to getting their energy from carbs. Starting slowly and possibly switching to a low-carb diet for several weeks could help regulate this energy dip. It’s temporary – in general, increased energy is reported for those who use IF.
While intermittent fasting isn't’t for everyone, it does help a lot of people with a couple of very specific goals: burning fat and building muscle. If done with caution and alertness, it may be a way to reach your fitness goals.