The Truth About Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has become one of the most popular diets and lifestyle choices of modern times. This way of eating promises not to restrict your diet or caloric intake whilst still burning fat. It sounds too good to be true, and people often doubt or question the mechanisms by which it works, or fail to understand exactly why it's so effective as a long-term dietary decision.
Intermittent fasting, also known as IF, involves setting a window of time in which you're allowed to eat, and a window of time in which you can consume nothing but water, or extremely low calorie drinks. It can be done in a variety of ways; some fasters set themselves a feeding window of 8 hours per day, some allow just 1 hour to eat, and others alternate by fasting every other day for the entire period.
A typical fasting choice might be to have a 16 hour window of fasting followed by an 8 hour window of feeding, often referred to as 16:8. Many find this style to be convenient and have a fairly low impact on their everyday lives. For example, by eating your last meal at 9 p.m., and eating your first meal the following day at 1 p.m., you effectively only need to skip breakfast to experience the many health benefits IF offers.
One of the reasons IF works so well is fairly obvious; by restricting the window of time in which you're allowed to eat, you're likely to consume fewer calories. This is fairly self-explanatory but not the primary reason why the diet is so effective. By fasting for longer, regular periods, your body learns to enter a state of ketosis, which is the same state triggered by the popular ketogenic diet. When your body is in a state of ketosis, it uses up your reserve glucose supplies and turns to burning stored fat for energy instead.
Regular diets without fasting are giving you a constant supply of fresh glucose in the form of carbohydrates. Because of this, you never give your body a chance to burn up the reserve glucose supplies, therefore never burn fat stores for energy.
An added benefit of entering ketosis, as well as burning fat, is that it causes the brain to use ketones as a fuel source. This is known to lead to many beneficial neuropsychological changes, including reduced cravings, memory improvements, and a greater capacity for learning.
Another way in which IF is effective in burning fat is by lowering insulin levels and increasing the body's sensitivity to insulin. This has a similar effect as ketosis in that it encourages your body to burn fat instead of glucose. Even better, IF helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, meaning you won't have so many energy spikes and crashes, improved production of human growth hormone, and reduction of inflammation in the body.
It's a simple diet to follow in that you only need to restrict the times that you eat and not worry too much about anything else. It is generally best advised that you consume only water and electrolytes during a fast, although some advocate using black coffee with no sweetener or green tea. Best practice would be to commit to it long term, 7 days per week, whilst a minimum daily fasting window of 16 hours is recommended.
If you want to shed excess weight in a sustainable way, and don't want to make too many lifestyle and dietary sacrifices, intermittent fasting is certainly worth a try. Just remember to give your body a period of at least 2 week to adapt, and feel free to experiment with various windows of feeding and fasting to figure out which ratio is optimal for you. Before long, you could be experiencing the many benefits IF has to offer.