Intermittent fasting is not a prescribed diet but an eating trend. More than telling you what to eat, it tells you how to eat. It is a program that tells you to switch between fasting and eating on a daily basis. It emphasizes the fact that when you eat is equally important as what you eat.

The intermittent fasting plan doesn’t tell you to starve yourself. It involves periods of entirely or partially abstaining from eating. This helps you cut back on calories for short periods. It works on the belief that over time your body becomes contented with smaller portions.

There are so many health-promoting diets out there, that have benefits. But, if you were to combine those diets with the intermittent fasting way of eating, the benefits will multiply and with greater certainty.

Research has shown that intermittent fasting helps you manage your weight and control or prevent a host of diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and more, besides reducing oxidative stress.

There are several ways to follow an intermittent fasting pattern but all are based on a fixed schedule and are not randomly planned. Each individual will likely have a pattern that will best suit him or her.

Popular approaches to intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting is quite flexible and an easier way of eating as compared to strict calorie restriction and the traditional way of fasting.

Some popular approaches to intermittent fasting include:

  • Alternate-day fasting. In this approach, you eat a normal diet one day and on the next day, you don’t eat anything at all or have one small meal containing less than 500 calories. Some studies suggest that this type of fasting is almost as effective as a low-calorie diet prescribed for weight loss because of the reduced number of calories you eat.
  • 5:2 fasting. In this approach, you eat a normal diet five days a week and limit yourself to one 500-calorie meal for the balance 2 days of the week.
  • Daily time-restricted fasting. This is called the 16:8 method or the Leangains diet. You eat normally but only within an eight-hour window period each day, say, for example, you eat between 12 noon and 8 pm. You skip breakfast, eat lunch around noon, and dinner by 8 p.m.

Besides helping in weight loss, does intermittent fasting improve your overall health? Yes, it does. Losing extra weight and becoming physically active help lower your risk of obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease, and some types of cancer.

According to some research, intermittent fasting also benefits you by reducing inflammation and improving inflammation-associated conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Multiple sclerosis, stroke, arthritis, and asthma.

How does intermittent fasting work?

As mentioned above, there are different schedules to do intermittent fasting, but they are all based on having extended periods of fasting.

For example, you eat only during an eight-hour period each day and fast for the remainder sixteen hours. Alternatively, you might choose to eat only one meal a day for two days of the week.

What happens is that your body burns the limited calories and sugar stores available during those extended fasting periods and begins to burn fats for any activity. This is called metabolic switching.

While glucose obtained from carbohydrates is our most direct source of energy, our body burns fat to obtain energy when glucose sources become depleted. This especially happens when you’re fasting and deprived of food. On the other hand, the ability of our body to store fat is unlimited.

During prolonged periods of fasting, triglycerides from the fat depots are converted to fatty acids and glycerol. The liver then converts fatty acids to ketone bodies, which become the main source of energy.

How long does it take for intermittent fasting to work?

The results of intermittent fasting largely depend on what you eat. If you’re fasting and into eating processed food you’re not going to get optimum results vis-à-vis health. Secondly, how long it will take to show results differs from individual to individual.

It may take between 2 and 4 weeks to see any results because your body will take some time to get used to this new way of eating.

If you’re using intermittent fasting

  • To improve your gut health, benefits will accrue after just a few days. One week of intermittent fasting may improve symptoms of gut problems such as IBS, nausea, bloating, and diarrhea.
  • For improved metabolic health, improved heart and liver health, and lowering inflammation, it could take between one to three months.
  • To increase longevity, prevent chronic diseases, and maintain overall health, you’ll require to practice intermittent fasting constantly over the long term.
  • When you are on the 16-8 schedule, your body starts using up the fat stores and you will notice weight loss in one to three months. There is sufficient scientific evidence to show that fasting intermittently is an effective way to achieve satisfactory weight loss.

What should I eat when fasting?

Most nutrition experts emphasize that the Mediterranean diet is a good diet to follow when you’re into intermittent fasting and even otherwise. It consists of

  • Leafy greens such as Kale, Spinach, and Cabbage
  • Fruits
  • Healthy fats present in seafood, seeds, nuts, legumes
  • Lean protein present in eggs, lentils, chicken without skin, fish
  • Complex carbohydrates present in whole grains and brown rice
  • Use healthy oils for cooking

You should avoid high-calorie junk food, fried items, bakery products, red meats, processed foods, refined grains, hydrogenated oils, whole-fat dairy, butter, and alcohol.

During the fasting period, you should drink enough water to stay well hydrated or else it could lead to fatigue, cramps, headache, and more. You can also have zero-calorie beverages such as black coffee and black tea without sugar and milk.

Intermittent fasting benefits

Research shows that intermittent fasting does more than just burn fat and sugar. These metabolic changes have a positive effect on the body and brain as well. The body looks leaner, the mind becomes sharper, and the life span increases.

These metabolic changes due to intermittent fasting lead to improved metabolism, increased health span, and increased longevity. It protects you against chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, age-related neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and many cancers.

Let’s look at some more proven benefits.

  • Improves cognitive function (thinking and memory)
  • Improves blood pressure and other heart-related parameters such as heart rate
  • Improves physical performance
  • Improves blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes and enhances the action of diabetes medicines possibly leading to reduced doses
  • Helps in weight loss in obese people and further helps to maintain a healthy weight
  • Positive effect on high cholesterol levels
  • Improves arthritis symptoms
  • Improves metabolic health

Who should not practice intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting, despite its health benefits, isn’t for everyone. Before switching to intermittent fasting, consult your medical practitioner first.

The following individuals should not practice intermittent fasting.

  • Children and teens under the age of 18 years
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • People who take insulin should avoid this pattern of eating because of the risk of hypoglycemia.
  • People with a history of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa
  • Those who practice vigorous workouts
  • People with immunodeficiency
  • Older people

Again, as a precautionary measure, talk to your doctor if have kidney stones, GERD, diabetes, or other medical problems before going for intermittent fasting.

The side effects of intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting has different effects on different people and some of them can be unpleasant. However, in some people, these effects go away after about a month.

Side effects can include: