You know that you want to eat right and do what’s best for your body, but it can be hard. Oftentimes, despite your best attempts to be healthy it’s all too easy to give into cravings for junk food and your best diet attempts get thwarted.
What if there was a better way?
Around the world, a centuries-old eating method is growing in popularity. Not concerned with cutting out calories or downsizing your desserts, this plan seeks to change the way you eat to match your body’s natural rhythms. It’s a plan that can be followed both by people that want to lose weight and those that are content with their size; the goal of this plan is about keeping you healthy, not shrinking your waistline. Yet even so, many people have found that synching their body into this natural rhythm helps them lose unnecessary fat anyways, almost without effort.
It’s called intermittent fasting, and this simple eating strategy might just change everything you thought you knew about eating right.
What is intermittent fasting?
Unlike most healthy eating plans, intermittent fasting isn’t about what you eat, but rather when. In short, intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating that lets you schedule your meals to ensure that your body gets the maximum benefit out of each one.
In essence, by undergoing a series of short fasts, you can rev up your metabolism to its full fat-burning potential. Whether you actually eat fewer calories per day is less important than the fact that your body will be tuned to operate on maximum efficiency. Fasting can be as simple as not eating until 1pm or as complex as eating only five hundred calories in a day. The choice is yours what type of fasting strategy you choose to follow.
The science behind it
The key part of intermittent fasting is that it shifts the amount of time your body spends in fed states and fasted states. Depending on what state it’s in, your body processes nutrients differently. After a big meal it enters the fed state for three to five hours while it absorbs the food, meaning that the plentiful amount of nutrients available ensures that your body doesn’t turn towards its own fat stores for energy.
Once your food is digested, your body shifts into a post-absorptive state for 8-12 hours, which is the fasted state. As your blood glucose levels come back down to normal, the accessible levels of insulin go down, making your body turn to its own fat stores for energy.
Notice that it takes about 12 hours for your body to enter this special fasted state. In daily life, few of us go this long without food, meaning our bodies are rarely primed to be their most efficient fat-burning selves.
Who should try it?
Cultures throughout history have relied on the practice of restrictive fasting to maintain their health, meaning that just about everyone can benefit from the occasional fast. Recent scientific evidence has even shown that reducing your calorie consumption by a third can extend your lifespan by a decade and reduce your risk of developing common diseases. However, if you have been trying to lose weight without success or have found that your weight loss has plateaued, you have the most to gain from changing around your body’s energy burning cycles through fasting.
4 intermittent fasting methods to try
Trying out intermittent fasting is easier than you think. The key to success is trying out different plans until you find the one that your body responds best to. Below are some of the top intermittent fasting plans and simple instructions for how to follow them.
1. Daily intermittent fasting (lean gains)
Created by Martin Berkhan, the Lean Gains method is one of the most popular fasting methods for first-timers to try, and it’s easy to see why. The plan is simple; fasters don’t eat for sixteen hours at a time and then eat with an eight hour time frame. Most people like to make their last meal end around 8pm and then not eat anything until 1pm the next day. It’s also popular to add in a workout right around 11am or noon to get the maximum fat burning benefits during your body’s fasted state.
This plan works best when followed everyday, so practitioners should be ready to commit to giving up a meal. It’s a great plan for weight loss but not always ideal for athletes because they often find it difficult to eat enough calories to maintain their weight in the eight hour time frame.
2. Weekly intermittent fasting (eat-stop-eat)
Created by Brad Pilon, the Eat-Stop-Eat fast is especially good for healthy eaters simply looking to get an extra boost out of their diet. The idea is that you go without food for a full 24 hours a few times a month, usually about once a week. During these fast periods you should restrict yourself to no calorie beverages like water or coffee, though chicken bouillon is okay for refreshing your salt levels. For the rest of the month you can eat whatever you want, though it’s better to match this plan with plenty of exercise.
A major benefit of this plan is that it can be tailored to fit your changing schedule. For example, many people like to take their fasts on the day after a big holiday meal.
3. The warrior diet
For the truly devoted, the Warrior Diet is an excellent way to get your best muscular body. Designed by Ori Hofmekler, this plan isn’t for the faint of heart. The premise is that you combine a 20 hour fast with a four hour eating period, which is practiced every day.
Unlike other plans, the fasting period needs to happen at night to ensure that your body is fed nutrients while in sync with circadian rhythms, just like it is for carnivorous mammals like lions. Another difference is that the fasting periods are less strict than in other plans, as raw fruits and vegetables are encouraged if you need a pick-me-up.
Though the muscle building potential in this plan can be impressive, many people find that restricting their food to four hours a day is too difficult, especially during social events.
4. 5:2 diet
For those that are looking for a simple way to try out intermittent fasting, the 5:2 method might be the right choice. Created by Michael Mosley, this plan allows you to eat normally for five days a week while restricting yourself to 500-600 calories on the other two non-consecutive days. Mondays and Thursdays tend to be the most popular fasting days.
Though this plan can be effective for weight loss, it’s easy to eat too much on non-fast days, so if weight loss is your goal you might need to watch your calorie counts on those days.
Safety: Knowing when fasting is right for you
While intermittent fasting can be a smart eating strategy for just about anyone, there are some people that don’t get much benefit from it. According to some studies, women don’t respond quite as well to this eating plan as men and that the health benefits are minimal for them, especially if the regular fasting stops their period. Some studies have shown that fasting can have negative impacts on insulin levels for people as well.
If you are curious about intermittent fasting but aren’t sure how your body will react, a good idea is to try a modified version of the Lean Gains or 5:2 method for a few weeks and shorten your fasting times if necessary. With the proper adjustments, the negative side effects of intermittent fasting can go away for some people.
There are some health issues that make intermittent fasting a bad idea no matter what. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have diabetes, low blood pressure, or have a history of eating disorders, an intermittent fasting plan is not a smart choice for you.
It’s normal to feel slightly faint when you first start fasting, and it’s perfectly okay to let yourself have a small snack during your first few attempts. However, if you consistently feel weak, shaky or nauseous throughout your entire fasting period, you should break your fast immediately and visit a doctor right away.
When followed safely, intermittent fasting is an excellent weight loss strategy and a smart way to make your body perform at optimal levels. If you are tired from following traditional diets without success, it might be time to give intermittent fasting a try. By taking the time to try out different intervals of fasting, you will be enjoying the health benefits of this simple eating strategy that has been helping people live longer, healthier lives for centuries.