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All About Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent Fasting (IF) refers to dietary eating patterns that involve not eating or severely restricting calories for an extended period of time. There are many different subgroups of intermittent fasting each with individual variation in the duration of the fast; some for hours, others for day(s). This has become an extremely popular topic in the scientific community because of all the potential fitness and health benefits that are being discovered.
WHAT IS INTERMITTENT FASTING (IF)?
Fasting, or periods of voluntary abstinence from food, has been practiced throughout the world for centuries. Intermittent fasting with the goal of improving health is relatively new. Intermittent fasting involves restricting food intake for a fixed period of time and does not involve any changes to the actual food you eat. Currently, the most common IF protocols are a daily 16 hour fast and fast for a whole day, one or two days a week. Intermittent fasting could be considered a natural eating pattern that humans were built to implement and it traces all the way back to our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors. The current model of a planned program of intermittent fasting can potentially help improve many aspects of health, from body composition to longevity and aging. Although IF goes against the norms of our culture and common daily routine, science can point to less meal frequency and more time fasting as the optimal alternative to the normal model for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here are two common myths that relate to intermittent fasting.
Myth 1 – You must eat 3 meals a day: This “rule” that is common in Western society was not developed based on evidence for improved health, but was adopted as the common pattern for settlers and eventually became the norm . Not only is there a lack of scientific rationale in the 3 meal-a-day model, recent studies may show fewer meals and more fasting to be optimal for human health. One study showed that one meal a day with the same amount of daily calories is better for weight loss and body composition than 3 meals a day. This finding is a basic concept that is extrapolated into intermittent fasting and those who choose to do IF may find it best to eat only 1-2 meals per day.
Myth 2 – You need breakfast, it is the most important meal of the day: Many false claims about the absolute necessity for a daily breakfast have been made. The most common claims are “eating breakfast increases your metabolism” and “eating breakfast reduces food intake later in the day”. These claims have been disproved and studied over a 16-week period with results showing that skipping breakfast did not decrease metabolism and did not increase food intake at lunch and dinner. It is still possible to do intermittent fasting protocols while still eating breakfast, but some people find it easier to eat a late breakfast or skip it altogether and this common myth should not get in the way.
TYPES OF INTERMITTENT FASTING:
Intermittent fasting comes in many forms and each can have a specific set of unique benefits. Each form of intermittent fasting has variations in the ratio of fasting to eating. The benefits and effectiveness of these different protocols may vary on an individual basis and it is important to determine which one is best for you. Factors that may influence which to choose include health goals, daily schedule/routine, and current health status. The most common types of IF are alternate fasting, time-restricted feeding, and modified fasting.
1. ALTERNATE DAY FASTING:
This approach involves alternating days of absolutely no calories (from food or drink) with days of free nutrition and eating whatever you want.
This plan has been shown to help with weight loss, improve blood cholesterol and triglyceride (fat) levels, and improve markers of inflammation in the blood.
The main downfall with this form of intermittent fasting is that it is the most difficult to sustain due to the reported hunger during fasting days.
2. MODIFIED FASTING – 5:2 DIET
Modified fasting is a protocol with programmed fasting days, but the fasting days do allow some food intake. In general, 20-25% of normal calories are allowed to be consumed on fasting days; so if you normally consume 2000 calories on regular eating days, you would be allowed 400-500 calories on fasting days. The 5:2 part of this diet refers to the ratio of non-fasting to fasting days. So on this regimen you would eat normally for 5 consecutive days, then fast or restrict calories to 20-25% for 2 consecutive days.
This protocol is great for weight loss, body composition, and can also benefit the regulation of blood sugar, lipids, and inflammation. Studies have shown that the 5:2 protocol is effective for weight loss, improve/lower inflammatory markers in the blood (3), and show signs of trending improvements in insulin resistance. In animal studies, this modified fasting 5:2 diet resulted in reduced fat, reduced hunger hormones (leptin), and increased levels of a protein responsible for improvements in fat burning and blood sugar regulation (adiponectin).
The modified 5:2 fasting protocol is easy to follow and has a small number of negative side effects which included hunger, low energy and some irritability at the beginning of the program. In contrast to this, however, studies have also noted improvements such as reduced tension, less anger, less fatigue, improvements in self-confidence, and a more positive mood.
3. TIME-LIMITED FEEDING:
If you know someone who has said they do intermittent fasting, chances are it’s in the form of time-restricted eating. This is a type of intermittent fasting that is used daily and it involves only consuming calories in a small part of the day and fasting for the rest. Daily fasting intervals in time-restricted nutrition can vary from 12-20 hours, with the most common method being 16/8 (fasting for 16 hours, consuming calories for 8). For this protocol, the time of day is not important as long as you fast for a consecutive period and only eat during your allowed time period. For example, on a 16/8 time-restricted feeding program, one person might eat their first meal at 7AM and last meal at 3PM (fast from 3PM-7AM), while another person might eat their first meal at 1PM and last meal at 9PM ( fast from 9PM-1PM). This protocol is meant to be performed every day over long periods of time and is very flexible as long as you stay within the fasting/eating window(s).
Time-restricted feeding is one of the easiest methods of intermittent fasting to follow. Using this along with your daily work and sleep schedule can help achieve optimal metabolic function. Time-restricted nutrition is a great program to follow for weight loss and body composition improvements, as well as some other general health benefits. The few human trials that were conducted noted significant reductions in weight, reductions in fasting blood glucose, and improvements in cholesterol without changes in perceived tension, depression, anger, fatigue, or confusion. Some other preliminary results from animal studies showed time-restricted feeding to protect against obesity, high insulin levels, fatty liver disease and inflammation.
The easy application and promising results of time-limited nutrition can make it an excellent option for weight loss and prevention/management of chronic diseases. When implementing this protocol it may be good to start with a lower ratio of fasting to eating such as 12/12 hours and eventually work your way up to 16/8 hours.
GENERAL QUESTION ABOUT INTERMITTENT FASTING:
Is there any food or drink I can consume while intermittent fasting? Unless you are doing the modified fasting 5:2 diet (mentioned above), you should not eat or drink anything that contains calories. Water, black coffee, and all foods/drinks that do not contain calories are OK to consume during a fasting period. In fact, adequate water intake is essential during IF and some say drinking black coffee while fasting helps reduce hunger.
IF YOU JUST WANT THE CONTROLS:
Research into intermittent fasting is in its infancy, but it still has enormous potential for weight loss and the treatment of some chronic diseases.
To recap, here are the possible benefits of intermittent fasting:
Featured in Human Studies:
1. Weight loss
2. Improve blood lipid markers such as cholesterol
3. Reduce inflammation
4. Reduced stress and improved self-confidence
5. Improved mood
Shown in animal studies:
1. Reduced Body Fat
2. Decreased levels of the hunger hormone leptin
3. Improve insulin levels
4. Protect against obesity, fatty liver disease, and inflammation
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