The Breakdown of Intermittent Fasting

by Khyati Kapur

The Breakdown of Intermittent Fasting

If you’re trying to lose some weight (preferably quickly and with minimal effort) you’ve probably scouted out the relevant literature. Did the word Intermittent Fasting (or IF) come up a lot in your research? There’s lots of hype around it these days. Yes, you heard right… fasting - like they did in ancient times when food was scarce and people had to sometimes go without! 

Seriously… fasting? Why is that old dinosaur having a comeback? 

As it so happens, there are some very good reasons to consider adding fasting into your daily regime. So, before you dismiss this archaic method, let’s discuss and explore why Intermittent Fasting may just be the magic bullet you've been searching for and see if it is right for you! 

What does intermittent fasting mean?  Intermittent fasting is simply a cyclic pattern between time restricted eating and fasting. During the fasting period, there should minimal to no calories consumed.  Don't worry, it's not forever, only for specified chunks of time which you decide on in advance. After that, you go back to eating normally.

It’s easier to understand when looking at some of the actual fasting methods out there. Here’s an outline of some of the more popular ones that you may have heard about: 

16:8  - In this version of IF, you consume all your daily calories in a restricted window of just 8 hours. The remaining 16 hours, you fast.  In practice, this could look something like: eating dinner at 6pm and then not eating anything until 12pm the next day - easier than it seems at first glance, right? 

Eat-Stop-Eat - This is good old-fashioned fasting as most of us imagine it to be. You don’t eat anything for 24 hours or more. In practice, you might wake up in the morning to eat breakfast, then not eat anything again until breakfast the next day. The key is to go without calories for 24 hours. Some people practice fasting once or twice a week, on a regular basis.

5:2 Method - 5:2 is a combination of 16/8 and eat-stop-eat. You eat normally for 5 days of the week (sticking to a calorie limit based on your weight and level of activity) and for the remaining 2 days, you eat a restricted amount - usually between 500-600 calories per “fasting day.” You choose which days to fast and can vary it from week to week, according to your schedule. 

Why has the fasting trend gotten so much attention lately?  Many misconceptions are associated with fasting such as: fasting is unhealthy, my body will be starving, or unhealthy food habits may develop such as food binging.  These are some of the common fears around fasting but there's no need to panic. Fasting has been around for centuries. Hippocrates, father of modern medicine, even wrote, “to eat when you are sick, is to feed your illness.” He isn’t alone, scores of prominent doctors and scientists today are also singing the praises of this age-old practice.

Consider this … 

In days gone by, people didn't have access to unlimited amounts of food. They relied on hunting and gathering and sometimes life was hard and they had to go without food for days on end. They actually thrived this way, and we, as descendants of those early people, are also built to perform optimally when we get periods of rest from food.

 

With our sedentary lifestyles, we simply don't need all the calories we consume. Think supersize soft drinks and snacks - is it any wonder obesity is such a problem these days?  Taking the occasional break from food is actually a dream-come-true for our exhausted, overfed bodies.

It is important to understand what happens in our bodies when we eat food and when our bodies go into the fasted state.  Here’s what happens when we eat: as soon as we swallow food, our enzymes get to work breaking it down into molecules that enter our bloodstream. Carbohydrates (including white flour, white rice, most processed snacks) are broken down quickly into sugar which our cells use as energy. Energy that is not needed right away is stored as fat. The process of storing sugar reserves in our fat cells until we need them, depends on insulin, which is produced in the pancreas. 

When we don’t eat, insulin levels decrease and fat cells release stored sugar. Intermittent fasting can actually be beneficial because as our insulin levels drop, our bodies get a chance to burn off some excess fat, which in turn could lead to weight loss.  A common concern is that our body’s blood sugars levels will fall.  We don't have to worry about going hypoglycemic (when blood sugar drops dangerously low) when we fast as our bodies are cleverly designed to protect us. In periods of fasting, a process called gluconeogenesis kicks in, which means that our bodies manufacture glucose from our fat stores- another win for aspiring fat-burners!

There are many scientifically proven benefits associated with intermittent fasting.  Fasting creates a caloric deficit and for many people, this means weight loss. If you stick to an IF eating plan and don't overeat during your non-fasting days, you could see some significant fat loss. Other people love fasting because it makes them feel great - gives them tons of energy and a clearer, more focused mind. 

There are also some other, lesser-known, benefits, detailed here:

  1. Gives our brains a boost. Research shows that intermittent fasting can increase brain health and lower the risks of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. This is because fasting accelerates autophagy - a natural detoxification process whereby the body cleans out older and damaged cells and generates new ones. Autophagy is boosted when cells are under stress (as they are during fasting).
  2. Increasing life span. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting is also protective against cancers, diabetes and heart disease, extending the lives of sufferers.
  3. Beneficial for some malignancies and tumors. Another study showed that fasting in tandem with chemotherapy, slows the growth of breast and skin cancers.
  4. Helps protect against some diseases. Research has shown that IF can help protect against heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and many more. 

Fasting may not be for everyone. Most of us can fast without any risk whatsoever, however, some people need to exercise caution. Individuals that are pregnant, breastfeeding, have a history of eating disorders, or hypoglycaemia should not embark on a fasting regime without consulting their physician first.  If you are on certain medications for a health condition always consult your provider before introducing fasting into your lifestyle.  

There is a lot of stipulation on whether intermittent fasting is here to stay or is it a fad. The body of scientific evidence demonstrating the benefits of fasting for both weight loss and disease protection is growing in both size and influence. As Neuroscientist Mark Mattson says, “I hope it’s not a fad.“  Although there are still limited studies on the long-term effect of intermittent fasting in humans, the current evidence is proving promising results.

If you are thinking of incorporating IF into your regime, consult with your medical provider who can help you work through the relevant considerations.

  

PLEASE NOTE that this article is not in lieu of medical advice from your doctor. All content found on this website including: articles, text, images, audio, videos, or other formats were created for informational purposes only.  This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

 

 

 

 



Khyati Kapur
Khyati Kapur

Author