Fasting in general isn’t a new concept. It has been a popular research topic for years, with some of the earliest treatments for diabetes involving fasting in some way. In fact many of the earliest uses of fasting as a technique target some form of disease prevention or treatment as the end goal. Intermittent fasting is a subsection of this technique that has grown in popularity over time, and there’s no better time like the present to see if it could work for you.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating which cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It’s a nutrition plan that doesn’t restrict or define what you should eat, but rather provides a framework for when you should eat. You may have heard the term thrown around by your friends and coworkers, or you may even know someone who’s trying it out. But it’s more than just a buzzword or fitness trend, it’s a lifestyle change that can have a long lasting positive impact on your health.
How does it work?
To understand how intermittent fasting works, you first need to understand human evolution. Did you know that the current idea of eating three meals a day is fairly recent? Only a few centuries old at best. You see, we as a species faced a dearth of food for large parts of our history, and our bodies evolved to require no more than a certain amount to function. But as societies evolved, we started seeing a surplus of food, and eating became a more frequent, structured process. But here’s the thing, digesting food requires a lot of energy, which could be used more efficiently elsewhere in the body.
Fasting compensates for the over consumption of food, requiring you to cut down your caloric intake. It reduces the time and energy your body spends on digestion, and redirects it towards regeneration on a cellular level. It also decreases your body’s reliance on carbohydrates, causing it to burn fat for energy instead.
How long should you do it?
It’s all in the name. Intermittent fasting, in simple terms, is a pattern of consumption that gives you a window of time for fasting and a window of time for eating. This could mean fasting for one day out of a week, once every other day, eating normally for five days out of the week and restricting your calorie intake for the other days or other similar cycles. For example, a lot of people choose to follow a 16–8 cycle. This is where you fast for 16 hours and eat as much as you need during an eight hour window. The idea is to find what works best for you and your lifestyle. For example, you might get your best results timing your eating window three hours before you go to bed, so your body is in balance with your circadian rhythm. Others may choose to align it with their workout schedule, replacing the energy that’s already been burned.
Why should you get on board?
Intermittent fasting has several benefits, both physical and mental. For starters it:
- Lets the body burn accumulated fat instead of carbohydrate energy
- Allows more energy to be spent on cell regeneration
- Cuts down on time spent in digestion
- Sustains energy over the course of the day
But while it does have these myriad benefits, it’s important to remember to listen to your body. If you find yourself feeling weak or irritable, for example, it could be a sign of low blood sugar and an indication that it’s time to grab a snack. It’s also good to note that most studies on intermittent fasting have been done either on men or on post-menopausal women, so there isn’t a lot of data on its effects on the changing hormonal cycle of women in their child-bearing years. That isn’t to say that you can’t try intermittent fasting if you fall in this category, just pay attention to the signals your body is giving you and don’t be afraid of indulging a craving or two if you have to.
What’s the end result?
If you’ve been having difficulty balancing your weight with your activity level, been lethargic after meals, or often found your mind wandering when you should be focusing, intermittent fasting may be helpful to you. Sure, it’s a slow progression, but over time you can expect:
- Better weight management due to the body burning fat instead of carbohydrates
- Slower aging thanks to continuous cell rejuvenation
- More energy and greater mental focus as less energy is spent on heavy processes
- Boosted metabolism
- Improved hormonal balance
- More efficient absorption of nutrition from food
So if you’re looking for a change in lifestyle that will rejuvenate both your mind and body, intermittent fasting may be right for you. Just remember, it’s all about the balance — listen to your body’s signals and eat when you need to eat. Other than that, there’s no real restrictions on what you can eat. Oh, and we’ve saved the best little tidbit for last: you don’t need to give up your morning coffee, even if it doesn’t fall into your eating window. If you crave that sweet, sweet caffeine, you can help yourself at any time — just as long as it’s black, no sugar.