Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. There are no set guidelines for what foods to eat, but rather when you should eat them.
Most people already “fast” every day while they sleep. Intermittent fasting can be as simple as extending that fast a little longer. You can do this by skipping breakfast, eating your first meal at noon and your last meal at 8 pm. This means that you’d be fasting for 16 hours in the day, and restricting your eating to an 8-hour window. This is the most popular form, also known as the 16/8 method.
*Something to note: You can start and end your fasting cycles at whatever times work best for you. Just as long as you abide by the 16/8 rule. Experiment and pick a time frame that works for you.
To break it down a bit further— essentially, a nutritionist rebranded “skipping breakfast” as intermittent fasting.
- Convenience. Think about the time and money you spend on cooking and preparing food for the week. This will be cut down drastically.
- Increased weight loss. Not only does restricting your intake to a few hours per day help cut calories over the course of the day, but studies also show that fasting could boost metabolism and increase weight loss.
- Improved blood sugar: Intermittent fasting has been found to reduce fasting insulin levels by up to 31% and lower blood sugar by 3–6%, potentially decreasing your risk of diabetes.
- Increased human growth hormone. According to a 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, IF showed an increase in the human growth hormone, which promotes cellular repair. This is good for everything from brain health to anti-aging benefits of the skin.
- Restricting your intake to just eight hours per day can cause some people to eat more than usual during eating periods in an attempt to make up for hours spent fasting.
- This can lead to weight gain, digestive problems and unhealthy eating habits.
- Intermittent fasting may also cause short-term negative side effects when you’re first getting started, such as hunger, weakness and fatigue — though these often subside once you get into a routine.
- No food is allowed during the fasting period, but you can drink water, coffee, tea, etc. Stick to drinks that are low in calories and won’t spike your insulin levels. (Avoid diet sodas)
- Some forms of intermittent fasting allow small amounts of low-calorie foods during the fasting period. Read more about that here.
- Taking supplements is okay, as long as there are no calories in them.
- It’s recommended that you eat several small meals and snacks spaced evenly throughout the day to help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep hunger under control.
- Stick to nutritious whole foods and beverages during your eating periods to maximize the potential health benefits.
- Binging or overdoing it on junk food can negate the positive effects associated with intermittent fasting and may end up doing more harm than good to your health.
- Try balancing each meal with a good variety of healthy whole foods, such as:
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, berries, oranges, etc.
- Veggies: Broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, greens, etc.
- Whole grains: Quinoa, rice, oats, etc.
- Healthy fats: Olive oil, avocados and coconut oil.
- Protein: Meat, poultry, fish, tofu, eggs, nuts, seeds, etc.
Is intermittent fasting right for you?
IF is not for everyone, nor is it something you have to do in order to be healthy. It is simply a tool that many health experts have in their toolbox that has promising benefits. If it fits into your lifestyle and you know you can still get all the proper nutrients for your body, it might be worth trying.
Fasting is not a means to binge on junk food during the eating period. You have to be confident you will fill your eating cycle and caloric restrictions with healthy foods so that you’re getting enough nutrients, vitamins, and macronutrients that your body needs to function at its best. So the practice may be right for you if you already eat healthy and are interested in finding alternative ways to make your body even healthier.
Do not do IF if you’re pregnant, have had a history of disordered eating, have diabetes, or if you take medication that impacts your blood sugar. And, like any other health and wellness practice, only try after you have consulted your doctor to see if it would be beneficial for you.
Remember: IF is a method that has been used for thousands of years for a number of different reasons, including health — it’s not a trendy, passing fitness fad to lose weight, quick. When treated as such, you could reap the amazing benefits.