Not that long ago, people were encouraged to eat three square meals a day, at specific times (with some wiggle room) for optimal health. In recent years, however, such a notion has been turned on its head, and one of the things that has contributed to this change in thinking is intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting is a general term for various eating plans that cycle between fasting and non-fasting, and involves limiting your food intake to a certain window of time. Joseph Mercola notes that our ancestors practiced intermittent fasting as a way of life since they didn't have the ready access to food we enjoy today.
Ways to approach intermittent fasting
One of the more popular intermittent fasting techniques involves eating during a six to eight hour window of time each day; for example from noon until 6 or 8 PM. During that period, you would eat the same amount of calories you normally would if you spread your meals out during the day. A variation of this approach is to reduce caloric intake if weight loss is your goal.
How you choose to practice intermittent fasting is up to you. If restricting your eating to a small window of time each day (sometimes called the 16/8 method) doesn't work for you, you might prefer another approach, such as:
- Fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week
- Fasting every other day
- Refraining from most food for two days a week (eating only 500 to 600 calories on those days)
- Trying the warrior diet: fasting all day and eating a large meal at night
Read more about juice fasting Be sure to stay adequately hydrated. Water, coffee, and herbal tea can be consumed at will throughout the day. Intermittent fasting should never feel like a punishment: if you feel weak or light headed, you should re-evaluate your fasting approach and find something that works for you. Intermittent fasting has several important health benefits, and you want to be sure to enjoy them!
If you switch to a six to eight hour intermittent fasting plan, begin gradually, starting with one or two days per week. Give your body time to adjust to the changes in eating habits.
Intermittent fasting works best if you follow a natural, whole-foods diet and eliminate processed foods. Focus on healthy fats (e.g., avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, raw nuts), plant protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.
Benefits of intermittent fasting
The first benefit that comes to mind when people think about intermittent fasting is weight loss. It's true that it can help drop pounds, especially if you add exercise to the program. Fasting allows the body to switch from carbohydrate burning to fat burning.
When you add exercise to the picture, the physical activity boosts fat burning as well as counteracts muscle wasting and aging. Another way intermittent fasting helps with weight loss is its stabilizing effect on ghrelin, a hormone that regulates hunger.
However, there are other health advantages to consider. For example, intermittent fasting has been shown to boost brain health, at least in animals. More research into how fasting approach can help brain function is underway.
Other health benefits include helping promote insulin sensitivity, boosting production of human growth hormone (which plays an important role in fitness and slowing aging), reducing triglyceride levels, battling free radical damage, helping with detox, and suppressing inflammation (which has a role in many chronic diseases such as heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, and cancer).
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, underweight, have or had an eating disorder, and if you are hypoglycemic or diabetic, please consult with your doctor before starting any intermittent fasting program.
Intermittent fasting can help you maximize your energy, ability to burn fat, drop excess pounds, and maintain overall health. To decide if intermittent fasting is right for you, the best place to start is with a trusted healthcare provider.
Antoni R et al. Effects of intermittent fasting on glucose and lipid metabolism. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 2017 Jan 16: 1-8
Gunnars K. 6 ways to do intermittent fasting. Healthline. Authority Nutrition. 2017 June 4.
Mattson MP et al. Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes. Ageing Research Reviews 2016 Oct 31
Mercola J. Everything you need to know about intermittent fasting. Mercola.com