Intermittent fasting (IF) is the newest of-the-moment health trend you’ll see wellness experts and fitness gurus alike buzzing about. Although it’s a controversial health trend, make no mistake — intermittent fasting is an ancient technique, practiced for thousands of years for religious, cultural, and health purposes. Intermitten fasting is not purely a modern day fad of weight loss (though that has been shown to be one of the effects), it has been used for centuries to improve metabolic health, protect against disease, and possibly even to live longer (yes, really!).
So what exactly is intermittent fasting? The phenomenon basically involves alternating periods of fasting and eating. It’s different than any other diet or eating plan you’ve tried before, because it doesn’t tell you what to eat, it tells you when to eat. If you’re anything like me, the word “fast” is enough to make you stop reading altogether and run to the cabinet for your third Goldfish bag of the day, but intermittent fasting might be easier than you think. And don’t worry about being hungry– many people report feeling better and having more energy.
Why do intermittent fasting?
People who swear by the technique say it has helped them lose weight, gain muscle, and improve their overall health. In many studies, people who practiced fasting lost more fat than people who didn’t. But beyond just weight loss, there are many other possible health benefits. A 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that IF may help prevent chronic ailments like type 2 diabetes or heart disease. It also starts 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.
So how do you fast (safely)?
Putting it simply, you cannot eat anything during the fasting cycle. You can drink water, tea, and coffee (you don’t have to give up that first-thing-in-the-morning cup!) and take supplements during the fasting period, as long as they’re all non-caloric (which means skip the cream and sugar). In determining when to fast and when to eat, there are a variety of methods:
The 16/8 Method
This method is typically the most common. You only eat for an 8 hour period each day, and fast for 16. This might sound extreme, but it’s not actually as hard as it seems. This could mean eating breakfast at 10 and finishing dinner before 6. If you’re someone who chooses to skip breakfast, you might even be doing this without thinking about it — eating lunch at noon and finishing dinner before 8pm.
For one or two days a week, you don’t eat between dinner one night until dinner the next night (so you’re completing a 24-hour fast). The perk about this plan is that it doesn’t have to effect your day-to-day life too much. You’re merely just scheduling a day or two each week that are easier for you not to eat during the day (i.e. a weekend that you’re planning on sleep in and watching Neflix all day), for the same benefits.
The 5:2 Method
This method is similar to the Eat-Stop-Eat, in that you eat five days a week normally, but then for two days a week, you only eat about 500-600 calories. It’s important to choose your calories wisely. Fill up your caloric limit with fruits and veggies that are easy for your system to digest, in two meals of 250-300 calories each, rather than two oreos or a Lean Cuisine Mac n’ Cheese (as tempting as that might be).
Fasting for 12-13 hours
While this isn’t a technical intermittent fasting technique, it’s the easiest way to reap some of the benefits and try out if fasting is right for you. AND there’s scientific backing — for years, doctors have been telling us that our body needs 12 hours of fasting to be able to completely digest and cleanse itself. It’s also pretty attainable to eat during the window of 9am-9pm, or 7:30am-7:30pm. Once you get used to this form of fasting and eating periods, you can add an hour of fasting by either eating dinner earlier or breakfast later, and work up to the 16/8 method, or Eat-Stop-Eat method.
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 (for thousands of years) have in their toolbox, that has promising benefits, and 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, 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 — not a trendy, passing fitness fad to lose weight, quick. When treated as such, it could have amazing benefits. Happy fasting!