It’s every dieter’s dream:
Imagine being able to eat whatever you want most days of the week, limiting your intake for one or two days at a time, and still losing weight. This is what many people experience when they begin practicing Intermittent Fasting (IF). It can do more than slim just your waistline. Studies show that the benefits of fasting include helping stabilize blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and keep your heart healthy.
There are a variety of approaches to intermittent fasting, whether you prefer to fast for a good chunk of hours each day or skip meals for two days each week. Let’s look below at how intermittent fasting can serve as one way to simultaneously improve your health and achieve your weight loss goals. Consider this your intermittent fasting beginner’s guide.
Fasting as a Therapy in Neurological Disease -
Fasting is deeply entrenched in evolution, yet its potential applications to today's most common, disabling neurological diseases remain relatively unexplored. Fasting induces an altered metabolic state that optimizes neuron bioenergetics, plasticity, and resilience in a way that may counteract a broad array of neurological disorders. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31627405/)
- Cognition & stalls age-related cognitive decline.
- Usually slows neurodegeneration.
- Reduces brain damage and enhances functional recovery after stroke, and
- Mitigates the pathological and clinical features of epilepsy and multiple sclerosis in animal models.
Intermittent Fasting -
Also known as cyclic fasting, has risen in popularity in recent years as more research emerges showing that it’s typically safe and effective. However, intermittent fasting is hardly a new concept. It’s been used for centuries during times when food was scarce, and it even plays a central role in many major religions.) In a 2016 Cell Metabolism study, the authors discuss how fasting allows humans to rely less on our glucose (sugar) stores for energy and instead on our ketone bodies and fat stores. As a result, “both intermittent and periodic fasting result in benefits ranging from prevention to the enhanced treatment of diseases.” It’s difficult to define intermittent fasting, as there’s not just one method for how to fast. In fact, there are many different variations that are used around the world. Each follows a different eating pattern that is often strictly adhered to in order to achieve physical or even spiritual results.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
The extensive research on the concept of intermittent fasting suggests it functions in two different ways to improve various facets of health:
- Intermittent fasting results in lowered levels of oxidative stress to cells throughout the body.
- Fasting improves your body’s ability to deal with stress at a cellular level. It activates cellular stress response pathways similar to very mild stressors, acting as a mild stimulant for your body’s stress response. As this occurs consistently, your body is slowly reinforced against cellular stress and is then less susceptible to cellular aging and disease development.
Common Types of Intermittent Fasting:
- Alternate-Day Fasting: This entails eating only every other day. On fasting days, some eat no food at all, and others eat a very small amount, typically around 500 calories. On non-fasting calorie days, eat normally (but healthfully).
- The Warrior Diet: This diet involves eating only fruits and vegetables during the day and then eating one large meal at night.
- 16/8 Fasting (also often referred to as Time-Restricted Feeding): For this method, you fast for 16 hours daily and limit your eating to eight hours. Most often, a key component of 16/8 intermittent fasting is skipping breakfast. This approach involves not eating anything after dinner and skipping breakfast the next morning.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: Practice the “Eat Stop Eat” method by picking one or two days out of the week in which you fast for 24 hours, then eat nothing from dinner one day until dinner the next day. On the other days, you should have normal calorie days.
- 5:2 Diet: For five days of the week, you eat normally. For the remaining two fast days, you should restrict your caloric intake to between 500–600 calories every day.
- Dirty Fasting: Dirty fasting is one method of fasting that is a bit more flexible than other methods. It allows you to eat a very limited number of calories while “fasting,” such as about 100 calories or less.
- Promotes Weight Loss - A major intermittent fasting health benefit is its ability to rev up fat burning and help the pounds slide off.
- Normalize Blood Sugar - When you eat, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream. A hormone called insulin is responsible for transporting glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells, which can be used as energy.
- Keeps Your Heart Healthy - Studies show that intermittent fasting helps improve cardiovascular health by lowering certain heart disease risk factors.
- Reduces Inflammation - Inflammation is a normal immune response to injury. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, can lead to chronic disease. There’s also evidence that intermittent fasting can support a healthy gut microbiome, which assists in supporting immune defenses.
- Protects Your Brain - In addition to keeping your heart healthy and warding off disease, some studies have indicated that intermittent fasting protects the health of your brain and helps enhance cognitive function and protects against changes in memory and learning function compared to a control group. Another animal study found that it protects the brains of mice by influencing certain proteins involved in brain aging.
- Promotes Autophagy, or “self-eating,” which is our normal bodily process of cellular renewal.
- Decreases Leptin Resistance (and Possibly Normalizes Hunger) - Leptin, also known as the satiety hormone, is a hormone produced by the fat cells that helps signal when it’s time to stop eating. Your leptin levels drop when you’re hungry and increase when you’re full.
What are the rules for intermittent fasting?
While every type of intermittent fasting requires you to skip meals (most commonly breakfast), each type works a bit differently and has different “rules.”
What can I eat during intermittent fasting?
Unlike typical diets, with intermittent fasting, there’s no need to count points or calories or plug your foods into a food diary each night.
Even if your goal is to primarily lose weight from IF, it’s still important to consume enough healthy food and calories in general. Otherwise, you risk slowing down your metabolism, which is the opposite of what you want. Skipping meals is also not an excuse to eat junk and “empty calories,” meaning it’s important to continue to focus on consuming a nutrient-dense diet.
Here are some foods to emphasize when you’re not fasting and within your eating window, all of which tend to be filling plus full of nutrients:
- Vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, asparagus, garlic, cucumber, onions, ginger, etc.
- Fruits: strawberries, oranges, lemons, blackberries, limes, raspberries, pears, apples, blueberries, etc.
- Meat: grass-fed beef, lamb, venison, wild game
- Fish: wild-caught salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, sardines
- Poultry: organic chicken, turkey, goose, duck, Cage-free eggs
- Nuts: almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, macadamia nuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts
- Seeds: hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds
- Legumes: black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lima beans, chickpeas, lentils
- Whole grains: quinoa, barley, buckwheat, millet, brown rice
- Healthy fats: olive oil, coconut oil, MCT oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, avocado oil
- Dairy products: goat milk, kefir, goat cheese, probiotic yogurt, raw milk
- Condiments: hummus, guacamole, apple cider vinegar, mustard, salsa, balsamic vinegar, liquid aminos
- Herbs and spices: basil, oregano, rosemary, turmeric, cinnamon, paprika, cumin, black pepper, etc.
- Natural sweeteners: stevia, raw honey, maple syrup, dates, monk fruit
- Beverages: water, tea, kombucha, bone broth