Intermittent fasting is a buzzword that is gaining in popularity. Is it a new diet plan? It is more a nutrition trend that works on the premise that the body takes about 3-5 hours to digest and absorb food. At that time, the body doesn't burn fat as the insulin levels are high. After processing the food, the body is in a post-absorptive state and insulin levels reduce. At this time, the body burns fat. Intermittent fasting offers a food-flexible approach that offers unique metabolic benefits. Fasting allows the body to use all stored sugars as fuel and then start tapping into the fat stores. This can help change body composition.
Understanding Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting involves partially or completely abstaining from eating during a prescribed time. Many find it easier to follow than calorie-controlled diets that involve specific meal planning and calorie counting.
5:2 Method: In this form of intermittent fasting, 2 days are fasting days and other 5 are regular days. On fasting days, you need to restrict calories to about 600.
16:8 Method: This type of intermittent fasting involves eating during a shortened period. You eat during a 6-8 hour window and then fast for the remaining 15 hours or so. You can choose to do this on all days or some days of the week. People on this type of intermittent fasting complete their dinner by around 8 pm and then skip their breakfast the next day. They eat their next meal around noon.
An easy way to get onto intermittent fasting is to start by having early dinners; around 7 pm. Then that makes it about 12 hours to your next meal. You can follow it on days that your schedule allows you to do so.
"There is evidence to suggest that the circadian rhythm fasting approach, where meals are restricted to an eight to 10-hour period of the daytime, is effective" says Dr. Deborah Wexler, Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School.
When you don't eat for a set period of time, your body and brain stand to benefit. This belief is taken from an evolutionary stance when people were not used to eating 3 meals a day. Practicing intermittent fasting promotes cellular repair. Autophagy – defective tissue is removed to make way to produce new tissue, takes place within the body. This eating plan can go a long way in reducing insulin resistance and bad cholesterol. Over time, it can lead to reduced appetite.
There is some evidence that this kind of restricted eating can protect you against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. It can leave you with increased energy and improve brain function. Some studies have shown that periods of fasting can slow down the aging process and reduce cancer risks. This happens due to activated cellular mechanisms and better immune function. This also leads to reduced inflammation – a trigger for many chronic ailments. This is measured by markers of inflammation such as reduced CRP, IL-6, TNF and BDNF. People who are on such fasting plans notice reduced bloating and better digestion. The growth hormone is released as you get later into the fast. There is better cardiovascular function as it offers some protection against ischemic injury to the heart.
Is Intermittent fasting suitable for all?
It can be rather daunting to go for long hours without any food. Little wonder that many an enthusiastic beginner has dropped out of this fasting regimen. Another fallout of this fasting pattern can be binge eating during the permitted hours window. It might throw your appetite hormones and hunger center in the brain out of whack. People stop listening to their body's hunger cues and it can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. Skipping breakfast is often associated with poor metabolism and menstrual disorders in women. Skipping dinner might be better for health than skipping breakfast. Pregnant women or breast feeding women must not attempt such eating patterns.
It is not easy to practice intermittent fasting, what with social events, food cravings and daily work schedules. While intermittent fasting technique might work for most people, it might not suit those with some medical conditions such as diabetes or low blood sugar. It can even result in hypoglycemia. Generally, blood sugar level between 50 and 60 mg/dl is referred to as mild hypoglycemia, whereas that between 20 and 50 mg/dl is moderate hypoglycemia. A value that is lower than 20 mg/dl can prove to be fatal. Skipping meals and reducing calorie intake can play havoc for persons on medication for raised blood pressure or heart disease. Fasting can lead to electrolyte abnormalities. This kind of limited window eating might cause low energy and lack of concentration in some. It can bring on constipation and headaches. It is better to consult your doctor and discuss this eating pattern and its suitability for your medical condition.
Maintaining intermittent fasting
Stay well hydrated throughout the day. Make wise calorie choices while eating. Select nutrient-dense foods that are protein rich. Add nuts and seeds. Foods high in fiber and nutrients help in keeping blood sugar levels steady.
It is best to keep our eating patterns in sync with our body circadian rhythms. It is therefore better to eat in the earlier part of the day. For beginners to intermittent fasting, the 12:12 pattern might be easier to follow. This involves eating during a 12 hour window and fasting for the other 12. If you complete your evening meal by around 8 pm, you can have your breakfast by around 8 am the next day. This is easier to follow as it works well with our daily schedule and social commitments.