If we’re going to talk about weight loss, it’s impossible to not mention one of the world’s most popular health and fitness trends in recent years. That’s right, I’m talking about intermittent fasting.
Wondering how intermittent fasting (IF) has gained such immense popularity in a few short years? Actually, the answer’s quite simple. It’s because it just works. Intermittent fasting isn’t just another diet fad; it’s a powerful tool that several million people all around the world have used to change their lifestyle while simultaneously improving their health and losing weight.
I know this because, over the past two years, intermittent fasting has dramatically changed my lifestyle and help me get into the best shape of my life. Surprisingly, the thing about my weight loss journey that I couldn’t fathom was not how much weight I had lost but how easy it was to do so.
The intermittent fasting diet was easier to incorporate into my life than any other diet that I previously on. That’s because it’s is not really a diet, at least not in the conventional sense. That’s because the intermittent fasting schedule does not specify what foods you should eat but rather when you should eat them.
If you’re ready to improve your health and see significantly better weight loss results, this is the ultimate intermittent fasting guide for beginners.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
The key idea behind intermittent fasting and the reason it works so well is fasting. It is essentially an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting.
Now, you might think that fasting is something you are unfamiliar with, but, in fact, the practice of fasting has been in existence right from the early stages of human evolution. Your body has evolved to be able to function without food for extended durations of time.
That’s because our ancestors, the ancient hunter-gatherers, did not have refrigerators to store their food in, nor could they buy more food from the supermarket. Due to the way we have evolved, fasting from time to time is, in fact, more natural than always 3 or more meals per day.
There are a few types of intermittent fasting, but the most common methods involve fasting for 16 hours every day or holding 24-hour fasts twice per week. I know that 16 hours of not eating any food can sound intimidating, but you are technically already “fasting” for about 8 hours when you sleep. All you need to do is extend that fast a little bit longer.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Right from our childhood, we’ve been used to eating throughout our waking hours; most of us eat three meals a day. So, any energy that our bodies require for daily activities is obtained from breaking down the multiple meals we eat throughout the day into glucose. Any excess glucose is stored in our body as fat.
However, intermittent fasting 16/8 and other IF methods contrast our regular eating patterns. When you are not eating any food for prolonged periods, your body will exhaust its glucose stores and starts burning stored fat for energy instead.
To put it simply, an intermittent fasting schedule works by prolonging the time that your body burns the calories consumed during your last meal. Once your body has burned through those calories, it begins burning fat.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
These methods of intermittent fasting involve splitting either the day or week into eating and fasting periods. During the fasting periods, you eat nothing at all, but you can eat whatever you usually eat during the eating period.
Here are the most popular intermittent fasting methods in the health and fitness community:
- The 16/8 Method – This method involves skipping breakfast and extending your fast all the way to noon. Doing so gives you an eating period of 8 hours, from 12 pm to 8 pm. Between your eating and fasting period, you fast for 16 hours a day (including the time you sleep).
- Eat-Stop-Eat – This method is significantly more challenging than the previous one as it involves fasting for 24 hours twice a week, on non-consecutive days. You can do this by eating dinner one day and then not eating anything until dinner the next day.
- The 5:2 Method – In this method, you eat as you would typically eat for any 5 days of the week, but you only consume 500-600 calories on any two non-consecutive days of the week.
As long as you don’t compensate for your fasting periods by eating much more in the eating periods, any of these methods should help you significantly boost your weight loss. You may choose whichever method best suits your lifestyle.
However, I suggest that you start with the 16/8 intermittent fasting method as it is the easiest to stick to and is more beginner-friendly. The incredible intermittent fasting results of millions of people worldwide is a testament to the effectiveness of this method.
Intermittent Fasting Benefits
If you thought the benefits of intermittent fasting are limited to faster weight loss, you’re in for a big surprise.
The various studies that have been done on IF over the years have shown that apart from helping you control weight, it can also drastically improve the health of your brain and body. Some research suggests that intermittent fasting may even help you live longer (1).
Here are all the main benefits of intermittent fasting:
- Boosts Weight Loss – Like I said before, IF can help you burn belly fat and lose weight without you having to consciously restrict calories. All you need to do is strictly stick to your fasting periods (2).
- Improves Hearth Health – Intermittent fasting could reduce bad LDL cholesterol and blood triglycerides, which are the most common risk factors for heart disease (3).
- Reduces Insulin Resistance – By lowering your blood sugar by about 6% and insulin levels by up to 31%, IF can significantly reduce insulin resistance. Thus, protecting you from type 2 diabetes (4).
- Decreases Inflammation – A key driver of many chronic diseases is inflammation. People who regularly practiced intermittent fasting saw reductions in markers of inflammation (5).
- Prevents Cancer – Though there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that intermittent fasting can prevent cancer in humans, studies conducted on animals suggest that it may prevent cancer (6).
- Slows Down Aging – Since research is in its early stages, the results of human studies are not available yet. However, IF has been shown to increase lifespan in rats by 36-83% (7).
- Aids Brain Health – Studies have found that IF increases the brain hormone BDNF, which aids the growth of new brain cells. Some evidence also suggests that it can protect people from Alzheimer’s disease (8).
Intermittent Fasting For Weight Loss
Now you know how intermittent fasting can help you lose weight by prolonging the period of time between meals, during which your body isn’t getting more calories. But what happens inside your body while you hold a fast is a little more complicated than that.
Whenever you eat food, it is broken down into tiny molecules by the enzymes in your gut, and it eventually ends up in your bloodstream. Carbohydrates are quickly broken down into sugar, which is the primary source of energy for the body. But sugar can only enter our cells when insulin, a hormone that is released due to the rising blood sugar level after you eat a meal.
It’s the insulin that brings the sugar to the fat cells and keeps it there. However, during intermittent fasting, your blood sugar level drops, causing the insulin levels to go down. When this happens, fat cells release their stored sugar to be used as energy, and you lose weight.
Therefore, you lose weight when your body’s insulin levels go down. The whole idea of intermittent fasting is to let your insulin levels go down far enough and long enough for your body to engage in fat-burning mode.
Is Intermittent Fasting Healthy?
While intermittent fasting does have a wide range of benefits, it certainly isn’t for everyone. In fact, in some cases, it can do more harm than good. So, if you’re planning on starting a fast, do not forget to consult a health professional.
If you have a history of eating disorders, or you’re underweight, you should not fast. Intermittent fasting is also not suitable for women trying to conceive, or are pregnant, or breastfeeding.
Intermittent Fasting For Women
Although intermittent fasting for women can be an effective way to lose weight, it also poses more potential risks to women than men. These risks mainly occur because the female body is more sensitive to calorie restriction.
There are several anecdotal reports of women whose menstrual cycle stopped when they started fasting, and it went back to normal when they went back to their previous dietary habits. However, this does not mean that women cannot do intermittent fasting; it only means that women should be more careful with it.
If you are a woman who is new to fasting, start with just 12 hours of fasting and slowly build your way up to 16 hours. Alternatively, you could also do a 14-16 hour fast on non-consecutive instead of doing it every day. You can also stick to the 5:2 method that is mentioned above.
The most critical aspect of intermittent fasting for women is that they should ease into it. Take it slow and only go as far as your body feels comfortable.
We’ve always been told that skipping breakfast is bad for you, but as it turns out, it can also have a wide range of benefits. Just remember to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.
The golden rule of nutrition and weight loss is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and that applies to intermittent fasting as well. It works really well and offers incredible benefits for some people, but not so much for others.
Want to find out which group you belong to? All you’ve got to do is try. My advice to you is, just give it a shot. Intermittent fasting worked wonders for me, and I hope that it does for you too.
If you do find it a sustainable way of eating and it makes you feel good, it is one of the most powerful tools to lose weight and improve your overall health.
Do you want to read about some other incredible diet plans for weight loss? Check out our Find Your Perfect Diet Guide to find the diet that is most suitable for you. If you have any questions for us, please let us know in the comments below!