Science supports health benefits of breaks between eating
Fasting is something that most of us already do: it’s called sleeping. For those of us with regular sleep schedules, we go without eating for the hours we snooze. We usually tack on some hours before and after bed too. Intermittent fasting is similar. But it’s sharply defined as going between 14 and 32 hours without taking in food. Many nutritionists and scientists believe intermittent fasting is key to improving your body composition, weight loss, health and longevity.
This type of scheduled consumption has more than merely anecdotal support. In fact, studies show that variations on this eating pattern can be beneficial in many ways.
There are various types of intermittent fasts. Some call for total abstinence of food and drink, while others allow for liquids. Other programs only outline the types of food you eat. There is little to no restriction on caloric intake – something those sick and tired of counting calories can celebrate. Combining a plan like this with meditation can be a powerful tool to increase weight loss and longevity.
Benefits of fasting
The science behind the benefits of intermittent fasting is short-term and primarily on animal subjects. But it has two things going for it. So far, no one has discovered any negative effects.
Intermittent fasting appears to assist the body in weight loss through a variety of channels. Some studies show the body responds to spaced eating plans by increasing your metabolism, spiking the chemical process which ‘uses’ fat stores.
One review of studies on intermittent fasting concluded it significantly increased weight loss and decreased insulin resistance and sensitivity. That is great news for the possible prevention or treatment of Type 2 diabetes. In addition, people who lost weight through planned meal skipping lost a significant portion of visceral fat. This fat accumulates deep in the abdomen. It’s associated with metabolic syndrome, rising insulin levels, blood pressure, and damage to the cardiovascular system.
Speaking of the cardiovascular system, intermittent fasting is also loosely associated with cardio-protective benefits. It reduces blood pressure, total and LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers and blood sugar. All of these are markers for damage to the heart and blood vessels when raised.
Additionally, when scientists research intermittent fasting on the longevity animals they find that intermittent fasting increases lifespan. These studies parallel other animal studies, which show a possible brain-protective benefit to eating on restricted schedules. One particularly impressive study shows intermittent fasting protects brain neuron health, preventing damage to the brain in stroke victims. The study also reveals that the eating plan reduces inflammatory markers and increases brain function. The connection between the heart and the brain is powerful.
A 2017 study using humans at the University of California found overall weight loss and reduction in risk for all major diseases. This preliminary finding has ensured that larger, more comprehensive studies can be done on humans to explore all possible benefits of intermittent fasting.
How to begin an intermittent fast
If you have any health conditions or concerns, consult your doctor before beginning a dramatic change in your diet. You’ll want to choose an intermittent fasting plan first, and there are several out there.
After you’ve committed to a plan, be sure you read up on the various considerations of that specific plan. For instance, if your plan calls for one day on, one day off of fasting, you’ll want to schedule your exercise for the days you’re eating whole foods. Figuring out what to eat before you exercise is key to successfully and happily moving your body.
Make a shopping list to ensure that when it is time to eat, you have healthy food choices to break your fast. Those who intermittently fast have been shown to at most eat 10 – 20 percent more during the ‘on’ hours. However, you don’t want that extra amount of food to be junk food. Give your body healthy treats if it’s asking for them, but ensure your pantry and fridge are stocked with wholesome staples you love to increase your chances of success.
Once you begin, give your new eating schedule a month before you stop to assess whether you see any benefits. Checking day by day to notice change could discourage you or even stop you in your tracks right before actual change begins.
Have you used an intermittent fasting plan? Let us know in the comments what you’ve tried, and what benefits you gained. We’d love to hear from you!