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Intermittent Fasting: What's it All About?

You may have heard that intermittent fasting is an excellent way to lose weight, but what else is there to learn about this type of eating pattern? There must be more than one reason intermittent fasting is growing in popularity.

Fasting, or abstaining from food, has existed for hundreds of thousands of years. Early humans practiced intermittent fasting if they were unable to find their next food source. In today's modern world, people choose to refrain from eating for a few science-based reasons.


Understanding Intermittent Fasting

In medical terms, fasting means going without eating, and sometimes drinking, for a period of time. Intermittent fasting alternates between an eating window and a fasting window in a specific period, usually 24 hours. This is not a diet but rather an eating style that focuses on when you eat instead of what you eat.


There is a fed-fast cycle when you practice intermittent fasting. Hormones in the human body, such as insulin, glucagon, cortisol, and epinephrine, regulate your metabolism. In the fed state, glucose levels rise and are stored in the outer body tissues. In the fasted state, glucose levels decrease as the hours go on without food intake, lowering insulin production in the pancreas.


Reasons People Choose to Fast

Intermittent fasting can be very simple and tolerable to people who are interested in a fasting lifestyle. Adapting to an intermittent fasting schedule can be a simple transition. No calorie counting is needed and it can be easily incorporated into everyday life. During fasting, the body uses stored glucose and fat for energy, promoting weight loss, but the benefits of fasting can extend beyond just weight loss.


What are the most common reasons people fast?

  • Weight control

  • Religion

  • Health

  • Sleep

Fasting in the American culture is on the rise, with people focused on anti-aging. There have been many studies done that have shown how intermittent fasting can slow down the aging process, specifically in the way it promotes cell repair and reduces the deterioration of DNA. Also, people may use intermittent fasting to help them sleep. It may reinforce one’s circadian rhythms and increase melatonin, leading to better quality sleep.



Variations of Intermittent Fasting

Most people may have grown up eating 3 meals daily, which became a habit that has continued into adulthood. Many people may be tired when introducing fasting initially. It’s something the body will need to get used to.

Intermittent fasting methods can be individualized based on preference, comfort level, and advice from your medical provider. A beginner has many options to choose from.

Read on to learn about some of the most common methods of fasting.

Time Restricted Eating

Focuses on the “timing” of when you start your eating window. The purpose is to shorten the number of hours that you eat during the day.

Religious and Spiritual Fasting

A person gives up food voluntarily to focus on thoughts, depending on personal faith. This can occur during specific times or occasions.

Periodic Fasting

This is considered intermittent fasting, where a person may alternate between fasting 1 or 2 days a week. There is no limitations on eating for the remaining days.

Alternate-Day Fasting

This involves alternating fasting days, during which no calories are consumed, and feeding days, during which foods and beverages are consumed as desired.

Many resources are available for people who are fasting or want to begin. Literature, videos, and online articles can provide guidance and information. There are fasting apps to help track times to start and stop eating in your chosen

method. Intermittent fasting is not to be confused with cleanses of any kind, and all fasting styles should be discussed with a medical professional for more information.



Benefits of Fasting on the Body

Our bodies have a genetic, inherent response to fasting and can go without food for many hours. Research shows intermittent fasting may prevent or reverse chronic disorders such as:

  • type 2 diabetes

  • obesity

  • cancers

  • cardiovascular disease

  • neurodegenerative brain diseases.

Several things start to take place in the body when fasting, such as the increase of HGH (human growth hormone), and result in improvement in some of these main health issues:

  • Blood glucose control

  • Weight loss

  • Inflammation and chronic illness

  • Digestion

  • Hormone regulation

You may want to begin intermittent fasting with a specific intention or try it out. Intermittent fasting is not a permanent solution or guaranteed fix, but there is promising research.


Do Men and Women Fast the Same Way?

Although men and women can develop a fasting lifestyle, they may have different results. Depending on where a woman is in her cycle or if she is post-menopausal, there are different approaches to her fast, and discussions with a specific provider are the best source of guidance for them.

Men do not need to build their fasting choices around these circumstances. It is up to their preferences, whether they are personal or health-

related. Intermittent fasting can be done for both men and women around exercising, and there are considerations to make workouts more effective. Learning to exercise before, during, or after the eating window and the most appropriate nutrition is best learned from a registered dietician or knowledgeable trainer.


Risks

There can be risks associated with fasting. Malnutrition is known to be a leading risk with any fasting, and caution is necessary with any history of an eating disorder. Consuming too much in your eating window can lead to caloric overload or stomach aches. Fasting without medical advice, as it applies to a stable blood glucose level for a diabetic person, is not encouraged.

Staying adequately hydrated is essential during intermittent fasting. Depending on the reason someone has chosen to fast, getting specific types of nutrition or calories must be individually considered. Consulting with a nutritionist or provider to ensure the most beneficial and safe method is wise, as well as duration. For example, doing a prolonged fast, such as 24 hours, is recommended only some days. Instead, variations of fasting would be the better choice.

Summary

There are extensive studies and literature about intermittent fasting. It allows people to maximize their eating window and choose the best variation. Scientific studies are showing more and more that fasting helps not just with weight management but also with metabolic disease.

Fasting may only be suitable for some people. It is important to always discuss any changes to your diet with a medical professional. So much information about intermittent fasting is available to anyone interested in learning more, as it may be here to stay.

References

1. Patterson RE, Sears DD. Metabolic Effects of Intermittent Fasting. Annu Rev Nutr. 2017 Aug 21;37:371-393. doi: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-071816-064634. Epub 2017 Jul 17. PMID: 28715993.

2. Gasmi, M., Hooker, R. W., Maaouia, G. B., & Chikhad, A. B. (2023). The effects of intermittent fasting on markers of Health: A Narrative Review. Medical and Pharmaceutical Journal, 121–133. https://doi.org/10.55940/medphar202348

3. Varady, Krista A., et al. “Cardiometabolic benefits of intermittent fasting.” Annual Review of Nutrition, vol. 41, no. 1, 2021, pp. 333–361, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-nutr-052020-041327.

4. “Intermittent Fasting: What Is It, and How Does It Work?” JHM, 1 Mar. 2023, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/intermittent-fasting-what-is-it-and-how-does-it-work.


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Guest
Sep 17, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Informative information, and easy to understand.

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Guest
Sep 05, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

well written article with lots helpful information and tip!!

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