The literal definition of fasting is to abstain from food and drink for a specific period of time; it’s a ritual which has been used for thousands of years for multiple purpose, from health to spiritual cleansing fasts as a part of many religions.
Today intermittent fasting is being used in complimentary therapies for overcoming chronic and life threating diseases, from autoimmune to cancer.
Typical intermittent fast times range from 14 to 18 hours. The longer periods rang from, 32–36 hours. And then of course there are the more extreme periods, 1 week to 21-day water fasts. Something I don’t recommend trying without significant experience or appropriate guidance.
The most common fasting practice, because it’s the easiest, is to stop your food and drink intake (except water) from either 6pm or 7pm and fast until 11am or 12 pm the next day.
Because the biggest part of the fast is done whilst you’re sleeping, it’s an easy way to begin introducing it into your lifestyle.
In last months blog, we explored the myths of calorie counting as a flawed premise for effective weight loss. This month I have summarised the health benefits to intermittent fasting, and how it can also effectively support the body to burn fat and keep it off.
At this point, you might be thinking how can starving yourself for any period of time be healthy for you? Or be a more effective weight loss solution, than being on a calorie controlled diet?
To help you understand the impact of a calorie-controlled diet on your body’s metabolism, you can read last month’s blog here.
Unlike calorie-restricted diets which result in the lowering of your base metabolic rate (BMI) as the body believes it is in starvation mode, intermittent fasting doesn’t impact your metabolism in the same way.
I know what your thinking, if I’m skipping a meal, won’t this trigger my metabolism to go into starvation mode, like it does with restricting calories? No, and here’s why.
Your body has two fuel sources. Food and stored food (fat). When you fast you are switching them. When you simply reduce your calories; you reduce what’s going in. However, as you are still eating all the time, you’re not able to access the food stored (fat).
Your body has no instruction to switch over from using the food your eating as your fuel, to using your stored food or fat as your fuel, so it remains stored. All your fat is stored away where you can’t access it. Your only access is to the food which you eat, and you’re not getting as much, so your metabolism slows down.
This is one of the metabolic barriers to weight loss, and one of the huge benefits to fasting in terms of weight loss.
Other health benefits of intermittent fasting are:
- Promotes the secretion of human growth hormone, (HGH). HGH is naturally produced by the body, but remains active in the bloodstream for just a few minutes. It’s been effectively used to treat obesity and help build muscle mass, important for burning fat. HGH also helps increase muscle strength, which can help improve your workouts, too. Combine these together and you have an effective fat-burning machine on your hands.
- Increases your energy levels. Fasting can stimulate a mild elevation of adrenaline, which boosts energy, focus, and concentration, rather than inhibiting them.
- Stabilise your hunger hormone (ghrelin) Unlike dieting, fasting can actually help normalise the hormone responsible for regulating your hunger. Ghrelin turns on appetite. So, if you want to lose weight on a long-term basis, you need to tune down ghrelin. Fasting can assist in normalising your ghrelin levels
- Lowers triglyceride levels. Intermittent fasting lowers those bad cholesterol levels, decreasing triglycerides in the process.
- May slow down the aging process. Although there is no definitive science to prove fasting promotes longevity, one can consider that the other benefits associated with fasting all contribute to adding quality years to one’s life.
The awareness with which you approach fasting will absolutely impact the success you experience with it. If fasting becomes another compensation for poor food and lifestyle choices, then fasting will become yet another fad to follow or obsess over.
Lastly while fasting is healthy for most people, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you should avoid fasting entirely. If you have diabetes, a serious medical condition or are taking prescription medication, it’s best to consult with your doctor before embarking on a fast.