Intermittent Fasting: It’s About More Than Weight Loss
Intermittent fasting was one of 2022's most searched-for diet trends, according to Google itself, with the search term reaching #1 globally as we entered into the new year. There's a reason online interest in intermittent fasting peaked in December — it continues to be a much-talked-about way to lose weight (a common goal for New Year's resolutions).
Yet the health benefits of intermittent fasting extend far beyond just weight loss. From boosting your heart health to slashing various disease risks, this novel approach to meal timing and fasting can help you to look and feel your healthiest in 2023 and beyond.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Fasting has been used to support health and wellness for thousands of years. However, the specific approach outlined in intermittent fasting was first popularized in the early 2010s by books and TV shows such as East Fast Live Longer, The Fast Diet, The Obesity Code, and The 5:2 Diet.
In general, intermittent fasting is a time-based eating pattern where you completely avoid eating or drastically reduce your caloric intake during specific windows of the day or the week.
Advocates argue that it is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy weight and may also improve your cardiovascular health, cognition, ability to manage stress, etc.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
According to a recent study in the peer-reviewed medical journal Annals of Medicine, the way that intermittent fasting — and all fasting in general — works is incredibly complex. Current research suggests that intermittent fasting may:
- Shift what your body uses as fuel, encouraging your body to burn fat (instead of carbohydrates) for energy
- Change how your body uses all forms of nutrients
- Influence anabolic processes, which refers to how your body builds and repairs cells, tissues, and organs
Additional research points out how intermittent fasting can re-train how your body responds to mild stress on a cellular and neural level. As your body adjusts to the stress from the caloric restrictions introduced by fasting, it may be better equipped to respond to the stress caused by other lifestyle factors, thus improving your overarching wellness.
Different Styles of Intermittent Fasting
The 5:2 model is the most common form of intermittent fasting, reports John Hopkins Medicine. With this approach, you wouldn't change anything about your diet for 5 days a week. However, two days a week, you slash your calorie intake down to just 500 to 600 calories a day.
Other styles of intermittent fasting include:
- Time-restricted dieting: The most popular approach for this style is the 16/8 method, where you fast for 16 hours and consume the rest of your daily calories in the remaining 8 hours. Other examples of time-restricted intermittent fasting include the 14/10 or 20/4 options.
- Eat-stop-eat: Instead of daily fasting, you maintain a regular eating pattern for most of the week. However, you might take one or two 24-hour-long fasts a week.
- Alternate-day fasting: As the name implies, you maintain a regular diet one day, fast for 24 hours the next day, etc.
- Overnight fasting: With this approach, you fast for 12 hours each night. For instance, you might wrap up dinner at 7 p.m. and not have breakfast until 7 a.m. the next day.
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting Besides Weight Loss
There are wide-ranging benefits to time-based fasting that go above and beyond weight loss, reports Harvard Medical School.
Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to dieting. Talking to your doctor or medical professional before trying intermittent fasting is important. For instance, while intermittent fasting can help improve your insulin sensitivity — which we describe below — it can also have unwanted side effects for those with diabetes, warns Harvard.
Insulin Levels Drop and Reduced Insulin Resistance
Studies suggest that intermittent fasting may improve insulin sensitivity and may even help better moderate insulin levels. This may help reduce your risk of diabetes (an estimated 1 in 3 American adults have prediabetes).
Improved Cellular Repair Process
Autophagy is how your body repairs and reuses old, damaged cells. Studies show intermittent fasting helps speed up this process, which can do everything from reverse signs of aging and even fight disease.
Reduces Oxidative Stress and Inflammation
Multiple studies have shown how fasting can help minimize the harmful effects of inflammation and oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when there are more damaging free radicals in your body than there are antioxidants, leading to damage on a cellular level.
May Promote Heart Health
A systematic review of dozens of research studies published in the journal Nutrients notes that while more research needs to be done, intermittent fasting may help to reduce several risk factors associated with heart disease. These include your cholesterol levels, blood sugar, blood pressure, and insulin resistance.
In fact, the American Heart Association reports that people who regularly fast have a 71% lower rate of heart failure and a 45% lower rate of early mortality compared to those who don't fast.
May Help Prevent Cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease
Growing research suggests that intermittent fasting may help stem the rising tide of numerous diseases.
Take cancer, for example, where doctors are seeing exponentially higher rates among Americans in recent years. Various animal trials hint that intermittent fasting can help prevent cancer. Meanwhile, for those who have been diagnosed with various forms of cancer, some studies have found that fasting can help improve cancer treatments and boost cancer recovery.
Similarly, intermittent fasting may help reduce the risks of neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease (the latter which is estimated to grow from 58 million in 2021 to 88 million in the next few decades).
How To Get Started With Intermittent Fasting
If you want to explore the various wellness benefits of intermittent fasting, you don't have to overthink it! Get started today:
- Start slow: Many of us are already doing a version of intermittent fasting, and you can adjust your current lifestyle routine to fit the fasting model you want to try. For instance, if you eat dinner at 7 p.m. and eat breakfast at 7 a.m., simply cutting out calorie-containing snacks and beverages outside of this window means you're already doing the overnight fasting approach we explained earlier!
- Focus on your schedule, and not the model: Instead of trying to shoehorn a specific intermittent fasting model with your current lifestyle, reverse-engineer it. Look at your daily habits and find a fasting model that fits best with how you currently live — this will make diet adherence demonstrably easier.
- Begin pushing your evening meal earlier, your breakfast later, or both: You might be surprised how a simple 1- or 2-hour change on either end immediately puts you into the category of time-restricted dieting.
- Stay hydrated and focus on filling meals: Dehydration is often confused with hunger. Staying hydrated helps you to be more in tune with your hunger triggers and also helps flush out toxins and metabolic waste as your body adjusts to fasting. And when it comes to your eating window, make sure you're eating filling meals that hit the calorie targets you need to sustain your lifestyle goals and exercise routine.
Supplements for Fasting
When you're intermittent fasting, it's critical that you hit your macro goals (i.e., your carbohydrates, protein, and fat intake) and total calorie goals in a narrower window of time. Supplements can help, from electrolyte mixes that boost your hydration to mass gainers and protein shakes that help you meet your macro and calorie goals. At Tiger Fitness, you'll find an array of best-selling supplements to help you get the most out of your new fasting regimen.