What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Simply put, intermittent fasting means a cycle of eating and not eating. It’s not a diet, rather it is a pattern of eating. There are various methods to accomplish this but the popular ones are daily (also called the Leangains method) and weekly (also referred to as the 5:2 method).
The daily cycle involves a ratio of 16:8, where you’re fasting for 16 hours and eating during an 8-hour window every day. This means that you can stop eating at 8pm every day then have your first meal at noon the next day. Others find the 14:10 ratio more doable, where you fast for 14 hours and eat for 10; that means you can stop eating at 8pm then have your first meal at 10am the following day.
The weekly, or 5:2, cycle means you eat normally for five days a week then eat just one moderate-sized meal twice a week.
Some people are very strict and don’t take anything at all during the fasting period, while others allow a very low number of calories from coffee or tea (with no sugar or milk) before their first meal.
Intermittent Fasting Benefits
There are a number of reasons why IF is an attractive option:
It may promote weight loss. Because you aren’t eating the whole day, it naturally follows that you’ll be consuming fewer calories once you try intermittent fasting. There are only so many meals and so much food your stomach can accommodate during a restricted time period, which results in reduced weight.
Fasting may also bump up your body’s fat-burning powers. To put it simply: When you eat, the body uses the sugars as energy and stores any excess as fat. When you fast, your body burns that excess fat as energy instead. (In this respect, it’s similar to the ketogenic diet, which severely restricts carbohydrates so that your body will use fat as an energy source.) IF may also reduce your insulin levels, which can also increase your body’s fat-burning capabilities.
It may be good for your health. A 2019 review published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked into numerous animal and human studies to determine exactly how fasting works. Some of its purported benefits are lowering blood sugar, reducing inflammation, and enhancing brain function. There is even some research backing up fasting as a way to lower the risk of cancer and heart disease.
It may be easier to stick to. As author James Clear writes in his article, “The Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting”: “The reason most diets fail isn’t because we switch to the wrong foods, it’s because we don’t actually follow the diet over the long term. It’s not a nutrition problem, it’s a behavior change problem.” He goes on to say that the reason IF may be easier than sticking to a strict diet is because it doesn’t require a huge lifestyle change—no shopping for specific ingredients, no eliminating specific food groups. It’s just about getting into a new routine.
When you take intermittent fasting vs. keto, for example, some people might find it easier to restrict eating to an eight- or ten-hour window instead of pretty much giving up carbohydrates—and easier means that you’re more likely to be consistent, which is ultimately the driver of success in any endeavor, weight loss or otherwise.
Intermittent Fasting Tips
It may be difficult at first if you’re used to eating breakfast first thing in the morning. Initially, you may feel sluggish. But just power through and you’ll soon be reaping the intermittent fasting benefits. A few tips to help you on your IF journey:
Ease into it. If the thought of going 16 or even 14 hours without food is daunting to you, you can work your way up to it. Get used to 12 hours (that just means no snacking in the middle of the night) then build up to your goal fasting period.
Stick to one method. At least for a month. Don’t go swinging from 14:10 one week to 5:2 the next. Give your body time to adjust.
Enjoy life. While it’s important to be consistent and stick to your goals, that doesn’t mean always saying no to dinner out with friends or pizza-and-movie night at home with the family. If you can’t hang out with them and pass up on the food in front of you, give yourself permission to eat outside your window during special occasions. After all, what’s the point of a long, healthy life if you can’t ultimately enjoy it in the company of the people who matter?