If you’ve been looking for strategies to shred (and stay shredded), you’ve no doubt come across suggestions that you try out intermittent fasting (IF).
There are a lot of mixed opinions about fasting – it might sound like an extreme to some and perfectly reasonable to others. So it begs two questions: 1) is intermittent fasting healthy, and 2) does it actually work?
It turns out that there’s a lot of evidence in support of intermittent fasting, and if it’s done correctly, it can be a great way to reach your weight and fitness goals without compromising your health.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is exactly what it’s name suggests: you fast for a defined period of time (aka intermittently), then have a dedicated, shorter period of time for you to eat and get your calories and nutrients in for the day.
Intermittent fasting can take a couple of different forms. For example:
• The 16:8 method, where you fast for sixteen hours and allow eight hours for eating
• The 5:2, where you eat normally for five days out of the week then eat a restrictive number of calories for two days (usually around 500-600 calories)
• Alternate-day fasting, where you eat normally for one day and fast for the next
So, without any hard and fast rules, IF can be pretty flexible and based on your own schedule and comfort.
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Many people choose to start intermittent fasting because they want to lose weight – and since fasting means eating less, it’s a pretty logical choice.
Here’s how IF can help your fitness goals:
• Limiting your calorie intake: The most obvious benefit of intermittent fasting (and the reason that so many people choose to do it in the first place) is that it can be a highly effective regimen for limiting your calorie intake, which is key for anyone looking to cut fat.
Shortening your window of time for eating naturally lends itself to eating less if you plan it out right. And when you aren’t eating for sixteen hours out of the day, it also eliminates a lot of the mindless grazing and late-night snacking that are major enemies of weight loss.
• Insulin control: It’s not all about the calories either: fasting changes your insulin levels, which can be one of the most important benefits that it brings to the table for weight loss!
Insulin is a crucial hormone when it comes to your metabolism and how your body stores fat: it’s responsible for allowing the sugars your diet to enter your fat cells and keeping them there. If your insulin levels goes down, your fat cells can start to release those sugars – aka fat loss!
This is where IF really starts to do its job: when you fast for long periods of time, your insulin levels drop since there aren’t any free sugars it needs to take care of. So intermittent fasting actually allows your body to burn more fat!
• Increases human growth hormone: Here’s another interesting factoid that you might want to pay attention to if you’re looking to make some serious gains: it turns out that IF might actually be a great way to increase your secretion of human growth hormone! [*]
This hormone is especially important for spurring on growth and maintaining your body composition, so IF might be ideal for those looking to cut fat while maintaining or growing their muscle mass.
Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
The short answer is yes! When done correctly, intermittent fasting has been proven to be a great way to limit your calories while maximizing your metabolism, which are all good things for someone looking to improve their body composition.
That said, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the right choice for everyone. It can be restrictive by nature, and going without eating for a long period of time may not be the best for those who:
• Have a history of eating disorders
• Are a growing adolescent
• Are pregnant or breastfeeding
You’ll also want to make sure to talk to a doctor if you’re diabetic and thinking about trying IF – it’s been proven to help improve your insulin resistance, but going without eating for long periods of time might not be great for your blood sugar.
Tips For Intermittent Fasting
• What you eat still matters. Since you have a very limited window of time to get your nutrients, you’ll want to make sure that they’re as nutritious as possible so you’re still getting all the necessary nutrients your body needs. So all the old rules still apply – focus on unprocessed, high-quality whole foods, get plenty of veggies to add volume and nutrition, and avoid the refined sugars that could spike your blood sugar.
• Avoid snacking between meals. Remember, part of the beauty of intermittent fasting is that your insulin levels drop after a long period of not eating, which helps with the fat-burning process. The same thing applies during your eating period: you don’t want to add the extra calories or cancel out the insulin benefits by mindlessly snacking.
• Whatever eating schedule you choose, make sure you aren’t eating late at night. IF is closely related to your circadian rhythm, or the natural internal “clock” that your body follows to controls things like hormone release. Those late-night snacks don’t fit into your natural body cycles and, when chronic, can lead to obesity (and obesity-related diseases!). [*] So stick with fasting schedules that allow you to get your food in before the night gets away from you.
• Don’t overeat, no matter how hungry you feel. Fasting can be a little challenging when you first start. If you’re used to eating regularly throughout the day, your stomach and your appetite might put up a fight when it realizes that you aren’t getting fed at your normal times, which can quickly lead to overeating. However, notice how your stomach rumbles during your “normal” feeding times: this can help you realize that your “hunger” is actually more out of conditioning than true hunger.
A great solution for this is to make sure you have a plan. Map out a meal plan for yourself so that you know you’re getting enough calories to fully nourish your body without going overboard. It’ll take some getting used to, but after a while, your appetite will adjust to your new lifestyle.
The Bottom Line
Intermittent fasting is a proven way to lose weight and improve your blood sugar level. If you take the time to map out a healthy eating plan and pair it with exercise, IF can definitely be worth giving a shot!