Intermittent Fasting – The What, The Why, The How

Hey Angels, it’s Ally!

Does the word “fasting” make you nervous?

By now you’ve all probably heard of Intermittent Fasting.

Intermittent fasting isn’t really something new – it’s been around for thousands (yes, thousands) of years, and it’s a super important part of a lot of cultural and religious traditions all around the world.

But with so many magazines, ads, and fitness personalities talking about it, it might just seem like one of the endless fads of the health and diet world.

By picking on one of my last articles about the importance of the healthy breakfast, I want to spend some time talking about the benefits of this method. After all, it’s what all our ancestors were doing in those times when food delivery, microwaves, and grocery stores didn’t exist.

So, let’s get it started.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting isn’t a diet – it’s a dieting pattern. It essentially creates a cycle between periods of eating food and periods of abstaining from it.

It doesn’t involve any restricting foods, low-calorie meals, or anything like that.

It’s all about timing – you’re merely condensing your eating hours into a short window of your day.

As I mentioned above, it’s an ancient practice – but its benefits to the body have only recently been found, researched, and documented.

Speaking of benefits…

Why Should You Try Intermittent Fasting?

First and foremost, intermittent fasting is easy!

Forget about all these fad diets that involve expensive foods, waste your time, and are borderline complex or inconvenient.

Fasting is something everyone can do.

If you’re the type of person who stays away from counting calories and planning meals, this is for you.

When you’re fasting, you’re not heavily restricting your caloric intake.

You’re just choosing a smaller window of time in which to consume them.

Second, digestion.

Contrary to popular belief, our digestive systems weren’t meant to be “turned on” at all times. When you let your digestive system rest through a fast, your body will thank you by removing the built-up toxins in it, easing inflammation, and initiating autophagy.

Autophagy is a cellular cleansing process that essentially recycles the damage components in your body’s cells. During a fast, you’ll also experience increases in growth hormone (which helps you burn fat and preserve muscle), adrenaline, and norepinephrine.

Due to this (and other processes in a fasted state), you can experience fat loss, more energy, reduced stress, improved cognitive function, and event prevent disease!

So even though listing all the benefits of IF in a blog post is a stretch of the imagination, here are the top backed-by-science benefits that you can expect to see!

1. Fat Loss

In a fasted state, your body becomes adapted to oxidizing fat and turning it into energy.

Because you’re shrinking the window of time in which you eat, your insulin levels are lower, allowing your fat cells (also known as adipocytes) to release fatty acids.

Lowering your levels of glucose and glycogen makes your body use these fatty acids to generate energy rather than store them in fat cells.

Helping you use up fat instead of storing it, and burning what you already have stored.

Consistency is also a big factor that plays a plus for Intermittent Fasting.

Studies have shown that people tend to regain the weight they lose after a diet, even if that takes years. This is because most diets make long-term consistency nearly impossible.

Intermittent fasting, on the other hand, is easy to sustain and produces a lot of bodily responses that work together to promote weight loss, slimming down, and an overall healthy lifestyle.

2. Better Physical Fitness

There are a lot of roles that IF plays in helping your body, and this is one of them.

It trains your mind and digestive system to get used to eating a day’s worth of food in a small part of your day.

This promotes a healthy, proportional calorie intake. It helps your body get rid of habitual mealtimes and impulsive binge eating.

When it’s done right, it helps hasten your metabolism and create metabolic flexibility – helping your body run like a machine that uses fats for energy, and does it effectively.

It also helps with endurance, too!

A lot of athletes build and maintain endurance by running, HIIT, and other forms of cardio exercise. In fitness, one of the most common value measures of endurance is done through VO2 max. VO2 max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can use (per minute, per kilogram of body weight) during intense exercise.

The more oxygen your body can use, the better your endurance and performance! Elite athletes have twice the VO2 capacity of someone who has never stepped on a treadmill.

In a study done by the National Institute of Health (NSI), scientists tested VO2 max levels in both a fasted, and a well-fed group. This was done one hour after breakfast. Both groups started at VO2 levels of around 3.5 liters per minute – which is a reasonable average for untrained people.

The study concluded that, after the participants went through an endurance cycle ergometer training, the fasted group had increased their VO2 max capacity by 10%, whereas the other group only saw a 2.5% increase.

3. Therapeutic and Cognitive Benefits

Above everything, I believe the power of fasting lies in improving your willpower. By exercising your self-control muscle and consciously choosing not to eat, you take control of your mind and train it just like you would train your body in an intense gym session!

It teaches you to control your eating pattern, and not let it control you.

A recent study found that women who practiced IF had an elevated sense of achievement, reward, and control. And we can understand why!

Willpower directly influences your sense of accomplishment and self-esteem, and you can train it by exercising self-control.

This has also shown a positive impact in managing diabetes, healing rheumatoid arthritis, and in some places, it’s considered as effective as drugs when it comes to reducing seizures and seizure-related brain damage.

But that’s all physiological, and physical.

Through nearly all religions, fasting also remains a spiritual way of cleansing the body related to promoting self-love and well-being.

This might somehow relate to its proven cognitive effect!

As I said above, fasting initiates autophagy in your body – also helping your brain cells recover and recycle faster, and function optimally.

It also increases a protein in the brain called BDFN – or brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This is a protein that interacts with the parts of your brain that relate to better learning and improved memory!

A study done by the Journal of Neuroscience concluded that intermittent fasting helps protect your brain cells, and stimulates the growth of new ones.

So IF has physical, physiological, spiritual, and cognitive effects?!

Let’s learn how to do it the right way…

How To Approach Intermittent Fasting

Researchers conclude that the metabolic changes (the positive ones) associated with fasting start at the 9-hour mark, and the benefits compound the longer you go.

For best results, 16 hours seems to be the sweet spot. However, it varies between 16 for men and 12 for women.

This also includes sleep, so 12 hours is easily doable!

You can easily pick a fasting window that’s convenient for you, and stick to it.

There are numerous approaches to IF, so choose one that best suits your needs and possibilities!

  1. 12-hour fast – If you’re new to fasting, this is the one you should go with. It can help you ease into intermittent fasting, and as I said, a 12-hour window between dinner and breakfast (for example, finishing dinner by 8 pm, and having breakfast by 8 am) is absolutely attainable, considering you’re going to sleep through most of it and still experience all the health benefits!
  2. 14/10 cycling – Similar to the 12 hour fast, but this approach involves extending that period of fasting to 14 hours. It’s a more difficult transition but provides profound results. The 14/10 cycling is best fit for women, so, for men, the next step should be 16/8.
  3. The fast day plan – This plan involves choosing a day in which you consume between 20 and 25% of your regular caloric intake, and alternate with a feed day in which you eat whenever you want. This plan is not recommended for beginners, as those calorie-restricted days are a challenge, and the feed days can end up resulting in big junk food sessions.
  4. The 5:2 plan – Similar to the last plan, this one allows you to eat normally on 5 days of the week, and limiting yourself to 500-750 calories on the other two days.

As you can see, the plans get increasingly tricky. That’s why if you’re someone who wants to try out intermittent fasting, the newbie approach is always the best one.

To Recap…

Don’t look toward intermittent fasting as the next diet fad. It’s not something that everyone needs to do.

It’s been around for thousands of years and serves as a physical, spiritual, and physiological way to cleanse the body and promote overall health and well-being.

Along with regular training and proper diet, it’s one of the many lifestyle choices you can make that will improve your health, your mind, and your body.

It provides power benefits such as;

  • Weight loss
  • Insulin resistance
  • Inflammation reduction
  • Improved heart health
  • Improved brain health and function 

So if you’re someone who is not interesting in fasting at this point, you’re welcome to skip.

But for those of you who are curious to see what all the fuss is about…

The 12-hour fasting plan could be the first step in a life-changing journey.

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