Intermittent Fasting: The Fad Diet with Some Surprising Long-Term Benefits
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on June 11, 2018 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in Blog
Fasting has been a part of society since the beginning, with our ancestors partaking in fasting rituals for religious, political and social purposes. Some cultures today still fast regularly and now, intermittent fasting has become a popular dietary trend around the globe.
Fasting may sound a lot like starvation for days on end, but that is just a misconception. In reality, fasting involves the controlled abstinence from food for certain periods or all of the day as part of a routine. There are numerous ways to do intermittent fasting, but all appear to have numerous health benefits besides the obvious: weight loss.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is pretty simple: you follow alternating cycles of eating and abstaining from food for the purposes of weight loss, increased caloric intake control and other health benefits.
One of the most common ways to fast is to eat normally five or six days a week, and fast for 24 hours only one or two days a week. On the days you are fasting, it is acceptable to eat approximately 500 calories a day to get you through.
When you eat normally, your body produces extra insulin to process and store excess sugar as glycogen and then fat to be used as fuel. When you stop eating, your body lowers your insulin levels, and what is left helps break down glycogen first, then fat storage to keep your body running. When you fast, you force your body to burn through your stored glycogen, so it must burn fat for energy, resulting in weight loss.
Following a low-carb diet between fasts can make following the fasting diet easier, since your body will tend to continue the breakdown of fats as fuel. This is similar to the ketogenic diet, where the body relies on a nearly all-fat diet as fuel instead of sugars from carbohydrates.
Short and long-term benefits
At first, intermittent fasting may just seem like a fad diet designed to help people shed a few pounds, but it has actually been shown to provide some surprising long-term health benefits, as well.
By burning off excess fat, weight loss does occur, as well as an increased basal metabolic rate and a reduction in blood insulin levels. These benefits may help slow or reverse the effects of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, fasting can help reduce inflammation.
Some research has also shown that intermittent fasting may also be linked to a healthier heart and reduced risk factors for heart disease. Although researchers have not determined the reason for these benefits, they have speculated that by strictly reducing caloric intake, people often demonstrate better weight control and eating choices, which can lead to better health when not fasting. Regular fasting can also decrease “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol) and improve how the body processes sugar, reducing weight gain and diabetes risks, as well.
Another noteworthy benefit of the intermittent fasting diet is that it is considered simpler and easier to do than other specialized food diets. This is because it requires no extra or special types of food, but rather patience and self-control to endure fasts.
Be wary of the risks
Despite the many potential health benefits intermittent fasting has to offer, there are also risks people who are considering fasting should be aware of. Two of the most common side-effects are headaches and dizziness, which may occur during the first few fasts until the body gets used to the routine.
Although dieters are encouraged to follow their normal routines, including exercise, combining exercise with little to no food intake may result in low blood sugar, which has a few short-term risks including confusion and lightheadedness.
People with eating disorders may experience severe binge-eating after fasting periods, and they are not recommended to partake in fasting diets. Additionally, pregnant or breastfeeding women or underweight individuals should not fast, as they need to gain additional nutrients from well-balanced meals each day to remain healthy.
Two insider-tricks related to fasting include drinking lots of water to stave off the feelings of hunger, as well as to ease out of the fasting period with small snacks instead of large meals. Breaking a fast too quickly may result in nausea and other unpleasant side-effects.
If you are considering trying an intermittent fasting diet, please consult your physician prior to beginning, to ensure your body is healthy enough to handle the diet without serious complications.
Remember to start slow and ease into periods of fasting at first to not disrupt your body too much. In time, fasting will become easy and more bearable, and you’ll reap its many benefits!
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Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan