Fasting is an age-old practice that has traditionally been religious in nature. In recent years, however, there has been a growing acknowledgement among health professionals that fasting not only can help us lose weight, but also brings many other health benefits.
What is Fasting?
Fasting basically means refraining from eating for a certain period of time. It is traditionally used as a quick way to lose weight by not eating for 24 to 72 hours except for liquids.
However, medical experts have criticized this practice as being not only unhealthy but also ineffective as well. Most of the weight lost is due to fluid loss and will be quickly gained back once the faster returns to their normal eating habits.
However, there is one type of fasting practice that has been recognized as a legitimate lifestyle change for those interested not just in weight loss but also as a way of gaining and maintaining good health. In this article we will discuss intermittent fasting, which is widely acknowledged as being the best fasting diet plan.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
This is a practice in which you alternate fasting for a certain period with normal eating habits. There is no restriction as to what you can eat since the point is when you eat, although you should aim for a healthy and balanced diet.
While you are fasting, your body burns through the 700 calories of glucose stored in the liver. This process takes around 10 to 12 hours, after which your body starts to burn fat for energy, resulting in weight loss.
In addition, intermittent fasting may have the following health benefits:
- It may help prevent type-2 diabetes by reducing insulin resistance
- It may lower your risk for many chronic diseases by strengthening your resistance to oxidative stress, which is part of the aging process. If oxidative stress is unchecked, it can speed up aging.
- It may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure, blood sugar levels, total and LDL cholesterol, and other risk factors for the disease.
- There is evidence that it may help reduce cancer risk, although more studies are needed. However, a study has shown that fasting may alleviate chemotherapy side effects.
- It may improve brain health by lowering oxidative stress as well as other risk factors like insulin resistance and inflammation.
Intermittent Fasting Techniques
The most popular types of intermittent fasting are:
The 16/8 Fast. In this type of intermittent fasting, you will eat normally for only eight hours during a twenty-four hour period, and fast for the remaining sixteen. You can repeat this as often as you like, based on your personal preferences. For instance, you can fast once or twice a week, or do it every day.
Start by choosing your window hours. Many people opt to eat normally only from noon to eight PM, while others may start at 9AM to 4PM, so they can have breakfast.
Although you can eat however you choose, it is recommended that you eat small meals throughout the eight hours rather than have several bigger ones. Doing this will help control your hunger pangs and help prevent your blood sugar levels from spiking.
If you find this fast too difficult to follow, you can reduce your fasting period to just twelve hours, and eat normally the rest of the day. To make it even easier on you, you can time your fast so that it intersects with your sleeping hours.
Eat-Stop-Eat. In this method, you will fast for 24-hours once or twice a week. But your fasting days have to be non-consecutive, meaning that you can’t fast for 48 hours straight. You will eat normally during the remaining days of the week.
For instance, you might choose to fast from 9AM on Monday to 9AM on Tuesday, and then from 9AM on Friday to 9AM on Saturday. But make sure that you have a meal immediately before and after you fast, to ensure that your fasting does not go beyond 24 hours.
5:2 Diet. In this method you limit your calorie intake to about one-fourth of your required daily intake twice a week, and eat normally the rest of the week. For men, this means 600 calories a day, and for women, 500 calories.
All you have to do is designate two fasting days. During those days you will eat small meals equal to your restricted calorie intake. The rest of the week you will eat normally.
However, your fasting days should be non-consecutive. For instance, if you fast on Monday, your next fasting day should be at least on Wednesday, not Tuesday.
Tips for Successful Intermittent Fasting
- Before you start any fasting routine, always consult with your doctor first.
- You are not prohibited from taking water and non-caloric beverages during your fasting period. So make sure that you drink plenty of water and tea to keep hydrated. You can also take coffee to help you get through the hunger pangs.
- Don’t overeat just before you fast. Doing this will not help reduce hunger pangs when you start to fast. Just eat until you feel full, as you normally do. Additional tip: add more protein to your last meal before fasting, since this will help you feel full longer.
- Keep busy. Making sure that you are occupied while you are fasting will help you get through the inevitable hunger pangs.
- Eat nutritious meals when you are not fasting. Add more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables to your diet, as well as healthy fats and protein such as fish and poultry. Avoid junk food.
- Don’t binge after a fast. Doing so may hurt your weight loss goals, and will certainly leave you feeling tired and bloated. Instead, eat as you normally would as you transition back to regular eating habits.
- Cut yourself some slack. There will be times when it will be impossible to stick to your fasting schedule, due to personal or work commitments, or just because its too hard. In these cases, you should just forgive yourself, and then pick up your fasting schedule again afterwards.
- If you feel weak or tired while fasting, stop. If you are too weak to continue your regular activities, seek medical help.
Intermittent fasting is the best fasting diet plan, one whose effectiveness is supported by a growing amount of research. However, it is also very challenging to make it a part of your lifestyle.
Hence, you should try it out for a week first to see if you can handle it. But if you can’t, you should not feel bad since intermittent fasting is not for everybody. If you can, however, you may be amazed at the benefits you will enjoy.