Intermittent Fasting: What is it? Should I do it? Why?
My husband and I started intermittent fasting a little over a month ago. Beyond that, we haven’t changed our eating or exercise habits much–a little less eating out and trying (emphasis on TRYING) to exercise more.
We’ve seen some good results from it: weight loss, inches lost. The biggest thing is that it has reduced our calorie intake a lot. Now, we’re not calorie counters by any means, and we prefer the laziest versions of diets. Not really into counting macros or weighing our food. And for right now, that’s working for us. Are there improvements that we can make? Sure! And we’re always playing the game or trying to do better.
But, I digress. Intermittent fasting...that’s what I want to talk about. What is it? Should you do it? And why?
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is choosing to eat only for a certain span of time during the day, generally a shorter span of time than you normally would. It’s basically an extended fast every day. We typically fast from the time we fall asleep to the time we wake up, and intermittent fasting just extends that period of time.
You might have heard of 16:8 intermittent fasting–you might even do it unknowingly. The 16:8 method means that you are fasting for 16 hours and you have an 8-hour window each day during which you can eat, commonly between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm or 12 pm and 8 pm. Some people even choose to have 4 or 2-hour windows for eating (I think that’s a little excessive, but you do you!) That’s the beauty in it though, you set those hours for yourself.
Another form of intermittent fasting is the 5:2 method. That is when you eat only one meal two days a week and the other five days you consume your regular meals.
I’ve been doing a 6-hour window for intermittent fasting each day, from 12 pm until 6 pm, and that works just fine for me, especially since I don’t usually eat until lunch anyway.
Why this has really helped me is that I’m an avid evening snacker. I can often be found in bed or on the couch watching my shows and snacking on popcorn, chips, or other treats late into the night. Now, I’ve had to be disciplined to stop that (and I won’t deny that I’ve been caught sneaking into chips after 6 pm...yes, much like a four-year-old child). But I’m working on it and I’ve seen results from it.
So, you get the idea. But why is intermittent fasting a thing and are there any other benefits from it? Is it really all about limiting calories?
The Extra Awesome Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting goes back to the days of hunting and gathering for food. Our bodies were designed to be able to go long periods of time without food–I’m talking several hours, sometimes days. Before people learned to farm, we hunted and gathered our food, and it wasn’t always quick to catch fish or game or find nuts and berries. But the fact that we’re on the earth today means we managed just fine.
Heck, even 50 years ago the span of time when people ate was shorter because we went to bed earlier. The lack of internet and TV channels available may have had something to do with that.
You can see from the chart below (thank you CDC) that over the last 20 years obesity in the United States in adults 20 years and older has increased by around 12% (and probably more than that since it doesn’t take into account the past three years). AND severe obesity has increased by almost 5%.
Just think about that for a minute and how much portion sizes have increased over the years, how much busier people have become, and how prevalent technology and fast food is in our lives.
Image Source: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db360-h.pdf
Okay, where is this heading right? So obesity has increased and we used to be really good at intermittent fasting. That’s kind of my point. I mean, there are a lot of factors to consider, but the period of time throughout the day in which people eat is a big part of that.
If we get back to intermittent fasting, we can go back to a time when people were generally healthier and had fewer obesity-related diseases.
Beyond weight loss and better BMI, intermittent fasting can provide the following benefits:
- Improved memory and thinking. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting improves working memory in animals and verbal memory in adult people.
- Better heart health. Intermittent fasting improves resting heart rate and blood pressure.
- Improved physical performance. Men who have fasted for 16 hours a day have retained muscle mass while losing fat.
- Increased cellular repair. Intermittent fasting initiates autophagy, or cellular waste removal, which aids in fighting disease–even severe diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer.
How does intermittent fasting work?
What’s the science behind intermittent fasting? There’s something magical–or scientific if you prefer that term–that happens in our bodies when we fast. Our bodies typically run on carbohydrates (sugars), but when we go hours without eating, we use up those sugar stores and our bodies start to burn fat.
Generally, people eat a few meals a day, often snacking in between, so their bodies have plenty of carbs to fuel them throughout the day (and then some if they aren’t active throughout the day too). Intermittent fasting prolongs the period between meals, allowing your body to burn through your sugar stores from your last meal to the point where it can start to burn fat. Pretty neat, huh?
Should you try intermittent fasting?
I will say this–intermittent fasting is not for everyone. In fact, reputable health sources warn against certain categories of people intermittent fasting. You probably should not intermittent fast if you are:
- Under 18 years of age
- Pregnant or breastfeeding
- Someone with diabetes or blood sugar issues
- Someone with a history of eating disorders
And, as always, if you have any concerns, you should check with your doctor before starting any new or extreme changes to your health.
Intermittent fasting can affect everyone differently, so if you do try it, pay attention to how you feel. If you find that you are sick with hunger early on in the day, maybe try starting with a larger period of time as your body adjusts to this change.
I’ve tried many dietary changes throughout my adult life, and this is one that I feel I could stick with for the long run. I still have many improvements that I can make, but I’m excited to keep learning and working towards the best me that I can be!
Disclaimer: I am not a health professional, doctor, or any other person qualified to tell you what health measures to take in your life. I’m a professional researcher fascinated with health and always looking for ways to improve myself. Feel free to learn from my experiences and try things out for yourself, and if you’re unsure about a new health measure, ask your doctor.