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Last Updated on February 22, 2021

Understanding Intermittent Fasting Benefits Beyond Weight Loss

Understanding Intermittent Fasting Benefits Beyond Weight Loss

Intermittent fasting benefits can offer a boost to many areas of life, including weight loss, muscle building, and increased energy. Intermittent fasting is a weight loss technique that involves limiting food and drink intake to certain hours of the day. While this can be challenging, the benefits are enormous once your body adjusts.

In this article, we will examine Intermittent Fasting (IF) from several perspectives, including physical health, mental health, and overall well being.

What Is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?

Simply put, intermittent fasting it’s restricting your food and drink consumption to a certain time of the day, which is called your “eating window.” This is also known as “time restricted eating.” The two basically mean the same thing; however intermittent fasting focuses more on longer fasting periods ranging anywhere from 14 hours to 48 hours.[1]

Typically, fasting periods of 14-18 hours are the most highly recommended, as more can be stressful on the body if you have not already established conditioning and patterns around fasting.

How Does It Work?

Intermittent fasting benefits focus on keeping your body in a catabolic state, where your body has no food or resources for energy, so it begins to source energy from excess fat.

This is the opposite of being in an anabolic state, which is when you have consumed food, and your body is actively processing and breaking down the nutrients and fats from that food and allocating those resources accordingly.

There is a large body of evidence suggesting that fasting can benefit both the body and brain, but almost all research has been conducted with animal studies, mostly on mice and rats. Researchers studying fasting, such as myself, have been calling for and awaiting more human studies to verify the results found while examining animals.

Myths About Intermittent Fasting

Myth #1: Starvation Mode

Over the years, I’ve heard terms like “starvation mode” thrown around with a lose relationship to IF, and this term is not accurately representing how the body handles fasting and time-restricted eating. Some people believe that your body will go into some sort of starvation mode, and by the time you actually do consume food, it will all be allocated to fat deposits, causing you to gain weight.

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Rachele Pojednic, Ph.D., assistant professor in the nutrition department at Simmons College and staff scientist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, points out: “There’s a difference between the popular perception of starvation mode with regard to diet culture and actually being starving.”[2]

Unless you are going through days or weeks without food on a consistent basis, your body has no reason to enter a true starvation state.

Myth #2: Extremely Low Energy

Another common myth is that energy levels are extremely low when fasting. This one spawns from the notion that your body needs food constantly for energy and to survive. Let me debunk this by stating that your body is much more resilient than that.

You can technically go several days without consuming food, as long as you are having adequate amounts of water. In my experience, over the years with time restricted eating, energy levels are sustained as long as the proper macro and micronutrients are consumed during each eating window.

If you leave yourself deficient from each eating window by way of not consuming enough calories or nutrients, then yes, of course energy levels will be down the next day.

However, if you are focusing on consuming high-quality nutrients and hitting all your “numbers” during your eating window, energy will certainly not be an issue.

How and When to Use Intermittent Fasting

All too often, I hear people pushing the limits right away and going for 18, 20, and 24-hour fasts within their first week of adopting the practice, and to be perfectly frank, this is not a good idea.

I understand some people get overly excited about the results and the hype around intermittent fasting benefits; however, the best practice is to condition your body by slowly easing into the process. I’ve suggested starting with 12 hour fasts, utilizing mostly sleeping time, for those starting intermittent fasting to reduce side effects as you begin.

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After a week or so of 12-hour daily fasts, gradually move to 14-16 hours the second week, then 18 hours the third week, and if you’re feeling really ambitious and seeing amazing results, move up to 20 hours fasts on some days. That means consuming all calories for the day within a 4-hour eating window!

Where many fall short with fasting is being able to consume the proper amount of overall calories, including adequate volumes of protein, carbs, fats, and micro-nutrients. Many do not consume the correct amount of food during the eating window, or they don’t space meals out correctly.

There are a few issues that can arise when one doesn’t consume proper nutrients within the eating window:

  1. The body lacking adequate energy to sustain multiple days, or long-term fasting
  2. The body is beginning to lose muscle weight because it does not have enough nutrients to sustain energy levels
  3. When not spacing out meals, the body doesn’t have enough time to digest food properly and is not fully absorbing nutrients

Another problem which arises from my experience is poor eating habits being carried-over to intermittent fasting. Someone has a poor diet and thinks that by implementing time restricted eating or IF, they’ll start leaning up like Hollywood movie stars. This is simply poor logic.

If you’re serious about getting results in a healthy way, the diet should be cleaned up. This is because your body only has a certain amount of time to consume food (eating window), and if that time is being clogged up with processing junk food, you won’t be reaping the benefits of IF.

Putting on weight and building lean muscle mass while doing intermittent fasting is a tricky endeavor, mainly because the nature of IF is one of weight loss, fat loss, and ramping-up metabolism.

IF does help with the production of new muscle tissue by way of improving the production of human growth hormone (HGH) and testosterone. However, it also burns up any excess fats very quickly, meaning you’ll need to eat more calories if you’re determined to build muscle on an intermittent fasting diet.

If your goal is to stick to an intermittent fasting diet plan, but you’re struggling to find motivation to do it, check out Lifehack’s Foolproof Guide to Reaching Goals This Year.

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Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

The benefits of intermittent fasting are wide ranging, from weight loss, to improved muscle development, to reduced stress levels, to clearer skin, and much more! Of course, this all comes if one is following the correct protocols for intermittent fasting.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the key benefits of intermittent fasting in this video first:

Fasting has been proven to improve biomarkers of disease, reduce oxidative stress, and preserve learning and memory functioning, according to Mark Mattson, senior investigator for the National Institute on Aging, part of the US National Institutes of Health. Mattson investigated the health benefits of IF on the cardiovascular system and brain in rodents, and like many others, has called for “well-controlled human studies” in people “across a range of body mass indexes”.[3]

Weight Loss

Mattson has contributed to several other IF studies on caloric restriction. In one, overweight adults with moderate asthma consumed only 20% of their normal calorie intake on alternate days.[4] Participants who adhered to the diet lost 8% of their initial body weight over eight weeks. The participants also saw a decrease in markers of oxidative stress, inflammation, and improvement of asthma-related symptoms and several quality-of-life indicators.In another study, Mattson and colleagues explored the effects of intermittent and continuous energy restriction on weight loss and various biomarkers (for conditions such as breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease) among young overweight women.

[5] They found that time restricted eating, or intermittent restriction, was as effective as continuous restriction for improving weight loss, insulin level sensitivity, and other health biomarkers.

Protect Memory

Intermittent fasting benefits also extend into protecting your mental health and memory. Mattson’s research has also leaned toward determining the protective benefits of fasting to neurons.

For instance, if you don’t eat for 10 to 16 hours, your body will burn fat deposits for energy, and fatty acids called ketones will be released into the bloodstream. This has been shown to protect memory and learning functionality, as well as slow disease processes in the brain[6].

Improve Digestion and Mental Clarity

Something that most won’t consider is the “detox” aspect to intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is not a cleanse diet, but it will help you clean up the gut and digestive tract.

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You can do this with dry fasting[7], or water fasting. I would only recommend dry fasting for a maximum of 24 hours, and this is done by not even consuming water during your fasting period. There are two purposes to dry fasting:

1. You deprive the body of moisture which can clean-up the gut by not allowing moisture-thriving bacteria to form or sustain existence. Any unhealthy bacteria will, in essence, die-off when there is no food or water to sustain it.

2. Many claim that standard or dry fasting yields mental clarity, which can be beneficial for spiritual practices. Personally, I have had some experience with this, where during prolonged fasting periods I feel much more in-tune with my sense perceptions, and cognitive alertness.

When I perform my ritualistic meditations such as transcendental meditation in the morning, or any time of the day while fasted, I feel much more deeply connected and dialed-in with the meditation itself. This could be due to a lack of substances/external stimuli, such as food or water that the body needs to allocate resources to process.

Perhaps when the body isn’t breaking down nutrients and is left to rest, it has the ability to hone-in on any given task with much more clarity and efficiency. This is one of the most unexpected intermittent fasting benefits.

The Bottom Line

If you want to lose weight, improve mental health, and overall well being, consider intermittent fasting, but as mentioned, start gradually and work your way to longer fasting periods as time goes on.

The main benefit of fasting is arguable and varies depending on an individual’s goals. Do you want to lose weight, improve metabolic efficiency, or improve overall energy levels? Whatever your overarching goals, intermittent fasting can help.

More on the Benefits of Fasting

Featured photo credit: Ethan Sykes via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Adam Evans

BioHacker, competitive athlete, researcher in many fields including health and fitness, science, philosophy, metaphysics, religion.

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Last Updated on June 9, 2021

How to Lose 10 Pounds in 3 Weeks: 20 Simple Tips

How to Lose 10 Pounds in 3 Weeks: 20 Simple Tips

Weight loss has become a sticky subject of confusion, conflicting information and myths. Before you know it, you’re on the crash-course diet from hell and getting no-where! Sustainable weight loss is not a fad diet or program, it’s a lifestyle. With these 20 proven weight loss tips, you can lose 10 pounds in 3 weeks. Best of all, you will set yourself up for continued progress every week!

1. The Golden Rule: Calories In vs. Calories Out

This simple fact simply cannot be overruled – to lose weight you must burn more calories than you consume.

Use tools to help track and measure your daily intake then slowly taper down. Start with 500kcal steps or lower until you observe a consistent weekly loss.

Never go dangerously low, eating much below 1200-1600 can stall your progress and harm your health!

2. Set Attainable Goals And Track Your Progress

Achieving each goal will help spur you on, so be realistic and start small. Here is an example of an easily achievable goal progression:

  • Lose weight each week
  • Lose 1-3 pounds per week
  • Lose 10 pounds in 3 weeks
  • Fit into size 30 jeans!

3. Consider Skipping Breakfast

Breakfast is commonly considered the most important meal of the day, however, it is not so when it comes to weight loss.

Intermittent fasting can be a useful fat-loss tool. Restrict yourself to a smaller eating window by skipping breakfast and only eating from 12-8pm. You will reduce your daily calorie intake without restricting your lunch and dinner!

4. Drink More Water (Especially Before Meals)

Drinking water an hour before eating has two proven benefits for weight loss:

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  • 24-30% boost in metabolism for 1-1.5 hours after intake[1]
  • Increased chance of consuming less calories which further supports weight loss[2]

5. Make Coffee Your New Best Friend

Coffee has received a bad reputation in the past, however, it should be known that quality coffee is rich in antioxidants and beneficial to weight loss.

The caffeine content will boost your body’s metabolism by up to 10%,[3] leading to a 10-29% increase in fat burning power. Take it black, with no added sugar!

6. Make Green Tea Your Second Best Friend

Green tea provides a milder dose of caffeine but it is abundant in wonderful catechins. These antioxidants will work with the caffeine in a perfect fat burning harmony!

7. Always Check For Added Sugar

Sugar has demonstrated worryingly strong links with obesity, diabetes[4] and heart disease[5] (to name a few).

But even if you do not add it yourself, you should check the ingredients of your sauces or packaged foods. Even self-proclaimed health foods can be riddled with added sugar!

8. Cut Out Simple Carbohydrates

Simple/refined carbohydrates are quickly absorbed, spiking your blood sugar and insulin levels in the process.[6] As a result, you will feel hunger and cravings come back again in no time!

Avoid all sugar or refined grains by avoiding the following foods:

  • Cookies, candy and sweets
  • Packaged cereals
  • White bread and rice
  • Cakes

9. Scale Down Your Portion Sizes

It pays to become aware of how much you are eating, exercise portion control and slowly scale it down.

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Even small reductions of 10-20% are often enough to tip the balance and trigger weight loss. Try measuring your portions more carefully and don’t underestimate the power of using smaller bowls![7]

10. Keep Healthy Food On Standby for Stacks

The power of temptation is mighty, so why not remove it completely?

Only keep healthy snacks within reach, then you won’t be able to binge on junk food! Here are some healthy ideas to stock your cupboard:

  • Whole fruit
  • Handful of nuts
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Vegetables

11. Spice Up Your Life

Breathe new life into your dishes and reinforce your weight loss efforts with the power of cayenne pepper! Capsaicin from cayenne pepper and other spicy foods helps to ramp up metabolism and decrease appetite.[8]

12. Top Up Your Protein Intake

Protein rich foods not only keep you fuller for longer[9] but burn more energy during digestion. Studies have shown that swapping calories for whey protein supplements can boost weight loss whilst increasing lean muscle![10]

Alternatively, here are a number of protein-rich food sources:

  • Lean beef
  • Skinless chicken breasts
  • Eggs
  • Salmon
  • Low-fat yogurt

13. Balance Your Diet With Complex Carbs

Consuming complex carbs will produce a sustained energy release and keep blood sugar levels manageable. You can easily keep hunger and cravings at bay with these nutrient dense complex carbs:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Brown rice
  • Wholegrains
  • Beans and legumes

14. Forget About Fast Food

Not matter how healthy it may claim to be, fast food is almost always laden with heart-clogging trans fats,[11] excessive sugar and salt.

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Worse yet, these meals are high in calories whilst low in nutritional value, making them a terrible choice for fuel. Before you know it, you will have broken the cardinal rule of calories in vs. calories out!

15. Watch Out for “Hidden Calories”

There’s no need to completely forgo your favorite condiments, just make sure you are aware of their true caloric impact. It’s easy to go overboard and negate much of your hard work!

Go easy with the following condiments and toppings, they are surprisingly heavy in calories:

  • Mayonnaise
  • Salad dressing
  • Cream
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Oils

16. Choose Low-Medium GI Foods

High GI foods sources cause sugar levels to shoot up, the resultant spike in insulin will actually encourage dreaded fat storage![12]

Check out the GI scale and choose low-medium GI foods. Your insulin levels will remain under control, you will feel fuller for longer and find it easier to lose weight!

17. Opt For Weight Training Over Cardio

Weight training burns a significant amount of calories, keeping you strong, fit and healthy in the process. It’s more effective than cardio for body recomposition as it helps preserve essential muscle mass whilst you lose weight.[13]

Studies have also shown a significant increase in metabolic rate both during and after your workout,[14] further supporting your weight loss efforts!

Choose a routine that uses compound lifts such as Presses, Squats and Deadlifts. These exercises recruit the largest amount of muscles per movement, ideal for maintaining lean muscle mass and trimming body fat.

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18. Go Walking or Cycling

Consistent small actions soon add up to big changes. For this reason, why not choose to walk or cycle whenever you can? You will burn more calories as you go about your day without the need for further diet restrictions.

You can burn more calories as you go about your day, without any further diet restriction. If you’re physically able there is no excuse, take the stairs over escalators and lifts!

19. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is highly underrated for weight loss. Forget about the 6-hour minimum claim, many of us require 8-9 hours to operate at peak efficiency.

Both duration and quality of sleep will have a great influence on hormones that control body composition. In fact, poor sleep has shown worrying links to obesity, increasing the risk in adults by 55%![15]

20. Be Careful Of Liquid Calories!

We all know alcohol dehydrates and damages our liver and kidneys. But it can also thwart weight loss efforts as an unexpected source of calories.

You may be surprised to know a beer can equate to 150kcal, 125kcal for a glass of red wine and a whopping 400Kcal for a single sweet Piña Colada! Instead, try sticking to tonic water with a slice of lime, your body will thank you!

    So there you have the 20 simple lifestyle tips that will support you in achieving healthy weight loss. Adopt as many as you can and you will easily lose 10 pounds or more in 3 weeks!

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    Featured photo credit: Lecic via shutterstock.com

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