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Last Updated on February 22, 2021

Understanding Intermittent Fasting Benefits Beyond Weight Loss

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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.

Try These 13 Immune Boosting Foods Under the Weather? 13 Immune Boosting Foods for a Quick Recovery How to Break a Fast When You’re Intermittent Fasting 11 Health Benefits Of Ashwagandha (Backed By Science) Intermittent Fasting Diet for Beginners (The Complete Guide) 21 Healthy Dinner Recipes to Lose Weight and Gain Muscle Strength

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Published on August 24, 2021

What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

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What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

I’ve been a dietitian now for a long time (more years than I care to mention), and if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that fad diets are best avoided. This is why I’m so pleased that whole food diets are being talked about more and more.

Rather than a “diet,” I prefer to think of a whole food diet as a way of life. Eating this way is balanced, and it is a great way to support your all-around body health and longevity. Plus, it’s delicious and—in my opinion—not limiting either, which is a massive bonus.

A well-balanced diet follows some fairly basic principles and, in essence, consists of plenty of the following:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Lean protein
  • Nuts
  • Water

This is essentially all a whole food diet is. Unfortunately, there isn’t an accepted definition of the whole food diet, which means that there are some highly restrictive versions around and some involve principles to frame your diet around rather than strict rules.

Read on to learn more about the whole food diet as a framework for eating rather than a strict rule book of dos and don’ts that restricts your lifestyle.

What Is a Whole Food Diet?

By definition, a whole food diet consists of eating foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. It’s easy to get lost in a quagmire of organic, local, or pesticide-free, but a whole food diet is basically food in its most natural form. Obviously, spices can be ground and grains can be hulled, but you get the idea. You eat the whole food rather than what’s left after being refined or processed.

In other words, it involves a lot of cooking because whole foods do not involve anything processed. That means no premade sauces, dips, or convenience foods like chocolate bars, sweets, or ready-meals. It also includes things like tinned vegetables and white bread.

Why? Processed and convenience foods are often high in salt, saturated fat, and additives in comparison to anything homemade. Because of this, their toll on your overall health is higher.

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Can Other Diets Also Be Whole Food Diets?

Here’s where it gets confusing—yes, other diets can also be whole food diets. Eating a whole food diet is a lifestyle choice, but many other diets can exist within a whole foods construct. So, diets like the MIND Diet and Mediterranean Diet are also whole food diets.

For example, here are the foods involved in the MIND Diet:[1]

  • Green, leafy vegetables five times a week
  • Five or more different colored fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Berries five times a week
  • Five or more servings of nuts a week
  • Olive oil five times a week
  • Whole grains five times a week
  • Oily fish twice a week or take an algae-based omega-3 supplement
  • Legumes and pulses five times a week
  • White meat/mix of plant-based proteins twice a week
  • Vitamin D supplement
  • Minimally processed foods
  • No more than one glass of wine a day
  • One or two coffee or tea a day max
  • Two liters of water a day

That’s pretty much a whole food diet, right? As long as any meat or plant-based proteins are as unprocessed as possible, then it can be a whole food diet.

Other diets, like a vegan diet, for instance, could be whole food diets or not. It really depends if processed foods are included. Some food substitutes are really heavily processed, so it’s important to read labels really carefully. But it’s only some, not all.

And here’s where it gets woolly. If you don’t need to eliminate certain food groups for whatever reason—ethical, health, religion—then a whole food diet can be great. But if you do exclude certain foods, then it could be beneficial to include certain “processed” foods. This is to make sure that you don’t miss out on vital nutrients to keep you healthy.

Processed Foods That Are Okay on a Whole Food Diet

Many brands of cereals are fortified with B vitamins, which can be hard to come by on a plant-based diet.

For example, vitamin B12 (needed for maintaining a healthy nervous system, energy, and mood-regulation), is largely found in animal sources. It is something that those on a plant-based diet need to keep an eye on, as studies show that around 20% of us are deficient. And we also know that 65% of vegans and vegetarians don’t take a B vitamin supplement.[2]

So in that case, choosing a cereal fortified with B vitamins would be a good option, if done wisely. By that I mean use your discretion and check the labels, as many brands of cereals are packed with sugar and additives. But you can strategically choose minimally processed foods using a whole foods mentality.

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As a rule of thumb, if there are any ingredients that you can’t pronounce, don’t understand, or sound artificial, they probably are best avoided.

Benefits of a Whole Food Diet

In a 2014 analysis by Yale University, they concluded that “a diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”[3]

A diet rich in fruit and vegetables or other high-fiber foods like whole grains and nuts is really important in maintaining good long-term health and preventing health problems like diabetes and cancers. These kinds of foods also help our bodies to cope and control the effects of inflammation.

In fact, one review from 2019 stated that “diets high in plant foods could potentially prevent several million premature deaths each year if adopted globally.”[4] This is a big endorsement for a whole food diet.

Whole Foods and the Gut

Whole foods are loaded with fibers that are sometimes lost during processing or refinement. Fiber is essential for a healthy gut because aside from its traditional “roughage” reputation, it also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut, providing a whole host of other benefits.

They also provide a lot of variety, which the gut loves. The more variety, the better. So, even though you might fall in love with certain recipes, it’s important to mix up the kinds of whole foods you eat to maintain a healthy gut. Aim for 30 different whole foods each week. It’s easier than you think!

Whole Foods and the Brain

The brain is a really hungry organ, and it uses 25% of the total energy you consume from your food. Everything it needs to function at its best is—you guessed it—a whole, unprocessed food.

In fact, the best diet recommended for brain health is the MIND Diet. In one study, it was shown that people who follow the MIND diet closely had a 53% reduced rate of developing Alzheimer’s.[5]

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Some of the best whole foods for the brain are:[6]

  • Oily fish
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Whole grains

Is It Easy to Follow a Whole Food Diet?

Once you’ve got your head around having “ingredients” rather than “ready-to-eat” things in your kitchen cupboards, it’s actually very easy. The only issue is the lifestyle and habit changes that come along with it.

It is very likely that for many people, following a totally, religiously whole food diet may be unattainable at least some of the time. For example, there are days where you don’t get time to make your lunch or if you want to enjoy social eating. Similarly, people who have young children or who are working more than one job are unlikely to be able to follow a whole food diet all of the time.

Sometimes, we put ourselves under pressure to be as perfect as we can with diets like this, which can lead to an eating disorder called Orthorexia, which is a preoccupation with healthy eating.

This means that following a whole food diet, in principle, can be healthy and accessible for some people but not for everyone. It also means that those with previous disordered eating, as always, need to avoid any form of dietary restriction or rules around their diet.

Is a Whole Food Diet Boring?

Absolutely not! The beauty of this way of eating is that there are barely any recipes that are off-limits. If you can make it yourself using natural ingredients, then it counts. So, dig out your recipe books and get familiar with your spice cupboard.

Here’s my advice if you’re just starting: stock up on coconut milk and canned tomatoes. You’ll use them all the time in sauces.

Best Hacks for Sticking With a Whole Food Diet

Here are some tips to help you stick with a whole food diet and develop this lifestyle.

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1. Practice Batch Cooking

Especially in the beginning, if you’ve been used to eating more convenience-based or packaged foods, you’re likely to feel like you spend the majority of your life in the kitchen. So, I’d suggest getting your cookbooks out and planning around five things to make per week. If you make double, or even triple portions depending on your household, you’ll have enough quantity to last several meals.

For example, his could be homemade granola. Make it once, and that’s breakfast sorted for a week. Whole food diet ingredients like oats, quinoa, buckwheat, nuts, and seeds are all delicious, and great nutritional resources to keep you feeling full until lunchtime.

I also love to make big stews, sauces, and curries that can happily be reheated and added throughout the course of a few days.

2. Make Your Own Convenience Foods

Sticking to a new way of eating can be really difficult, especially for your willpower. So, it’s very important to make it as easy as possible for yourself.

Pre-chop. Pre-chop. Pre-chop.

If you’ve got a container of carrot sticks on hand or can happily munch on a few pieces of melon from the fridge, use those—it’s almost easier than grabbing something from a package. This can extend to your other vegetables, too. If you get your veg delivered or buy it from a market, choose a few things to slice after you wash them. That way, if you need a speedy lunch or a lazy dinner, it’ll be ready in minutes.

Ready to Try a Whole Food Diet?

If you’re looking to maximize your overall health, well-being, and vitality, I’d absolutely suggest a whole food diet. But, as with everything, it’s important to do what works for you and your own lifestyle.

Featured photo credit: Louis Hansel – Restaurant Photographer via unsplash.com

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Reference

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