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.
Table of Contents
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
- The body lacking adequate energy to sustain multiple days, or long-term fasting
- The body is beginning to lose muscle weight because it does not have enough nutrients to sustain energy levels
- 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.
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”.
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. 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.
 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.
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.
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.
You can do this with dry fasting, 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
- 10 Benefits of Fasting That Will Surprise You
- Intermittent Fasting Weight Loss (The Ultimate Weight Loss Hack)
- 7 Ways Intermittent Fasting Can Transform Your Health
Featured photo credit: Ethan Sykes via unsplash.com
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