Intermittent Fasting: Is it Worth the Hype?
An eating practice where you eat for a window of time and then fast for a window of time, intermittent fasting has been making waves in the health and wellness world recently for a supposed myriad of benefits. The hype has led to many different types of intermittent fasting and even full year-long programs for people to rely on as they navigate this diet.
Of course, fasting is not a new practice and it dates back to the hunter-gatherer days of humanity. Today, many of us fast from time to time for spiritual, medical, and cleansing reasons and, even as a diet, many people intermittently fast to some degree as part of their natural routine.
Though many people use intermittent fasting for weight loss, I want to focus this article on whether the practice may or may not be for you depending on your circumstances. Like everything in the diet and health world, not every practice is for everyone, and whether or not it’s healthy is a personal thing.
So, with that, let’s dive into what intermittent fasting is, the potential benefits, and who it may not be for.
Note: Always consult a healthcare professional before beginning any new restrictive diet or eating practice.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
At its core, intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of eating and fasting. The pattern doesn’t focus so much on what you eat as when you eat, with the primary idea being that it affects your body on a cellular level for hormone regulation, cellular repair, weight loss, and more.
During the time of fasting, participants are still encouraged to drink water and other no-calorie drinks (such as tea) to keep their body hydrated and help quell the hunger pangs.
The three most popular types of intermittent fasting are:
- Eat Stop Eat – This method involves fully fasting for one or two nonconsecutive days a week, while eating normally on the other five days.
- 16/8 – This method involves restricting your eating to eight hours per day, and fasting for the other sixteen. For example, you’d only consume calories between 10AM and 6PM.
- 5:2 Diet – This method involves restricting your calories to 500-600 on two nonconsecutive days of the week, and eating normally for the other five.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Increases Human Growth Hormone
A naturally-occurring hormone in the pituitary gland, the Human Growth Hormone is responsible for cell reproduction, metabolism, and restoration. In essence, it helps to restore and maintain healthy tissue in the brain and elsewhere in the body.
Preliminary studies have indicated that fasting helps increase Human Growth Hormone Levels. In fact, it’s estimated that after a three-day fast, these hormone levels can increase by more than 300%, probably due to decreased insulin levels from the pancreas (insulin suppresses HGH).
Of course, fasting for three days straight isn’t a sensible solution for most people, but even short-term fasting has been shown to increase HGH levels.
These hormones also directly correlate with gut health — check out this article on ten tips to maintain great gut health.
Improves Insulin Sensitivity
Speaking of insulin, the Harvard Health Blog sites insulin sensitivity and the intuitive correlation between hormones and eating as one of the main reasons people try intermittent fasting.
When we eat, enzymes in our gut are broken down into molecules and then enter our bloodstream. Foods such as carbohydrates are quickly broken down by the body into sugars, which our cells then either use for energy or store as fat. The pathway for sugar to enter the bloodstream is insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas when we eat. Insulin spikes every time we consume calories, and even more when we consume carbohydrates and other sugars.
Therefore, the more we restrict the timeframe in which we eat, the lower our insulin levels will be.
Though insulin levels directly correlate to fat storage, this factor is most pertinent for people dealing with insulin or other hormonal disorders, such as diabetes and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
Again, always consult your doctor or nutritionist before trying any new diet or eating regimen, but the research is in our favor on this one.
Increases Metabolic Rate
According to a PubMed study regarding intermittent fasting vs calorie restriction for Type 2 diabetes prevention, intermittent fasting can be just as beneficial (if not more so) in decreasing body weight through increased metabolic rate. In fact, the study found that short-term bursts of intermittent fasting can increase metabolic rate by up to a whopping 14%. This is because fasting releases hormones that burn fat more quickly, such as norepinephrine.
However, on the flip side, it is well-known that long periods of not eating actually decrease your metabolic rate. There is definitely a sweet spot in the middle, and how this affects you depends on your body chemistry and body fat content.
A recent study by Cell.com found that intermittent fasting can decrease inflammation in the body, thereby decreasing chances of developing conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and more.
In particular, participants in this two-day study weren’t allowed to eat between 12PM and 3PM the first day, and then 8PM that same day and 3PM the next day. After these fasting periods, the participants showed decreased monocytes in the bloodstream, which are the cells that cause inflammation.
This study also showed that even reducing snacking can be a huge factor in reducing inflammation, and that the human body has not evolved to be constantly taking in food throughout the day.
Check out this article for more ideas on how to decrease inflammation.
Intermittent Fasting May Not Be For You If…
Though intermittent fasting has had numerous health benefits for many people, it is obviously not a one-size-fits-all approach. Here are a few reasons why intermittent fasting may not be for you, and why you should consult your healthcare practitioner before beginning a new eating regime.
You Struggle With Disordered Eating
If you are either currently struggling with disordered eating of any kind, or if you have struggled with it in the past, then intermittent fasting may not be for you. Though fasting does not restrict calories, it does restrict the time in which you eat, and this may be triggering for those who are prone to overly restricting intake. Additionally, because of this restriction, binge eating has been noted in some people who have tried intermittent fasting.
You’re Experiencing Sluggish Side Effects
When starting intermittent fasting, many people report feeling increasingly sluggish and tired within the first day. However, if you continue intermittent fasting and these side effects do not improve, then it may be worth talking to a healthcare professional about what you’re experiencing.
You’re Pregnant or Breastfeeding
Pregnant or breastfeeding people should proceed with caution when intermittent fasting, as they need a sufficient amount of calories on a regular basis for proper nutrition.
You Experience Mood Swings
The biochemistry that regulates appetite and consumption is directly correlated with neurotransmitters. So, if you’re prone to anxiety or depression, or if you are experiencing drastic mood swings while intermittent fasting, then the practice may not be for you.
That’s it for my quick briefing on intermittent fasting! Though there is a lot to note about the practice, it can be very beneficial for people who have various health struggles. Personally, I’ve been intermittent fasting for about 5 months and have found that it has done wonders for keeping my PCOS under control (due to its anti-inflammatory and insulin-regulating nature). Have you ever tried intermittent fasting? Let us know in the comments!