Intermittent fasting (IF) is a technique that an increasing number of people are taking up. It basically involves adopting an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating.
Most people will likely start IF in a bid to make a dietary change that has physical health benefits. These include losing weight and reducing the chance of developing many health problems, including heart issues, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
But people are also discovering its positive impact on emotional wellbeing. As well, there is a definite spiritual benefit.
What is intermittent fasting?
As an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating, IF doesn’t specify which type of foods anyone should eat. Instead, it focuses on when to eat.
People adopt one of several IF techniques, all of which involve splitting the day or week into fasting and eating periods. This is why it is described as an eating pattern rather than a diet – although weight loss does occur.
Water, tea, coffee and other non-caloric beverages are fine in the fasting times. But without any added sugars or dairy milk.
Presently the most popular IF methods are:
The 16/8 method means not eating for 16 hours, but that includes sleeping time through the night. So most people will eat their evening meal, and fast for 16 hours from then – so it basically means skipping breakfast. The 16/8 method is the most popular of the IF techniques.
The 5:2 diet means consuming only 500 calories for women and 600 for men on two days of the week that are not consecutive. People eat normally for the other five days of the week.
Another technique sees people fasting for 24 hours, once or twice every week – known as the Eat Stop Eat. There is also the alternate-day fasting (ADF) method, which is as its name suggests.
By reducing calorie intake, all of these IF techniques will lead to weight loss. This is so long as the person does not overeat during their eating days.
What are intermittent fasting’s physical benefits?
While for the first few days it might feel difficult to go through with it – due to changing old habits, food pangs and fatigue – it is worth persevering. The positive effects can be significant.
Benefits of a fast include that glucose is generated from the body’s fat stores in the body to give energy. This leads to weight loss.
IF also increases the release of noradrenaline, which aids fat-burning. Research looking at 27 IF trials revealed that IF can give weight loss of 0.8 per cent to 13 per cent of baseline weight.
The body also undergoes autophagy, a process where redundant and damaged cells are destroyed. This means there’s more room for healthy new cells – which will improve the immune system, slow down the ageing process, and promote healthy skin.
Eating after fasting increases insulin sensitivity. This protects the body from diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Fasting is also beneficial because it gives our digestive systems a break, which many people do not allow these days when most of us can eat whenever we want.
Some people are advised to seek medical advice before starting IF. For instance, anyone who is underweight or with a history of eating disorders. As well, anyone trying to conceive; who’s pregnant or breastfeeding; who has diabetes; blood sugar regulation problems; low blood pressure; and some older people.
People who need to take medications with food may not be able to fast. Those who take medications for heart disease or blood pressure could be more prone to certain mineral imbalances during fasting – and that means IF is not recommended for them.
What are the mental benefits of intermittent fasting?
Today most of us know that our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing is utterly connected. For example, nutrient and vitamin deficiencies will affect not only how we feel physically and how our skin and hair look – but also have a negative impact on our energy levels and overall mood.
Then, as fasting causes weight loss it can be beneficial to our hearts if we were carrying around excess weight. But, also, looking healthier and fitter can increase our self-esteem and self-confidence.
Many people notice when they are on an IF method that they sleep better. This is because overeating can cause sleep problems. Better sleep is obviously a boost all-round – physically, mentally and spiritually.
Then, the autophagy process also increases the generation of new brain cells and nerve tissue. This improves brain performance, specifically our mood, memory and focus – and it allows us to deal with stress much better.
Are there spiritual benefits to fasting?
Although fasting is popular now, it’s something that our ancestors have been doing for centuries. One reason is that fasting makes us grateful for our food.
Most of us today have food whenever we want, and often most likely take that for granted. So going without food for some time makes us really grateful to have food, for every bite and sip of drink we have. We savour it all.
It will make us more mindful of when, what and how we eat. We are more likely to chew properly, which lets the food we eat digest better.
Then, fasting requires self-discipline, which is a good quality to have when you consider how much trouble giving in to temptation causes among humanity. It’s no wonder then that fasting has been a part of healthy human existence for so long.
It’s why it plays a part in many religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism. So fasting for such as Lent, Ramadan and Yom Kippur is a great spiritual thing to do – and intermittent fasting is too.